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What is Human Resources (HR)?

In an organization, Human Resources is the department in charge of all employees and employee-related operations. As a term, we also use it to describe the entire workforce of an organization. In this HR definition, we’ll focus on human resources as a business function.


What is HR in simple words? 

Based on the Human Resources definition, the HR department takes care of the organization’s most valuable asset; its employees. HR professionals make sure that employees have everything they need to perform their day-to-day tasks and they’re also responsible for creating a healthy work environment that attracts and retains qualified people.

What does the Human Resources department do?

Human Resources professionals perform a plethora of tasks, including recruiting, managing employee relations, and creating company policies. In small companies, HR Generalists perform all relevant tasks, whereas in larger companies HR professionals could specialize in certain areas, e.g. sourcing and hiring, compensation and benefits, HR operations.   

What are the Human Resources functions?

HR teams undertake various responsibilities in an organization. They:

  • Recognize current and future hiring needs
  • Ensure compliance with federal, state, and governmental labor rules and regulations 
  • Attract, recruit, and retain talent
  • Manage compensation and employee benefits
  • Ensure effective employee relations 
  • Manage onboarding, training, and learning and development processes to boost performance
  • Apply health and safety measures
  • Handle administrative tasks, such as payroll and taxes 
  • Organize and oversee quarterly or annual performance reviews 

Human Resources also implement important company policies and regulations, for example, they ensure compliance with the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and GDPR regulations. They need to stay up-to-date with changes in labor legislation and research new HR trends that will keep the organization running smoothly.

What are the types of Human Resources roles?

In most cases, especially in large companies, different functions are managed by different HR professionals, who report to the HR Director or the HR Manager. Here is a list of common HR job titles:

New specializations such as Diversity and Inclusion Manager, HR Onboarding Specialist, and Compensation and Benefits Specialist have also emerged. If you want more HR job descriptions visit our extensive job descriptions library with more than 700 ready to use templates.

The complex duties of Human Resources have gradually led to creating more distinct HR roles and departments. In some cases, the name “HR” has even been removed from the job title and replaced with “talent management”, “talent acquisition” and “people operations”. This is the result of a shift from the administrative role that HR departments used to have to a more holistic, strategic approach.

Click here to learn the differences between talent management vs. talent acquisition, people operations vs. HR management and what exactly a people team does.

Want more definitions? See our complete library of HR Terms.

Related resources include:

Frequently asked questions

What exactly does HR do?

In simplest terms, the HR (Human Resources) department is a group that is responsible for managing the employee life cycle (i.e., recruiting, hiring, onboarding, training, and firing employees) and administering employee benefits.

Is the HR department important in a company?

An HR department is tasked with maximizing employee productivity and protecting the company from any issues that may arise within the workforce. HR responsibilities include compensation and benefits, recruitment, firing, and keeping up to date with any laws that may affect the company and its employees.

Does HR have the final say when hiring a candidate?

In many organizations, HR is the frontline in the hiring process, advancing only the most vetted candidates to the interview stage. However, the final say in who gets the job ultimately resides with the hiring manager, who is typically outside of the HR department.

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