Human Resources (HR): What Is It And What Is It For?

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 17, 2020

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A human resource is one individual of many who helps to form an organization’s team. This could be in any organization (nonprofit, government, etc.), but it typically refers to a corporate workforce.

While some companies may spread human resource duties across different departments in lieu of a dedicated HR team, human resource departments are people-focused and help employees and employers thrive.

This article gives a basic rundown on human resource, what it means, what HR jobs entail, and how HR can help you.

What Is Human Resource?

When someone uses the term “human resource,” they’re referring to the individuals who make up a company’s workforce. Talking about individual people as a resource may seem odd to some, but it can help a company think about how they go about managing the people they employ.

An organization’s human-capital — the knowledge, skills, and labor of its workers — is its most valuable asset. Humans are also, of course, an incredibly unique asset that requires a specialized approach. Thus, devoting time to specifically consider the “human side” of things is necessary for a business to run smoothly.

A human resources department (or HR department) deals with all things involving an organization’s human capital. This department can be called human resource management, human capital management, or even a variant that opts for terms like “people,” “employee,” or “talent.”

HR departments are in charge of creating and managing programs related to employing and training workers, retaining workers, and compensating them for their work. HR manages professional relations as well as the overall company culture.

Key Functions of Human Resources

The primary function of human resources is in managing people, pay, and training. Some of the critical components of this are listed below.

  1. Recruitment. This involves outlining staffing policies, finding job candidates, interviewing for positions, and eventually hiring new employees.

  2. Onboarding. The process of hiring new employees involves acquainting them with the materials, skills, and know-how required to best serve the organization and do their job.

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  3. Training. HR departments run training and career development programs to help employees learn new skills, sharpen existing skills, and stay motivated. These programs promote personal and professional growth in employees and help to foster a positive workplace.

  4. Developing employment policies. Workplace policies help to advise and inform employees and employers on the rules and guidelines of the office. HR departments develop or revise policies such as discipline policies, employee conduct policies, dress codes, and business plans.

  5. Administering compensation and benefits. Human resources ensure that employees’ compensations are fair and make sense in the given industry and position. They also want to ensure that benefits and compensation are competitive within the industry so as not to lose or drive away talent.

  6. Organization development. Promoting successful organizational change and performance is a crucial role of HR departments. Organizational structures and processes have a significant effect on human capital and must be managed carefully.

  7. Retaining workers. Companies want to ensure that once they’ve invested in a worker, that worker will stick around. High turnaround rates for employees are often a sign of organizational failure, so retention of workers is a vital task for HR.

  8. Protecting workers. Everyone deserves to have their safety and rights protected at work, and an HR department doing their job will ensure that this is the case. HR makes sure company policies and behaviors adhere to laws affecting employees and that employees have a line of defense.

  9. Maintaining a healthy work environment. Morale and company culture have a considerable effect on workers’ abilities to achieve within their work setting. HR helps resolve employee and employer conflicts, maintains diversity within a workforce, and utilizes employees’ feedback to create the best possible workspace.

Why Does a Company Need to Have Human Resources?

The basic purpose of HR departments is to deal with human-centered company issues with a specialized approach.

Companies need HR to ensure that all of their policies, programs, and other happenings that affect their employees are optimized to create a great work environment and great workers.

HR professionals create recruitment strategies to acquire valuable new employees and retain them. They also help to acclimate new employees into their work environment as quickly as possible.

They address employee concerns and make sure that workers’ voices are heard and taken into account and that the work environment is healthy and happy. They help to settle conflicts between employees or between employees and employers. This is crucial for good company morale.

HR also manages the separation process and makes termination as smooth and painless as possible, as well as negotiating on the terms of an employee leaving.

How Can This Department Help You as an Employee?

HR acts as a line of help and protection to employees. They make sure that your concerns and interests are heard and that all complaints are dealt with appropriately.

If discrimination, harassment, or other illegal conduct is happening to you in the workplace, HR ensures that your concern is taken seriously. Human resources departments are legally required to investigate these claims on your behalf. HR is also required to protect whistleblowers against retaliation by keeping their claims anonymous.

If you have a disability and need accommodations or need to take advantage of federal or state protection such as the Family Medical Leave Act, HR is there to assist you.

As HR is in charge of benefits and payroll, it is also the place to go if you have any questions or concerns about your company’s health insurance, your salary, or any other workplace policy. HR will consider your claims and follow up with you on how they plan to resolve your issue.

Depending on how your company runs its human resource department, you may even be able to use HR to get guidance in your career or develop a long term career plan. It is in their interest to keep you motivated to succeed.

However, remember as a bottom line that HR’s first obligation is to the company. They want to help you as an individual insofar as you are cooperating with and in line with company aims. If, for instance, you’re considering switching careers and looking for guidance, it’s best not to go to your company HR with that information.

What Is the Importance of Human Resource?

Human resource – as it refers to a company’s workforce – is obviously one of the most critical factors in an organization’s success. Without the skill, ideas, and labor of people, nothing gets done. While automation may be quickly changing the landscape of many workplaces, companies will always need human resource in some capacity.

The goal of human resource departments is to both acquire and protect these workers as a company’s most valuable resource. They ensure that companies create the best possible work environment by creating important human-centered policies, developments, and processes.

HR departments also work to bring out the best in employees. By studying individuals’ strengths and weaknesses in a workforce, HR professionals can strategically structure their organization to correctly utilize employees’ skills and build upon necessary skills.

Through workplace policies, programs, and training, HR departments largely shape a company’s culture. A lousy HR department can destroy a company’s reputation as a good, or even safe, workplace. A horrible HR department may even turn a blind eye to ethics and create an environment where toxic behavior runs rampant.

This is why a good, ethical, and well-trained human resources team makes all the difference.

List of Human Resources Jobs

Here is a list of common human resource job positions a company might have:

  • Staffing coordinator. In charge of organizing and scheduling employees according to the number and type of employees needed for each shift.

  • Recruiter. Finds candidates to fill open positions and negotiates their needs with the needs of the company.

  • Staffing manager. In charge of all staffing-related matters, including recruiting, training, and retaining employees.

  • HR assistant. Assist HR managers with various HR and administrative duties.

  • HR associate. Maintains human resource records, verifies employee backgrounds, and explains HR programs.

  • HR intern. Entry-level position assisting with varying HR tasks.

  • HR analyst. Evaluate and analyze HR policies and programs to ensure they align with company goals.

  • HR generalist. Runs the general day-to-day functions of HR departments.

  • HR specialist. Help recruit and hire employees and onboarding duties.

  • HR coordinator. Ensures that policies adhere to all regulations and acts as a liaison for employees.

  • HR manager. In charge of the administrative functions of a company.

  • HR director. Supervise and consult management to ensure company processes are running smoothly and efficiently.

  • Talent acquisition. In charge of finding and hiring skilled workers for an organization.

  • Talent management. Find and retain skilled employees.

  • Chief human resources officer (CHRO). Creates an overall HR strategy and vision in alignment with company goals.

  • Benefits administrator. In charge of employee benefits, including medical insurance and worker’s compensation.

  • Safety manager. Creates and revises safety regulations for an organization.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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