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What is Human Resources?

By Deborah Ng
Updated May 16, 2024
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"Human resources" (HR) is a term that is used in business to refer to the people who work for a company or organization. It also is used to refer to the department of a company that is responsible for managing those resources, such as hiring and training new employees and overseeing the benefits and compensation packages provided to all of the company's employees. This term was coined in the United States during the 1960s, when labor relations became a greater concern for U.S. businesses, and has since spread around the world.

Managing People

The people who make up a company's workforce — its human resources — are considered to be an asset to the company, just like its financial resources and material resources, such as buildings, machinery and other equipment. A company is more likely to be successful if it manages all of its resources well, including its people. This is why many companies have human resources departments, even though those departments do not directly contribute to the company's production, services, sales or profits. Rather, effective HR departments allow and encourage the companies' employees to do their best, which in turn contributes to the success of those companies.

Current Employees

One of the main roles of an HR department is managing current employees. Unlike managers who directly oversee the employees' day-to-day work, the HR department deals with concerns such as benefits, pay, company policies and training. Among the benefits that might be handled by the HR department are insurance plans, paid vacations, paid leave for illnesses and other health matters, pension plans and employee investments. The HR department also might settle conflicts between employees or between employees and their managers as well as grievances filed against the company by employees.

Prospective and New Employees

Human resources also involves the acquisition of new employees. HR workers might be involved in recruiting potential employees through advertisements or at job fairs. In some cases, the HR department will try to hire certain types of people — or at least ensure that certain types of people — to improve the diversity of the company's workforce. For example, a company might look for candidates who belong to a certain minority demographic.

The HR department often collects and reviews job applications before forwarding those of the best applicants to the appropriate managers in the organization. The hiring process might also include background checks, credit checks and drug testing. After a new employee is hired, the HR department typically provides orientation, including instruction in company policies, and ensures that the employee is properly trained for his or her job.

Outgoing Employees

A company's HR department also plays a role when an employee leaves the company for any reason. If an employee is fired or otherwise let go against his or her wishes, certain tasks must be performed by the HR department to ensure that the process was done legally. In some cases, severance pay must be offered or negotiated, and outstanding balances of paid vacation time and other benefits must be settled. The HR department might also need to collect all keys or other equipment from the employee and make sure that he or she no longer has access to the company's resources, including computer networks.

Improving Morale

Employee morale is another concern for many human resources departments. An HR department might be responsible for choosing an employee of the month, arranging holiday parties and other get-togethers for employees or otherwise rewarding employees for good performance. The HR department often is concerned with creating a positive, enjoyable work environment. This can improve employees' production and contribute to a lower rate of turnover among the company's workforce.

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Discussion Comments
By anon990781 — On May 09, 2015

HR is a hard job. You have to face different people.

By anon337557 — On Jun 06, 2013

My husband works in a factory and pushes a button all day long. This is something a trained monkey can do, but I don't call him worthless because I know he is good at his job. Don't judge others until you have walked in their shoes for a day.

I work in HR and put in 10 hour days doing my job, which includes schedules, time off requests, all benefits, orientation, onboarding, monitor reviews and wage increases, counseling, legal compliance, investigations, recruiting, maintaining employee files, ADA accommodations, interviewing, and much more. I do get involved in the party planning and celebrations, but that is only a very small part of the job.

By anon330837 — On Apr 18, 2013

HR has nothing to do with actual jobs. They are just a waste of a company's valuable money. For the ones who want to work in HR, please rethink and pull out the best in you to be of some real use to the companies you join. Do you guys really want to end up sitting in a chair and do absolutely nothing throughout the day?

By anon305414 — On Nov 26, 2012

After an employee is reported for the first time, does he or she get a warning, or get fired automatically? How does this work?

By anon294549 — On Oct 02, 2012

As a professional social worker, can I get a degree in human resources?

By anon264752 — On Apr 29, 2012

I hate HR staff. They're often the biggest waste of money in a lot of organizations.

