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What is the HR Department? Your Guide to HR Functions

Rebekah Carter

Updated November 5, 2022

What is the HR department

If you’ve ever worked in an office, then you’ve definitely heard “HR” get thrown around the workplace a lot. But do you actually know what HR does? What the HR department is responsible for? Or what they actually do for the company and its employees?

The HR department, otherwise known as the “Human Resources” team in a company, is a group of professionals committed to managing, supporting, and organizing employees. The specialists in this team are experts in building and maintaining professional relationships. They’re the people who deal with hiring and sourcing new talent, resolving incidents in the workplace, and even planning training and development initiatives for the professional growth of employees.

Whenever you want to talk about your employee benefits, or seek out a new training opportunity, you go to the HR department. They’re your go-to if you have questions regarding office policies. The HR department is also responsible for professionals staying safe in the workforce, and navigating the correct channels when making complaints.

What is the HR Department? An Introduction

HR stands for Human Resources. Their name is pretty self-explanatory. In an organization, the HR department is in charge of managing employees—the human resources—of your organization. Remember, staff are often the most important resource any business could have, which means ensuring that they are happy and fulfilled at their respective jobs, and are given ample room to grow is critical to any company. Additionally, companies are responsible for the safety and well-being of employees in the workplace. This falls under the purview of the HR department as well.

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Human Resources experts are there to ensure companies can make the most out of the talented team members they hire. At the same time, they also serve employees, ensuring they get the best possible experience at work, enhanced by a positive company culture.

At a basic level, the Human Resources department is involved in making sure the company they work for has a solid roster of appropriately compensated and effectively trained team members. They’re responsible for all of the employee-based activities involved in running a business—from managing payroll, to hiring and firing, and even administering employee benefits.

HR experts can also help to ensure staff members remain happy within a company and acclimate to their organization’s culture. This is because businesses with happy and engaged employees typically see a 17% increase in employee productivity, and a 41% reduction in absenteeism.

The Key Tasks of the HR Department

To answer the question “what is the HR department?” we need to look at what HR employees usually do. As HR professionals, they are responsible for managing a wide range of different tasks connected to employee wellbeing, compensation, and organization.

While the exact functionality of a HR department will usually depend on various factors, some of the most common responsibilities include:

  • Recruiting: Finding and recruiting promising employees is one of the key objectives of a human resource department. HR professionals examine the needs of the company and its goals to seek out employees suitable for certain roles. They also funnel qualified candidates towards the company’s talent pipeline, and may help with interviewing.
  • Hiring: Aside from searching for key candidates, HR professionals also extend offers to the most qualified candidates, and negotiates benefits and pay. They’ll usually be responsible for the onboarding process, ensuring all of the right documentation is completed before a staff member begins work.
  • Administration: Human Resources departments deal with various forms of administrative work associated with managing employees. They can create working schedules for employees, and help with filling out various forms and paperwork. They also assist with ensuring employees can find the right channels to make complaints if they’re unhappy with their working conditions for any reason.
  • Payroll and compensation: The HR department is usually responsible for overseeing compensation, from benefits like paid vacation, to salary and wages. They work with payroll software, and resolve any problems employees might have with salary. They can also assist team members with questions they might have about health benefits, tax withholdings, and vacation time options.
  • Training and development: Many HR departments also invest in various training and development strategies for employees. They can assist in making sure licenses and employee certifications are up to date, and seek out new educational opportunities. They can also work with employees on career development and succession planning tasks, or prepare candidates for promotions into more advanced roles.
  • Firing: Often the least appealing part of the HR department’s role, these professionals also deal with removing an employee from the system when a hire doesn’t work out. They can conduct exit interviews, ensure a final wage is delivered, and even provide employees with recommendations if they decide to exit a company amicably.

What Does the HR Department Do for Employees?

In most cases, the HR department is seen as a vital tool for business leaders. These experts are essential for providing companies with access to the right talent, and dealing with hiring and firing processes. However, the HR department also plays a significant role in keeping employees happy, engaged, and productive at work.

Some of the main ways HR experts assist employees include:

Cultivating a positive work environment:

One primary focus of the HR department is to create a workplace that’s optimal and engaging for employee productivity. They listen to staff feedback and make changes based on the needs of employees. They can also help with maintaining organization-wide diversity, inclusion, and equity policies.

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HR departments can develop sensitization programs, employee codes of conduct, and conduct employee surveys. They’re also an important tool in protecting whistleblowers when workplace misconduct and frauds need to be reported.

Managing employment policies

HR departments are also heavily responsible in creating all manner of employment policies for professionals, ensuring they have the resources, support, and compensation they deserve. They provide a framework for implementing various employment-related processes, like anti-discrimination and harassment policies, and paid-time-off policies.

The HR department will also regularly update everything from benefits and payment policies to employee health and safety strategies based on regulatory updates.

Onboarding and “offboarding” staff members:

A well-designed HR department is crucial in welcoming new team members into the business. These employees not only conduct recruitment processes, interviews, and other hiring tasks, they also assist with getting staff members integrated into the company. They can inform new hires about organizational values and work culture, and assist with workstation set-up.

