Human Resources (Intro to HR)

Wendy Kelly
Wendy N. Kelly, MSHRM, PHR, SHRM-CP
Ever wonder how and when human resources started? Look no further. Read on to learn more about the field of human resources, how it evolved, its history, how it is changing and more.

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What Is Human Resources (HR)?

Human resources (HR) encompasses so many things. It is the transmission of your organization — it is what keeps things moving. HR is responsible for your employee lifecycle, which includes (but is not limited to) talent management, benefits administration, risk management, compensation and compliance. All in all, HR is responsible for your organization’s most important assets: people.

The History of HR

At the turn of the eighteenth century, industrial changes pushed cheap labor, long work hours (16 hours a day) and child labor. Manufacturing factories sprouted up, mass producing goods and creating more jobs. HR wasn’t at the forefront since manager/supervisors worked in the capacity of current HR tasks by finding and hiring employees.

By the turn of the twentieth century, the workplace began to change. Employees began to strike due to excruciating working conditions. Once known as the personnel department, HR started working with both union members and employers to resolve grievances.

By the 1960s, we began to see more legislation regarding employment practices. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed around this time — a landmark piece of legislation that prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. This Act established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce the new legislation. After its passage HR shifted its focus to maintaining compliance.

HR is now a strategic business partner, developing and directing projects that support and drive the mission organizations. Today, HR is more involved than ever in the employee experience, specifically managing employees expectations from their employer, such as workplace flexibility and benefits.

How Is HR Changing?

There are a number of factors that influence the change of HR, for example, how people work (remote or flexible work) and, most recently, a pandemic.

As we look back on 2020, there are a few takeaways we should examine that are impacting the change in HR.

  • Health and wellness. Now more than ever employees are taking measures to live a healthier lifestyle and HR will have to find more ways for the organization to support its employees. For example, organizations could provide mental health services, or flexible work schedules to encourage employee health.
  • Laws and regulations. Post pandemic, we have seen an influx of new laws and regulations, such as vaccine mandates. These mandates are impacting the workplace; as HR grapples with recruiting and retaining talent. Requests for reasonable accommodations and religious exemptions have spiked. Therefore; it is imperative for HR professionals to stay abreast as to what is happening within the industry. .
  • Great resignation. The fight for talent continues, and employees are demanding more. In the past, organizations provided employees the benefits typically without any input, now that the tides are shifting HR will need to determine what benefits employees are wanting and how it aligns with the organization’s goals.
  • Engagement. Now that the workforce is shifting to a remote work environment, HR will need to become more creative in keeping its remote employees engaged while maintaining a positive company culture.

Why Is HR an Important Part of Every Business?

There are a number of reasons why HR is important to your organization. HR’s ability to enhance the employees’ experience while strengthening your organization’s operations is a plus. We will take a closer look at how HR does this through strategic management, wages and salaries, benefits administration, mitigating risks, training and development, employee satisfaction, recruiting and onboarding and maintaining compliance.

Strategic Management

The Society for Human Resources defines strategic human resources as a future-oriented process of developing and implementing HR programs that address and solve business problems and directly contribute to major long-term business objectives.

HR is important because it is the foundation of a healthy organization. Strategic HR professionals identify ways that an organization/department can improve in order to reach the organization’s goals. For example, HR may conduct a GAP analysis to determine if and where changes will be made in order to support your organization — in the case of a GAP analysis, they do this by automating the onboarding process of new hires.

Wages and Salaries

Employee wages and salary are an important part of your organization. Wages and salaries can attract and retain your employees, and also influence the morale and engagement of your employees. HR is important in this area because they assist in creating an organization’s compensation strategy that includes salary, bonuses, incentive plans, and benefits, ensuring an equitable pay rate.

Benefits Administration

Administration of benefits involves managing health insurance, retirement accounts, vacations, paid time off and leave of absence. HR is important to your organization’s benefits administration because of its assistance with providing the right mix of benefits to offer. This is an important area of your business because employees expect more than just a salary.

Mitigating Liability Issues

With every organization there is some sort of legal risk. HR is important in mitigating your organization’s risk by staying abreast of local, state and federal laws and specific regulations for your industry. Failure to remain compliant can result in legal action and fines for your organization.

Training and Development

Training and development programs provide a host of benefits. They enhance employee performance, boost employee productivity, reduce employee turnover and improve company culture. Understanding that an organization’s employees are its most valuable asset, HR can identify gaps and skills needed for employees to be successful by providing effective and efficient training programs.

Employee Satisfaction

Retention, productivity and engagement is now one of the most critical concerns for organizations. Identifying ways to improve and build job satisfaction for employees must be on your organization’s radar to ensure continued success.

Employee satisfaction is defined as whether employees are happy, content and fulfilling their desires and needs at work. HR can assist in this area by assessing an employee’s job satisfaction and providing solutions to improve employee satisfaction, such as coaching managers on how to empower their employees.

Recruiting and Onboarding

Recruitment and onboarding is a shared responsibility of all those within your organization. Recruiting and onboarding familiarizes employees to their role and introduces them to your organization. Without a proper recruitment and onboarding strategy, your organization turnover rate may increase and productivity may decrease, ultimately costing the organization a loss in revenue.

HR assists with this process by developing your organization’s recruitment and onboarding strategy. For example, HR can ensure that your recruitment practices inform employees of your organization’s goals and the needs of the position being filled. HR can also encourage management to be a part of the entire candidate experience, including onboarding.