All management should ask for a timesheet of what their human resources staff do all day to account for *all* their hours. This is because a huge majority of organizations are massively overstaffed on human resources staff who realistically do very little (or nothing) all day long but surf the net, do puzzles or read books. For what they actually say they do (when they give you a list), realistically it only accounts for a tiny amount of time when you add it all up. They slack off.

HR staff are dull. If they were intelligent would they really be in HR? No. HR does *not* require much intelligence, but of course they'd have you believe otherwise. How does it feel to be evaluated by someone massively dumber than you?

If you're a real, regular employee, and you know HR is too big, it is a good idea to tell management and suggest the time-logging aspect or even that it's streamlined right away. You can save tens (or even hundreds) of thousands in the process, with little to no loss. Because of what HR do, they can find it very hard to lie on their timesheets, so you can easily isolate the slackers or useless ones and get rid of them promptly.

When you're looking to streamline your organization and get rid of employees, getting rid of over-staffed HR departments first is a great idea because they obviously can't, and don't, earn any money. At the very least, HR staff can be switched to part-time. Challenging them with accounting for all their time (in at least 15 minute increments) is always a great idea.

Human resources staff can grow like a virus if left unchecked. Once they're in a company, or even worse, a college or other public service, they can get out of control and try to spawn (employ) more human resources staff to do their own jobs. They usually claim the extra are “necessary for legal reasons” or because their paperwork has increased, but realistically, you'll often find they still can't account for all of their time. It's a mask for “I want someone to do my work for me!” If your HR department has “levels,” and you're not a corporation that turns over hundreds of millions each year, you've let HR get out of control and it'll take thousands out of your organization every payday.

In a well-known college in Hampshire UK, there were about 15 HR staff to 200 real employees. I like to ask the question: In an organization with 200 staff, what do 15 full time HR staff truthfully *do* all day long? The answer is a bit fat 'naff all'. The higher level HR staff do *nothing* but delegate work to the other HR staff, and the lower-down staff generally aren't rushed off their feet because there isn't all that much work to do.

And when it comes to applications, it gets worse.

HR are without a doubt, absolutely *useless* at selecting people for applications and shouldn't be let near them. If you're in charge of a small-to-medium sized organization, the worst thing you can do is have human resources sift through applications. This is because HR staff are blind 'box tickers' and don't look for actual talent -- the people who invent and really make money.

For example, 200 job applications really *isn't* much of a problem for a single person to sift through, but HR staff would have you believe it takes “forever” and that you should only have 10 to choose from -- the 10 they choose. This is of course utter crap.

I managed to get past HR when I applied for my job, and was interviewed by my boss initially. I was already an expert in what they did and ultimately I got the job. Nobody else did. I earn the company a *lot* of money each year -- maybe as much as five regular employees put together. I know for a fact if I had gone through HR, I wouldn't even have gotten an interview, because I didn't tick the “qualifications” boxes.

When it comes to job interviews, HR staff are terrible at them. They should simply not be present at interviews. Because they can't do the actual work, and *cannot* identify talent, they will simply ask all the candidates the same preset questions. Really skilled candidates can pass by unnoticed because HR staff are more interested in assessing their “character” than seeing how intelligent they are and how well they'd fit the role.

I hear endless sob stories about HR staff being clueless. My Dad recently needed to employ a new staff member for an electronics (circuit design) job. He knew one of the people coming for interviews and what this guy was capable of, but the guy didn't get past the interviews with the HR staff because he failed some sort of “character assessment.” My Dad then kicked all the HR staff out of all the current and all future interview processes, and he's never regretted it. It uses up a bit more of his time, but he can spot the possible talent that otherwise would be missed. HR staff can't be trusted to properly evaluate people for jobs they don't understand themselves.

By anon263562 — On Apr 24, 2012

HR is more relevant to the present culture prevailing in software companies.

By anon256084 — On Mar 20, 2012

Can an HR manager tell my boss what I said to her during a meeting with her?

By anon223624 — On Oct 20, 2011

I want to know what a normal HR earns per month.

