Human Resources departments are often misunderstood and unfairly categorized, especially in TV shows and other stereotypical portrayals, as team members that should be feared and are primarily responsible for cutting costs and firing employees.
The reality is, Human Resources departments have many valuable responsibilities, and they’re often caught in the middle of power struggles in a company. More importantly, they’re a critical asset when it comes to hiring, managing staff, and addressing disputes within a company.
The human employee is the greatest resource most companies have. The value of a single good employee to an organization is growing year over year and has been since the ’90s. Thus, establishing a solid team of people to manage that human resource has been a growing fixture of companies for decades.
If you’re considering a move to HR, or you’re on the outside looking in and just wonder what they do and how they can help, we’re here to enlighten you.
So, what does Human Resources do? Let’s dig in.
HR Manages Company Documents
Paperwork is the blood in the veins of the organism that is a company. The modern era has led to an increasing amount of this paperwork being digitized, but it’s still all there – it’s simply processed and stored differently. Some organizations even still rely on physical paperwork, including medical facilities and older companies. Most of the actual paperwork is done by the HR department and sent to the appropriate groups – individual employees, groups of employees, managers, executives – to be read, signed, returned, and stored.
In reality, much of the day-to-day work of an HR employee is managing paperwork. The exception is in larger organizations where HR teams can have specialized employees. A technical recruiter, for example, will handle paperwork related to recruiting but will leave most of the rest of HR to other members of the team. Likewise with Employee Placement Specialists, Interviewers, and other specialized roles.
HR staff may graduate from a university with a degree in business, business management, or administration. They may also get an MBA in HR Management or a related degree. Additionally, HR professionals often pursue additional certification from organizations such as the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) or the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM).
HR Enforces Company Regulations
Compliance with policies, both internal and external, is of critical importance for most businesses.
- Internal policies on employee ethics and behavior.
- Internal policies on conduct, dress, and attendance.
- Communications policies, both internally and externally.
- External industry regulations, such as HIPAA.
- External state or federal regulations, including anti-discrimination laws.
Whether the policies in question are internally devised and thus flexible, or externally enforced, HR is typically the central authority within a company that handles compliance. They are responsible for educating staff on policies, including the penalties for violations. They are also responsible for handling complaints and violations, including delivering punishments. Whether this results in a reprimand, a firing, or a lawsuit, HR is the central organization responsible for managing it or facilitating internal or external auditors in their investigations.
David Miller, an attorney, puts it plainly:
“HR professionals are the absolute front line of defense for a company to make sure it treats people fairly, legally and keeps the business out of danger.”
HR Investigates Internal Complaints
Human Resources is often made out to be the enemy. Common advice during negotiations or discussions, from an employee’s end, is to “always remember that HR works for the company, not for you.” The truth is a little more nuanced than that.
The HR department is usually caught in the middle. Yes, they work for the company, but it is in both the company’s and their best interests to handle and solve internal complaints in an appropriate manner. Internal complaints, whether they’re related to managers abusing their power, sexual misconduct in the workplace, harassment, cyberbullying, need to be addressed.
There’s always a dark side to internal complaints. Abuse of power from someone high enough in the chain can disrupt the proper flow of HR resolution. The truth is, in a properly functioning organization, HR should be an impartial mediator, investigating the truth of a situation and handling it appropriately.
“According to a spring 2020 report by Workhuman, only 47 percent of women and 66 percent of men report sexual harassment to HR. HR should be a department that employees trust with problems, and all employees should feel comfortable with reporting sexual harassment cases.”
Any company large enough to have an HR department should strive to ensure that the department is trusted, impartial, and empowered to handle complaints and employee issues adequately, without any added pressure from above or fear for their job position.
HR Administers Payroll and Benefits Systems
While the actual distribution or disbursement of funds is likely handled by the finance team, administration of payroll, telling them who gets paid what and when is all done by human resources. HR is responsible for managing payroll, as well as benefits, both internal and contracted.
- Managing payroll to ensure that all employees, old and new, get the appropriate amount of money each pay period.
- Managing one-time or inconsistent financial benefits, like periodic bonuses or bonuses for performance.
- Tracking and managing days off, vacations, and even benefits like free lunches for employees.
- Managing and administering internal benefit programs, from referral bonuses to comped travel and lodging on business trips.
- Directly managing certain types of financial benefits, including employee 401(k) and similar forms of investment matching.
- Serving as an intermediary for benefit claims, such as medical leave of absence claims.
Other organizations may handle the actual implementation of these systems, but the HR team determines what is implemented, and when.
HR Builds Hiring Objectives in Conjunction with Executives
A truly empowered HR team is not subservient to the executive team. Rather, they are a guiding force in the overall direction of business development.
“Modern human resource leaders frequently lead change initiatives for their organizations. As a result, current HR executives yield strong project management skills in their corporate toolboxes. The professionals are skilled at helping organizational stakeholders make the connection between change initiatives and strategic needs, minimizing change resistance and employee unrest.”
