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What is HR?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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HR is an acronym for human resources, that element within a company which deals with the human aspects/needs of workers. Many companies have an HR department, which may provide a broad range of services to its employees. Some who work in HR are considered part of the department, but many people outside of such a department may have something to do with not just the financial aspects of work, but also “the human element” of employing workers.

For instance, even though technically not part of an HR department, a supervisor or manager may be responsible for hiring or firing workers, writing employee reviews, giving day to day feedback on work, and encouraging and supporting workers. This is all potentially human resource work. Yet in large companies, a large human resources department may not have much day-to-day contact with the same employees. So managers or supervisors do part of the work involved in human resources, and members of the HR administration may oversee their work. In small companies with only a couple of employees, no formal human resources department exists, and managers or owners handle all the duties of such a department.

Some standard responsibilities of a human resources department include the following:

  • Securing, offering and explaining benefits, like health insurance or 401ks.
  • Managing on-the-job health and safety issues.
  • Offering information or advice on special work programs, like reimbursement for continuing education or smoking cessation programs.
  • Advertising available jobs, screening applicants, setting up interviews and potentially hiring applicants.
  • Handling all paperwork related to the hiring or firing of employees.
  • Distributing paychecks and bonuses (though paycheck disbursement may be outsourced to another company).
  • Helping workers apply for family leave, maternity leaves, sabbaticals or disability payments.
  • Possibly participating in motivational company wide events.
  • Approving performance reviews and assessing raises or promotions.
  • Handling complaints about employer abuses, sexual harassment, discrimination or hostile work environment charges.

It is often a critique that large companies, and sometimes even small ones lack a sense of humanity in regards to caring for their workers. Though HR departments do get pressured by those in finance departments to keep their costs low, most of its workers are keenly interested in helping to see to employee needs and encouraging workers to do their best. If you work in a relatively large and “impersonal” company, it can be a great thing to get to know the folks in your human resources department.

In a way, HR department employees may already know you better than you think. If you’ve worked for a company for a long time, Chances are human resource employees already knows when you had your children, if you had to take leave because your mom was sick, how well you’ve performed in the company, and when you’ve participated on teams. Workers often make the mistake of thinking that the HR department is in itself impersonal, but most of its employees would beg to differ.

They really are working not only for the employer but the employees. Knowing these folks by name personalizes your relationship with people who already know a considerable amount about you. When you’re starting work at a new company, seeking the counsel and advice of human resource departments is also an excellent plan, as again, these people may know you more intimately than anyone else you work with.

SmartCapitalMind is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon329914 — On Apr 12, 2013

Can the general manager of the company take over HR and just have an assistant hr manager?

By anon196345 — On Jul 14, 2011

NIPM is the institute from where i want to do PGDPM HR. Please tell me the criteria after the course and today's status of NIPM.

By anon60406 — On Jan 13, 2010

it is really good site which gives a clear cut information about HR followed by its duties. It is good for the person who really does not know much about HR i.e in the first phase of the career.

By urban — On Nov 13, 2008

Critique how hr dept helps gain in competitive advantage. critic should be positive & negative

By anon11739 — On Apr 22, 2008

question in Organization Behavior: "Modern day organization have realized that organisational tasks are performed better when assigned to groups/teams than individual" Give an opinion about this statement after discussing the pros and cons of groups/teams

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a SmartCapitalMind contributor, Tricia...
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