By anon164970 — On Apr 03, 2011

i work in a food industry as a hr executive. there are 400 labors and i alone deal with them and also arrange them as per their profile. hr is very difficult but if you are good with people then you will be at the top one day in any organization as a hr.

By anon160290 — On Mar 15, 2011

Thanks for this. thankfully there are a lot of pages on the internet for payroll solutions and HR advice.

By coombskb — On Feb 01, 2011

Human resources is so important because it deals with the hiring and firing of employees and has to be compliant with rules and regulations so they do not have any legal issues. HR consulting firms deal with a lot more than the staffing issues they also deal with insurance issues, employee complaints, harassment issues, etc.

By anon118439 — On Oct 14, 2010

Who are more responsible for employee communications if you were to compare public relations and human resources? Thank you.

By anon117677 — On Oct 11, 2010

I worked for a retail company for almost two years. I was hired to work as a parts specialist and after being with the company for 90 days. I was asked to work as the district merchandiser for eight stores.

I accepted the position and worked as merchandiser for a little over a year. The district manager who hired me resigned his post and my position was taken away from me immediately. I was placed in one of the stores in my district as a parts specialist and I became ill.

Within two hours of my returning to work I learned that my position had been changed to cashier/merchandiser/driver. I was told that I would have to deliver merchandise to our accounts. I explained that I was under the doctor's care and was not allowed to drive. but I could work in the store.

I received a certificate for great customer service from the second newly hired district manager. Twenty minutes later, I was summoned to the telephone by the new district manager, to speak with a representative in HR. I was told by the HR representative that "there is nothing that I can do for the company while under the doctors care, and I was being placed on FMLA." I asked how could this be done without a request by my doctor. Her response was "be glad that you still have a job, complete your shift and do not return to work until contacted by HR." They were trying to force me to drive for the company.

I did not apply for a job as a driver. I was told that I had to have a statement from the doctor stating that I could drive before I could return to work. The company broke their own policy. The employee manual stated to return from FMLA the statement from the doctor only had to say that I was able to return to work.

Upon my return to work I contracted pneumonia from a co-worker and I was out sick again. I received a telephone call from the third newly hired district manager who informs me that I have been out sick too long and "it does not matter that you have a doctors statement. There's no need for you to return to work you no longer have a job." I don't think that this is legal, but I worked in Tennessee, an at will state.

By anon115270 — On Oct 01, 2010

How much does someone working in the human resources department earn.

By anon108005 — On Sep 01, 2010

@anon40328: So odd that I was in the exact same position as you. I was fired for stealing from a tenant, which is not true - total misunderstanding.

I wish I would have known about the HR department and what it was. I would have tried to go to them a long time ago since my boss was constantly harassing me but I didn't even know what it was. Should this kind of information be given to new employees? --anew4296

By anon102514 — On Aug 08, 2010

i want to work at an HR job, but how can i manage the responsibility?

By anon100402 — On Jul 29, 2010

If i report a co-worker to my hr director for doing something wrong, can hr tell that person that i reported them?

By anon94053 — On Jul 06, 2010

Human Resources is a great career to have. If you are good with people and you listen well, then you would be good for the job. If you don't like to help people, don't consider HR. HR is a big responsibility.

By anon91781 — On Jun 23, 2010

The great misconception: HR is there for the employees! HR is employed by a company to represent the company and its interests.

Although you might feel happy to take a complaint to them, i.e. about a boss, you must remember that they are not there to represent you or to 'take your side'. They will work through the issue to bring it to a resolution that represents the best outcome for the company. That outcome may not be best for you!

By anon86759 — On May 26, 2010

Human Resource Management is crap -- pure and simple. I am currently writing a book on the very subject. Jack F., author.

By anon85140 — On May 19, 2010

please help me. i have two choices between finance and human resource management. which one should i choose? please tell me what is the scope of human resources?

By anon85132 — On May 19, 2010

what is the work of an hr with company and do they do recruiting and selection?

By anon84153 — On May 13, 2010

what kind of recruitment is correct in a company?

