What is Human Resources?

Human resources is the division of a company or organization that focuses on recruiting, training, payroll and other functions involved with employee hiring, retention and development. A large company may have an entire team dedicated to this arena, whereas a smaller company may have only one or two people. No matter the size of the HR team, this is a crucial role in any business.

Beyond just hiring and firing employees, a Human Resources Management (HRM) professional helps to build the culture of the company, develops and leads training programs in things like leadership and how to deliver performance reviews, and equips an organization with the necessary tools, administrative and legal services so it can function successfully.

The focus of an HRM professional

Human Resources Management is focused on recruiting and staffing, performance management, compensation and benefits, employee development, labor relations and organizational development.

That said, HRM professionals can specialize in any one of these areas, or can work as a generalist.

Since the landscape of HR is changing, the job titles are changing along with it. Now, you can see the emphasis of HRM professionals is on the people, more than processes, and you will see titles like:

  • Chief Happiness Officer
  • Chief People Officer
  • Talent Acquisition Manager
  • People Operations Manager
  • Communications Manager
  • Learning and Development Specialist
  • VP of Teammate Success
  • People Analytics Lead

You will also see more traditional titles if you are looking for a job in human resources, such as:

  • Benefits administrator
  • HR assistant
  • HR manager
  • Recruiter
  • HRIS analyst
  • Benefits coordinator
  • Benefits administrator
  • Compensation specialist

Since the HR specialty is changing to a more people-centric focus, rather than a process-driven focus, the activities an HR professional embarks on in their career are centered more around people in today’s modern workplace.

In the past, HR received direction from the executive staff on what to do and how to do it, while now, the HR leadership is expected to sit at the table and bring ideas and execute on plans for the organization.

The new HRM involves more strategy and analytics than ever before, and you will see more educational and career opportunities in these areas. Employees in HR must also work hard to keep their employer safe from lawsuits and the instability that can come from an organization that does not protect itself while balancing people-first. Today’s HRM professionals must serve all stakeholders within an organization and strive to make the organization better through process and implementation.

Key Responsibilities

Today’s Human Resources staff must work to improve not only the people within the organization, but also the processes that people work within, thereby increasing job happiness, employee longevity and overall efficiency.

Here are some of the key responsibilities:

Job analysis

Human resource managers are typically responsible, often with help from leaders in other parts of the company, for determining the responsibilities of various positions. This can involve determining which skills, certifications, or experience is necessary for a given role. This is an important function as it relates to managing and measuring an employee to certain expectations, and it is also part of the hiring process as a job description is put out through various channels and this is usually worked on with HR. These job descriptions help to establish salaries and wages, as well as determine training needs and help the HRM make other important business decisions.


Compliance is a huge term within the HR specialty, and it means both compliance with internal rules and guidelines, as well as making sure there is compliance with external bodies, and that the organization is following procedures for all applicable laws. An HRM professional should know about labor and safety laws and have a plan for how to implement them across the organization. In small companies, this usually falls on the shoulders of only one person, while in others there are lots of people dedicated to these tasks. An HRM professional will devise systems to keep people in compliance of laws, rules and regulations, and will also have processes for handling grievances or misconduct.

Performance appraisal

The performance appraisal or performance review is the annual or biannual process of assessing both the positive and negative aspects of an employee’s performance during that time period. Whether these are conducted by the HRM professional or by the direct manager, the HR department is very involved in this process, and it is by the findings of these that salary increases or decreases, promotion or even termination are determined.


Even if your organization outsources the recruitment of employees to an outside agency, it is the internal HR team that creates the value and mission of the company, makes sure the external team knows what they are looking for, and presents the company in the right way to anyone on the outside. If recruiting is handled internally, then the HRM staff will do it all, from writing and posting job descriptions, managing resume inflow, prescreening candidates and setting up interviews. Once you have a new hire, they will coordinate paperwork, benefits and trainings.

Employee development and training

This is another vital function of HR and it often falls to the HR team to assess not only what training gaps exist within an organization, but to develop content and learning systems to accomplish goals across functions and departments. This content can include new-hire training programs or continuing education trainings that someone can attend either in-person or virtually. Trainers are often a part of the HR team, and will design and execute these training programs. With that, they will need to learn how to create and store visual trainings, develop testing and measurement activities and maintain some sort of internal hub of learning materials for themselves or others to use as they grow and develop people within the organization.

Changes to the field of Human Resource Management

Over the years, HRM has evolved from a lower-rank position to having a seat at the executive table. With the added emphasis on growing people, improving processes and increasing business trends toward measurement and technology, today’s HRM professionals have had to evolve as well. Possibly the biggest area of growth is within the technology space, where now virtual trainings via web-based meetings, video, live stream and other modalities have made it easier than ever before to get a message across to employees near and far. Now, HRM trainers have to be tech-savvy, confident, able to deliver trainings in-person or virtually, and be able to manage the software to get the job done. You’ll see education courses matching this need by offering more opportunity to develop presentations using the latest of technologies.

HRM and the new workforce

Technology has also brought about a different way of working, and today’s HRM professionals have had to create a different set of guidelines for conduct and expectations around all of the different ways employees work. Telecommuting, for instance, has caused HR managers to have to create new ways in which employees are measured, monitored and assessed. As technology increases, our workforces are getting even more unique and distributed, and HR professionals will have much more to do to match and meet the current state of the workplace, which is always evolving.