Organizational Wellness

Understanding the HR Generalist Career Path (for Those Who Don’t Want to Specialize)

Apr 6, 2023
Last Updated May 16, 2024

We all know at least one super practical person who, when they see you struggling with an everyday task, can reach into their pocket and offer you a multitool. Need to open some sturdy packaging? Cut some string? Tighten up a couple of screws? Open a bottle? Here you go!

Sure — you can get a knife, a pair of scissors, a screwdriver, or a bottle opener for each of those individual tasks, but a multitool can do all of them.

An HR generalist is the multitool of the HR world. Some HR professionals specialize in payroll, recruitment, or employee relations, but generalists know how to do a bit of everything.

What is an HR Generalist?

An HR generalist is someone with experience in multiple areas of the HR field. Their expertise could cover hiring and onboarding, learning and development, payroll, and more.

While large organizations may have many people on their HR team, smaller companies sometimes have one or two. These people are more likely to be generalists than specialists in specific areas, as they’ll need to manage all the company’s HR needs themselves.

What does an HR Generalist do?

HR generalists can help companies tackle a broad range of HR tasks, from managing employee personnel files to developing new policies and procedures.

HR professionals have several key priorities in 2023, according to research by Gartner. They’re focused on improving leader and manager effectiveness, recruiting, and employee experience. They’re also thinking about organizational design and change management, and developing their future of work strategy.

But these are all “big picture” priorities. While they give you a good idea of what HR teams will focus on long-term, they don’t describe what a generalist HR employee does day-to-day.

In simple terms, a generalist addresses a bit of everything that falls under the umbrella of typical HR functions. This could include:

  • Hiring, onboarding, and orienting new employees
  • Developing job descriptions and managing the hiring process
  • Administering payroll
  • Developing company policies and procedures
  • Designing benefit packages for employees
  • Conducting employee performance reviews
  • Organizing and managing learning and development initiatives
  • Offboarding and exit interviews

HR generalists also serve as a point of contact between the organization and its employees. They assist employees on workplace issues such as safety regulations, health benefits, payroll discrepancies, and performance reviews. Additionally, they may serve as an intermediary between management and staff if any disputes or grievances need to be resolved.

What are Some Common HR Generalist Job Roles?

If you’re scrolling through job listings online, it’s unlikely you’ll find many people hiring for “HR Generalists.” These roles often have different job titles, depending on your level of experience:

  • HR Assistant – An entry-level or early-career HR job. HR assistants provide support for the HR department by performing a variety of day-to-day admin tasks.
  • HR Coordinator – A mid-level role within the human resources department, responsible for helping to coordinate tasks and activities related to hiring, onboarding, training, and employee development.
  • HR Manager – A senior HR role. Their responsibilities include overseeing the performance of any other HR team members, developing strategies to improve efficiency and morale, and resolving any employee disputes.
  • VP of HR / HR Director –  This is the highest-level HR role in many organizations. It involves overseeing the entire human resources department, ensuring that all policies and procedures are up to date, and developing new strategies.
  • Chief HR Officer (CHRO) / Chief People Officer (CPO) –  A C-level role and part of the leadership team. This role oversees the entire HR department, ensuring all policies and procedures align with organizational objectives. They also serve as a key advisor to the executive team on any HR-related matters.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has a library of sample or template job descriptions for these roles (and many others) to help you understand what each might involve.

What Skills Does an HR Generalist Need?

HR professionals will develop lots of different skills during their careers. Here’s a short list to give you an idea of some of the skills you’ll need or will likely develop as you get more experience:

  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Knowledge of local, state, federal, and (possibly) international labor laws and regulations.
  • Ability to handle and manage confidential information such as employee records.
  • Effective problem-solving capabilities.
  • Strong organizational skills.
  • The ability to work independently or as part of a team.
  • Proficiency in HR tools and software, such as HRIS, HRMS, or HCM systems.
  • Strong analytical skills for data management and analysis.
  • Comprehensive knowledge of talent acquisition strategies and recruitment processes.
  • Understanding of payroll systems and procedures.
  • Experience developing effective policies and employee handbooks.
  • Knowledge of learning and development strategies.

As you can see, HR professionals develop a wide range of skills and knowledge as they progress. Some people will look to specialize as they move down their career paths — like recruitment or learning and development — but there are paths for those who prefer the variety of a generalist role.

As well as specific skills, human resources generalists may see certain requirements when they apply for new jobs. Many companies like their HR professionals to have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent years of experience. Alternatively, they may look for people with HR certifications, like the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) or SHRM certifications.

How Does an HR Generalist Fit into an Organization?

HR generalists normally sit within the human resources department (also called the people operations team). They will work closely with other members of the HR team. Depending on their level of seniority, they may also work closely with middle management or the senior leadership team.

They likely have knowledge and experience on many HR-related topics and can provide support and guidance in multiple areas. In small companies, they can be a one-person HR team responsible for everything HR-related for the business. In larger organizations, they can help others develop their knowledge and pick up a variety of tasks.

HR generalists can also provide invaluable support to managers and senior-level executives. They are often called upon to advise on key human resources topics, such as headcount planning, employee engagement and retention, performance management, and organizational design.

HR Teams Make all The Difference to the Employee Experience

Whether you stay in an HR generalist role or specialize in a particular area, the employee experience will likely remain one of your top priorities. As you move into more senior positions, you’ll move further away from the more minor decisions that affect people’s day-to-day experience in your company. Instead, you’ll start looking at the big picture and spot the link between employee wellness and a healthy company culture. 

Healthy employees can be more productive and deliver better outcomes for the company than people who are stressed and burned out. One strategy that can have an outsized impact on your team’s experience is to maintain a wellness program as one of your employee benefits. 

Talk to one of our Wellbeing Specialists today to find out how to launch your own wellness program!

Company healthcare costs drop by up to 35% with Wellhub! (* Based on proprietary research comparing healthcare costs of active Wellhub users to non-users.) Talk to a Wellbeing Specialist to see how we can help reduce your healthcare spending!



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.


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