By anon80873 — On Apr 29, 2010

I work for the Four Seasons and wrote a letter about my boss with 14 of my co-workers signatures and sent it to corporate due to abusive tactics, such as this statement 'you are the worst employee here.' This was after our F&B director told me that if I couldn't get along with my manager, then maybe it was time for us to part ways, suggesting I quit.

Needless to say, the HR department is not very happy with me. I realize that HR can only say certain things when called for a reference by another company.

What can and what would they say? What should I write in my resignation letter in order to avoid a bad reference?

By anon77686 — On Apr 15, 2010

To post #6:

As an HR professional, I personally apologize for your situation. It is not right, but sometimes HR people can cross the line. We are put into such extreme situations and it sounds like the HR person might have been doing what they were told by management.

An HR department is only as strong as what management supports it. In today world, there are few work ethics. It is very sad that corporate managers feel they are above the law and can break the law because they own the company.

If what you are saying about your boss is true, he needs to be investigated and turned in. Also, if the HR person is allowing/participating in wrong doings within the company, they need to be terminated and charges filed against them. They are not above the law and there are ethics that need to be upheld.

Keep your head high and do not let someone make you feel you were wrong by going to your HR department. That's your department; they are there for your rights and feel good that you do not work for this company anymore.

By anon76081 — On Apr 08, 2010

i want to work in HR but i don't know the HR job. How can i deal with that?

By anon74969 — On Apr 05, 2010

I'd like to work as HR, but i don't know the real meaning of HR duty. Can anyone tell me?

By anon72215 — On Mar 22, 2010

Can anyone tell me what is HR to you?

By anon71603 — On Mar 19, 2010

how can managers contribute to proactive wellness management?

By anon70694 — On Mar 15, 2010

Because that is the first and the last department you have to contact with.

By anon69080 — On Mar 06, 2010

Please help me. i have an interview tomorrow with the HR. can you help? what shall i practice on? i read the seven functions again and some definitions. what shall i do more? i want to be accepted tomorrow. I'm from egypt and thanks for the site.

By anon67297 — On Feb 24, 2010

can someone please tell me how human resources help you become successful in a business?

By anon65115 — On Feb 11, 2010

can anyone let me know how does human resources work? can anyone tell in simple words?

By anon63311 — On Feb 01, 2010

I m working with a export company as an hr assistant. i want to know what's the scope in export company hr department. --govind

By anon51582 — On Nov 07, 2009

why does hr recuit for a company? and how does it work?

By anon48512 — On Oct 13, 2009

can anyone explain what are the steps and precautions to be taken for an overall level of human resources for international development.

By anon44253 — On Sep 06, 2009

what are the roles of human resources?

By anon40328 — On Aug 07, 2009

Can someone explain why we have a Human Resource person at our Corporate Headquarters? I was under the impression that HR was there to support the employees.

I was hired by the Human Resource person. However, 6 months later, I went to him in confidence regarding a problem I was having. I was being intimidated by my boss (the General Manager). I felt as if I had to lie and cover for him in order to keep my position. I explained how the GM had been making me lie to the owners of the company about his whereabouts. Also, made to alter invoices pricing for his friends. And worst of all turn a blind eye to his stealing. I was very afraid that he would steal actual cash from our daily sales. The gal who worked for them before me was fired for stealing money. I wonder if it was true.

I wish I had never made the confidence call to Human Resources. I was fired within days of speaking to HR. The only explanation I was given was that they were no longer satisfied with my performance.

Now, in this economy, you know how hard it is to find a new job. I thought I was doing the right thing by turning to HR for direction.

By anon38302 — On Jul 25, 2009

Please help me. i have an interview tomorrow with the HR. can you help? what shall i practice on? i read the seven functions again and some defifnitions. what shall i do more? i want to be accepted tomorrow. i'm from egypt and thanks for the site.

By anon37228 — On Jul 17, 2009

how is human capital different from human resources management?

By anon20818 — On Nov 07, 2008

what are the tools used in measuring a good quality managers? what is the role of human resources in modern world?

By hoangkieu — On May 03, 2007

Why is the human resource in a company often said to be its most important resource?

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