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What Is Human Resources (HR)?

Human resources, often referred to as HR, encompasses all of the activities related to the ongoing administration of current employees. HR is the department at a company responsible for people-related functions, such as recruiting, hiring, training, and administering employee compensation and benefitsDepending on the structure of the company, some human resource departments may also be responsible for employee engagement, internal communications, and learning and development

HR can go by many names, depending on the organization — from HR to people management to employee relations. The HR function is vital to the success of an organization because it’s responsible for the hiring and retention outcomes of a company’s most valuable resource, its people. 

There are many tasks an HR department may handle and, depending on the size of the organization, these various activities may be handled by a few people, a large team or even outsourced to a third-party organization. 

What Does Human Resources Do?

  • Human resource planning 
  • Labor law compliance
  • Recruitment, candidate selection and hiring
  • Onboarding and offboarding
  • Compensation planning
  • Performance management 
  • Learning and development 
  • Career planning 
  • Function and job role evaluation 
  • Employee rewards and recognition
  • Benefits management
  • Industrial relations 
  • Employee engagement and communication
  • Employee record keeping
  • Workforce health and safety 
  • Employee well-being 
  • Employer branding
  • Payroll and taxes
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What Are 5 Types of Human Resources?

1. Recruitment and Staffing

Staffing and recruiting cannot exist without each other, but they are not the same. Recruiting is the process of searching and obtaining prospective candidates for the job. The best candidate is chosen through the selection process, which is a part of staffing. Companies can use internal or external recruiting teams to attract, engage and hire the top candidates. In internal recruitment, current employees can be offered promotions or other positions within the organization. External recruitment methods include job postings, employee referrals, recruitment programs and more. Staffing encompasses all the processes involved in building and retaining the workforce. 


2. Employee Relations

According to a 2021 HBR study,  89 percent of workers were not satisfied with their jobs, 85 percent said their well-being declined and 56 percent said their job demands increased. This can lead to a lack of engagement and productivity as well as high attrition. HR is accountable for identifying these issues through internal engagement surveys, meetings and generally understanding the pulse of the organization. HR may also be responsible for putting systems in place that drive a healthy workplace culture and address (or prevent) engagement and burnout. Conflict resolution is another major aspect of employer-employee relations. Communication standards can be set by HR to promote transparency and encourage openness, such as weekly one-on-one meetings between managers and direct reports, monthly skip-level meetings, quarterly town-halls, Q&As with senior leaders and more. 


3. Learning and Development

Commonly referred to as L&D, learning and development is typically an extension of the HR department. The L&D team is responsible for providing training and professional development opportunities for employees to better perform in their current roles or advance to a new role within the organization. Depending on the organization’s investment and budget, L&D may offer programs for employees that support new employee onboarding, career development, leadership development, skills training, compliance training and required courses. L&D teams may also collaborate with other business functions, like IT, to support change management and communication when new systems are implemented within an organization that require training or upskilling

More on Built InWhat Are Fringe Benefits and How Do They Empower Your Team?


4. Performance Management

The performance management process is unique to each organization, but generally involves assessing how employees are performing against established goals and expectations. When done effectively, the process can help employees feel more connected to how their work and contributions impact the larger business outcomes and mission of the organization. Well implemented performance management programs increase accountability and transparency. Alignment between leadership, management and employees can contribute to a positive workplace culture, strong communication, employee engagement and other vital elements of productivity in the workplace. 


5. Company Culture

HR departments are not solely responsible for building company culture, however, HR’s uniquely positioned to set the tone and foster a positive workplace culture within an organization. From recruitment to the start of the employer-employee relationship, HR team members are responsible for communicating the company’s mission, values and culture to candidates as well as attracting and recruiting people who are well suited to the organization’s culture. HR in a sense, lays the foundation and sets the cultural expectations for an organization when new employees join the team. HR’s influence in culture also extends far beyond the first day of employment. Depending on the company, HR may be involved in employee engagement efforts, managing employee resource groups, conflict resolution, employee communications, company events, professional development programs and more. 

What Does HR Actually Do? (A Brief Summary.) | Video: HR4you


Human Resources (HR) Tools Tools & Software

  • Operational Human Resources Information System (HRIS): Systems used to help provide HR managers with the data they need to perform tasks such as performance management, promotions, hiring and internal personnel changes. An operational HRIS will track and provide reporting for human resource data such as employee records, position details and performance review information. 
  • Tactical HRIS: These are more useful for making big-picture decisions about things like resource allocation, job analyses and professional development. In addition to internal figures, tactical HRIS systems also deal with data such as union information, competitor data, government requirements and more. 
  • Strategic HRIS: These systems can help raise awareness regarding available labor resources and proper workforce planning by managing data like market information and operations budgets.  
  • Comprehensive HRIS: These systems are considered to be a one-stop shop for storing and displaying any information needed to perform nearly all HR functions, including operational, tactical and strategic matters. A combination of all the above systems, these work as a streamlined database and platform to offer easy review and management of a variety of HR-related tasks.

Related HR Reading on Built InHow to Create a Professional Development Plan

Human Resources vs. Recruiting: What’s the Difference?

The recruiting function sits under the larger HR umbrella. While human resources and recruiting roles may have overlapping tasks and responsibilities, they are quite distinct from one another. 

The recruiting function is often responsible for developing strategies that support employer branding and tactics that enable the company to build a quality pipeline of skilled talent to meet the organization’s needs. Recruiters source talent on and offline, create smooth and memorable candidate experiences, coordinate interviews, and facilitate candidate assessments and evaluations. Recruiters may also make hiring decision recommendations to hiring managers. Recruiters work closely with hiring managers to identify key skill sets and competencies in order to create compelling job descriptions that attract the best talent for the position. A recruiter is often the candidate’s first impression of a company and should be well versed in your company’s culture, mission and values. A successful recruiter will not only ensure that there is talent in the pipeline, but that the talent is skilled and well aligned with your company’s culture, mission and values.


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