Maintaining Compliance

Legal compliance is a challenge for any organization. There are constant updates, best practices and new laws and regulations to implement. Not knowing what is required can lead to penalties, decrease employee morale, negatively impact company culture, increase turnover and lead to low retention rates.

A key responsibility of HR is proactively monitoring employment and labor laws and local, state and federal regulations to help organizations stay aware of changes that could ultimately impact their business.

What Does an HR Department Do?

HR is a strategic partner to your organization, coordinating and directing the people function, overseeing talent acquisition, consulting leadership and their staff and planning. Ultimately, HR is responsible for the entire employee lifecycle.

Human Resources Planning

Human resource planning, also known as workforce planning, allows you to prepare for future demands by identifying skills that would be most important to your organization in the future. With planning, you will evaluate your current state and forecast for future workplace needs.

The National Institute of Health identified six stages of workforce planning:

  1. Strategic Direction – Understanding key mission goals and future objectives set by organization leadership and how the workforce needs to be aligned to achieve them.
  2. Supply Analysis – Understanding the current workforce and how it is projected to change over time, due to attrition and other trends.
  3. Demand Analysis – Understanding the organization’s current and future workforce requirements.
  4. Gap Analysis — Understanding the gaps between workforce demand and supply and defining top priority gaps with the greatest impact on organizational performance.
  5. Solution Implementation — The appropriate workforce interventions and activities to close identified workforce gaps and enable your organization to meet its strategic goals.
  6. Monitoring progress — Monitoring the performance of solutions and their impact on the gaps they were designed to address, and continuously improving the solutions to maximize their effectiveness.

Recruitment and Selection

Recruitment and selection consists of sourcing, screening and selecting the best candidate for your organization.

It is a key responsibility of human resources. Your organization’s recruitment strategy is essential to the success of your business. Recruitment can be costly if the process of recruiting and selecting candidates is inefficient.

This function ensures that the organization’s employees have the right knowledge, skills and abilities to complete tasks, get the job done and meet demands.

Performance Management

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) defines performance management as the driver of employee behavior to align with organizational goals and objectives. In this role, HR monitors the performance management process. This area includes recommending goals, training managers, assisting with any employee difficulties and identifying areas of improvement.

Training and development, an arm of performance management, is designed to improve your employee’s skills and knowledge by targeting certain competencies.

Career Planning

HR can increase employee awareness of their career goals through a variety of educational techniques. HR can host seminars on career planning, offer career counseling and help employees identify their interests.

Different Roles Within HR

HR is made up of several specialities. However, HR professionals in many cases will perform more than one or two of these duties to meet your organization’s needs. A few HR roles are compliance, workplace safety, benefits administration and talent management.

Compliance

Compliance is extremely important for your organization. HR ensures that the organization follows laws and policies both externally and internally, from federal, state and local laws and regulations to the organization’s policies and procedures. Your company handbook is a great way to communicate policies, regulations and laws to your employees. HR assists in creating and updating your company handbook, and policies and procedures within it. Note that your handbook should be reviewed by legal counsel as well.

Workplace Safety

Employee safety should be a top priority of your organization. It is a part of HR’s role to ensure that the workplace is free and clear of any hazards and is healthy and safe for employees.

HR will assist with communicating safety standards to employees, ultimately establishing a robust safety message while increasing safety awareness. In addition, HR will assist in the creation of workplace safety policies and procedures to ensure employees are aware of their responsibilities.

Failure to do any of the above can result in the breakdown of your organization’s workplace safety initiatives.

Benefits Administration

Outside of salary, what drives your talent acquisition and retention of staff? Employee benefits. Benefits administration is how HR develops and manages the benefits for your organization. HR is responsible for directing and planning the day-to-day operations of the company benefits program. One key responsibility of HR is to ensure that employees are informed and educated about their company benefits and to consult with benefits brokers in selecting the best benefits plans for your organization.

Talent Management

Talent management entails attracting, developing, retaining and using employees with the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) to meet your organization’s current and future goals.

In this function, HR will plan the organization’s talent strategy based on your goals and assist in managing people based on the policies and procedures in place. HR will also identify ways to develop employees through programs such as training and career planning.

How Does HR Support Employees?

People often view HR as the gatekeeper of terminations and hiring, but HR encompasses so much more than that. One key role of HR is to support employees.

HR can support employees through creativity, innovation and career planning.

Creativity and Innovation

Creativity fosters innovation and HR can support creativity and innovation by ensuring that employees feel as though they are a part of the organization’s decision-making process and encouraging feedback from employees. Skip-level meetings — where a meeting is held without a manager — are a great way to solicit feedback from employees.

Career Planning

Career planning is a great way to support your organization’s employees. Taking a personal interest in your employees’ career goals creates an opportunity for constant communication. This communication and care builds relationships that often leads to your employees feeling valued and instigates greater productivity.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Human Resources

Is human resources necessary?
Yes. No matter the size of your organization, HR is needed. Your employees are your most important asset. HR helps bridge the gap between leaders and their employees.
What is the most important part of HR?
The most important part of human resources is your people strategy. Your people strategy is how your organization attracts and retains its employees. It is the driving force to accomplishing your organization’s goals.
Wendy Kelly
Wendy N. Kelly, MSHRM, PHR, SHRM-CP

Wendy is a HR professional with over 10 years of HR experience in education and health care, both in the private and non-profit sector. She is the owner of KHRServices, a full service HR management agency. She is also SHRM and HRCI certified, serves as a HRCI Ambassador, and voted 2021 Most Inclusive HR Influencer.

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