A Day in the Life of a human resources director

The "Day in the Life" series gives an insider's look at the professions that make South Carolina cities and towns great places to live, work and play. Municipal employees from around the state explain their role, discuss challenges they face and share interesting stories from the unique world of municipal government service.

As part of a series of articles on the duties and responsibilities of municipal employees, we spoke with five human resources directors. These directors are responsible for recommending the hiring and termination of employees; handling performance and disciplinary issues; and coordinating benefits, insurance and workers" compensation programs.

Steven Jarvis has been in the human resources profession for 13 years in both the private and public sectors. He has served as human resources officer for the City of Orangeburg for the past six years. As part of his duties, Jarvis addresses employee performance and conduct, and designs training programs to address issues that seem to be systemic. He also reviews and updates employee files, and assesses and implements cost savings measures for areas such as healthcare and workers" compensation costs. But it doesn't stop there. HR managers often become "counselors, advisors, the "principal's office," and the cheerleader," of the organization, Jarvis said.

Debra Mumford, human resources director for the City of Georgetown, has worked in municipal government for 23 years. She views her position as support staff to all department heads and employees. Her duties include all tasks related to directing and coordinating employee benefits, wellness, compensation, training, payroll, employment policies and employee relations.

Michelle Clyburn has been in human resources since 1991, and has been human resources director for the City of Spartanburg since 2006. Some of her duties involve helping managers resolve performance issues or policy violations. She also handles reclassification requests, benefit problems and questions, and medical claims. Also, she is active in recruiting and interviewing new hires.

During her tenure, Clyburn has seen numerous changes in the HR field, especially in the area of health and wellness.

"Prevention has become more of a focus," she said. "Organizations are becoming more aggressive about creating a culture of health."

Over the years, Jarvis has seen electronic and social media play a changing role in the culture of employee recruitment and information distribution.

He has also seen changes in terms of multiple generations in the workforce together. "As healthcare costs consume larger percentages of revenues, it is difficult to maintain competitive compensation packages," Jarvis said.

"Later generation employees more often appreciate health benefits than younger employees, whose focus tends to be on their take-home pay."

These generational disparities can be an asset if they are properly managed, Jarvis added.

"If you facilitate and nurture the relationship between long-tenured employees and younger employees, they can learn from each other," he said.

Every municipality is now faced with multiple generation gaps, said Denise Dyer, finance/human resources director for the City of Pickens. To get them to work together effectively, it's important to determine their individual characteristics and strengths as it relates to their position, she said. 

"One person might need verbal interactions while others might prefer communication via email or other forms of advanced technology," Dyer said. "The key is finding what works for each individual, thrive on that and make everyone feel important and appreciated."

Mumford said she has learned that one needs to be a great communicator and also a mediator when addressing issues of multiple generations. She has found that she must negotiate between the generations to meet somewhere in the middle.  

New employees need training and orientation to help them adapt to the job and to the culture of local government. Jarvis said orientations should cover the individual's role in the "grand scheme of things." 

"Too often I encounter employees who know their job and the day-to-day routine, but they don't know why their job is important," he said.  

Dyer, who has been involved in HR for 20 years in combination with other positions, said she spends time with new employees going through the details of local government and sharing with them the changes and developments in the city.  

"I want employees to be proud of where they work, and that pride will reflect in their productivity and happiness in their career," she said. "I would also like to see supervisors mentor new employees then check in with them after a short period to see how things are going."  

Mumford said training is just as important for supervisors as it is for new employees.

"Supervisors who are properly trained make great leaders, which is a great plus in the area of employee relations," she said. "Training should take place on a regular basis, not just during the employee's initial hiring process. Employees can't be expected to perform their positions effectively or safely without the proper training."

JoAn Roland is the HR manager for the City of Cayce. She's worked for the city for more than 15 years. Before that, she worked in the private sector. When she interviews people who are new to local government, she explains the different benefits like retirement that may not be familiar to them. Once employees are hired, they go through a full orientation of everything associated with the city, their job and benefits, Roland said.

JoAn Roland
JoAn Roland, HR manager for the City of Cayce

A few times a year, the City of Spartanburg offers a formal half-day orientation for all new employees (additional training is given as needed, depending on the position). The city manager discusses city policies and procedures. Other department representatives discuss pay policies and benefits, according to Clyburn.

Clyburn said training is important to help provide the skills needed to move up in the organization. Some training, like risk management training, is required by law or helps to prevent on-the-job accidents. Other training helps departments to run more effectively. Clyburn said all full-time employees recently completed customer service training.

"The city provides services to the public," she said. "We want to make sure we offer an exceptional customer service experience."

Good training, especially risk management training, is a wise investment for an organization, Jarvis said.

"I've always found that the cost of training/prevention is far less expensive than managing claims," Jarvis said.

Risk management training helps us stay proactive and on top of issues before they get worse, and reduces the risk of legal issues, Roland added.

A challenge of the job, Jarvis said, is getting managers to understand that HR is a facilitator and resource to help them do their jobs. He also notes that HR managers do not often get to celebrate their victories.

"HR professionals are the custodians of employee confidentiality, and there are many fires we put out that no one even knows is about to occur," he said.

When you-re in the business of dealing with human resources, you often have to deal with very real human emotions, Clyburn said.

"Employees come and share the best part of themselves with you, but you also see them at their worst-when they-re broken, when they-re seeking guidance," Clyburn said. "Sometimes trying to help employees during a personal crisis is rough and can be emotional."

Other challenges to the job include staying current on trends-from technology to legislation such as the new Affordable Care Act, she added. To stay on top of it all, HR directors need frequent training and must keep up with best practices, she said. Groups like the SC Municipal Human Resources Association offer training opportunities throughout the year covering a wide range of human resources issues.

Roland handles employee issues like insurance claims, discipline, hiring and firing, filing insurance claims, payroll, and employee benefits. She said others might be surprised to learn about all of the paperwork and legal issues that she's required to keep up with on a daily, monthly and yearly basis.

One of the most challenging parts of the job for Roland is the emotions that come up when an employee must be disciplined or terminated. She also has a hard time getting employees to attend functions − especially free events that would benefit them like health fairs. However, Roland feels proud when she sees employees being promoted or receiving awards and recognition for a job well done.

The most rewarding part of the job for Dyer is when she sees employees happy about doing their job. For Jarvis, the true rewards come from helping people realize their potential. Mumford enjoys interacting with employees and retirees and assisting them with issues. Clyburn said she feels fulfilled when she helps others to succeed.

"When I-ve made a difference helping someone be successful on the job or in their personal life, that brings me lots of reward," Clyburn said.