HR has responsibilities from the top to the bottom of an organization. At the top, they work with executives and administrators to guide the direction of the business, serving to temper expectations and impose realistic boundaries on sky-high dreams. At the bottom, they work to build institutional buy-in, awareness, and hype for the direction of the organization as a whole.
HR Assists Employees with Career Development
While it may seem, in some organizations, that HR serves the company more than it serves the employees, the truth should be the opposite. When employees are the single greatest resource available to a company – and with the sheer expense of turnover rising the more the employee’s value rises – it’s no surprise that many modern HR departments are focusing on employees.
Thus, an HR department may be focused on:
- Assisting employees in personal development.
- Assisting employees in professional development and training.
- Rewarding employees for their performance with bonuses and promotions.
- Offering training and support for employees, managers, and more.
- Adjusting roles and duties for accommodation, to facilitate the health and wellness of individual employees.
Keeping employees happy, healthy, empowered, satisfied, and growing is all a key part of a holistic approach to modern human resources. As LucidChart says:
“After all, employees are the single biggest asset to any organization. It follows, then, that protecting their well-being is of utmost importance.”
HR May Assist With Recruitment and Staffing
Depending on the size of an organization, hiring new employees may be an occasional duty or a full-time job. Every aspect of hiring, from creating a job posting to refining a candidate pool to conducting skills tests and interviews is under the purview of the HR department.
Larger companies with larger recruiting and staffing needs might hire specialists and create individual hiring departments within their human resources department. Other organizations may work directly with recruiters, or contract recruiters like ourselves, to outsource the early phases of hiring and bring in highly qualified candidates.
HR should also be acutely aware of opportunities for internal promotion as well as external hiring. When a job opening is created, either from an employee leaving or when a new role is created, the human resources department should look to see if any internal employees can fill the space. They should also be looking for new hires to step in and help fill that role. This also links up with their duties to offer career progression and advancement to employees.
HR Provides Resources for External Employee Problems
The boundary between home life and work life is thinner than ever before, especially with the past year’s focus on working from home for many organizations. Unfortunately, many home-life problems can affect work life. These may range from child medical issues to domestic violence. Human resources usually stand as employee advocates and can provide resources to help solve problems outside of work. These can include support or connections for therapy, resources for financial assistance, and flexibility in company policies to help with employee personal lives.
In some instances, HR may also be required to report specific kinds of issues. In California, HR employees are mandatory reporters for child abuse, and they can provide an avenue for victims of domestic violence to speak out in a situation where they are less likely to be monitored or at risk. Again: the health and wellness of employees are both paramount for the success of a business, so providing every avenue of assistance possible is a good position for HR to take.
HR Performs Employee Appraisals
While managers are a big part of employee performance reviews, they often limit their review to the specific job duties and requirements of a team or a role. HR can take performance reviews into account as part of an overall employee appraisal.
Part of good onboarding is feedback. Employees with feedback during onboarding are more likely to settle into their roles, knowing what they are and aren’t doing that meets expectations. Feedback should continue throughout an employee’s tenure and can continue to guide them in both personal and professional development.
Routine performance reviews allow HR to help an employee guide their professional development, and can open up additional opportunities for continuing education, training, and experiences, all of which can lead to promotion. Bonuses can incentivize performance. Moreover, a performance review can catch and analyze problems, both within the workplace and outside it. Detecting issues, whether it’s bullying, violence, or simply burnout, is an important part of solving them.
HR Maintains Employee Awareness
Perhaps one of the most undervalued and overlooked duties of the HR department is keeping employees aware of developments within and without the organization. New policies need to be distributed so employees can be informed. Likewise, the removal of policies should also be distributed.
This plays an important role within a business. It helps keep employees informed and engaged in the direction, vision, and structure of the business. It’s the avenue through which employee feedback reaches executive ears, and through which change can be implemented and feedback acknowledged.
Many channels are available to the HR department for information distribution. Internal newsletters, flyers, and personal emails are all valid examples of this. Promptly informing employees of changes to their workplace can help to prevent sudden issues and conflicts within your team, among other problems.
The average Human Resources department has a lot more on its plate than many people might know. From every angle of the business, they help guide the direction of day-to-day activities, facilitating decisions, presenting feedback to executives, and pushing back against unrealistic expectations.
From the bottom up, they keep employees informed, healthy, and happy. They help facilitate everything from career development to personal health to internal feedback. From the outside in they help bring in high-quality candidates and ensure that the organization remains compliant with industry and governmental regulations.
From the inside out, they help guide and promote the company’s reputation, resolve issues that would otherwise become problems, and generally smooth over the wrinkles of a business’s public face.
There’s a lot more to HR than meets the eye, which is why it’s such a crucial and indispensable part of a modern company.
Are you considering hiring a human resource professional, either in-house or enlisting some outside help? Do you have any questions for us? Please let us know down below in our comments section! We reply to every comment and would love to hear your thoughts.
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.