When an employee decides to leave a business, a HR department can also assist with shutting down their accounts with the company, ensuring they receive the right pay, and giving them recommendations to take to new organizations.

Supporting Learning and Development

A major duty of the HR department is ensuring employees are always equipped with the skills and talents they need to thrive in any industry. As such, they’re often involved with upskilling and reskilling staff members. The HR department organizes various development and training employees to keep skills up-to-date, or teach new ones.

They can also work with employees to ensure they achieve their professional goals, helping them to build career maps and plan for promotional opportunities.

Assisting with Employee Emergencies

HR departments frequently assist with all kinds of tasks related to employees which are outside of a manager’s abilities. They can help with staff members who need to apply for reimbursement for travel or educational needs, and address concerns staff members have with misconduct.

During personal emergencies, HR departments can help employees to access unplanned leaves of absence which may need to be extended over time. Professionals can act as an intermediary between employees and business leaders to ensure relationships are preserved.

Core competencies of HR departments

As the core group responsible for improving employee experiences in the workplace, HR departments need a number of specific competencies. While the exact skills required of a HR department can vary, some of the most common competencies include:

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  • Communication: HR professionals need excellent communication skills, both written and verbal. They constantly deal with conveying complex information to different people, and most be able to listen carefully to staff to deliver excellent outcomes.
  • Relationship-building: In the HR world, it’s crucial to build powerful relationships between employees, departments, and management groups. HR professionals listen and respond to grievances to prevent relationships from turning sour. They also introduce policies to ensure everyone feels included and welcomed in any workplace.
  • Adaptability: As the workplace continues to evolve, HR departments must ensure they’re as adaptable as possible. In recent years for instance, these groups have been required to help business leaders navigate things like remote and hybrid workplace policies. They also need to constantly evaluate the workplace to optimize productivity and efficiency.
  • Technology skills: Many HR managers work with a wide range of tech tools to support employees and managers. They can work with payroll software, tools for submitting documents online, time-tracking and employee management tools and more. They may also use talent acquisition software for sorting through job applicants.
  • Creativity: HR departments need to have creative skills to come up with unique solutions to problems, company culture initiatives, and training programs. They need to be able to assess the workplace and explore a range of different strategies to boost efficiency, engagement, and productivity throughout the workforce.
  • Critical thinking: Critical thinking or analysis skills are also extremely important for HR professionals. Whether hiring new candidates, negotiating pay rises, or dealing with employee grievances, these employees need to analyze each situation with care.

Different Positions inside an HR Department

The HR department is brimming with a wide range of different professionals with unique responsibilities. Some of the most common titles found in a HR environment include:

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  • HR Director: A HR director is in charge of all employee interactions within the HR landscape, including managing employee relations, staffing, compliance, and payroll.
  • Chief Diversity Officer: A relatively new addition to the HR department, this professional ensures companies adhere to DEI initiatives.
  • Recruiting Director: Recruiting directors deal with hiring and talent acquisition, they oversee recruiting budgets and plan for onboarding new team members.
  • Compensation manager: A compensation and benefits manager deals with ensuring each employee receives the right compensation and other advantages from their job.
  • HR Assistant: A HR assistant is a professional who works under the Human Resources Director to ensure policies are implemented, and address employee concerns.

Best Practices When Building An HR Department

There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for developing the perfect HR department. For most companies, the key to success will be careful planning, and ensuring you understand exactly what you need from your HR professionals before you dive in.

Some of the most important considerations to keep in mind when creating your HR department from scratch include:

  • Start with company culture: Building a strong company culture is important before you dive into hiring any HR leaders. Clear guidelines should be in place to highlight the goals and expectations of the business, brand values, and mission statements. These tools will help to guide HR professionals to do their job as effectively as possible.
  • Determine your HR needs: Companies should take the time to determine what kind of needs they have for their Human Resources department. For instance, it may be important to focus initially on professionals with hiring, onboarding and training skills, as well as payroll experts, before eventually moving into hiring Diversity managers.
  • Create policies early: Creating crucial policies early in the business development process should help HR employees to thrive. All team members should have access to policies regarding how to deal with employee grievances, how to improve workplace communication, and what kind of salary and benefits can be offered to each new staff member.
  • Embrace technology and analytics: When implementing new HR professionals into your team, ensure they have the technology they need to work at their best level. This could mean investing in time tracking tools for remote employees, and tools for managing workplace schedules. It could also involve investing in payroll and benefits tracking software.
  • Regularly evolve the HR strategy: As the workplace continues to transform, business leaders will need to work with their HR department to improve the experience for employees. This will involve implementing new training and development initiatives, as well as introducing tools for employee wellbeing and engagement.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of HR

The HR department is an often overlooked, but crucial part of running a successful business. The experts in this team are essential for ensuring business leaders can get the most out of the professionals they hire, and attract future talent when necessary. They can also be crucial to ensuring businesses remain compliant with hiring and employee management regulations.

Without a successful HR department, a company can’t build an effective environment for their workforce, which means productivity, efficiency, and business outcomes are likely to struggle.

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Rebekah Carter

Rebekah Carter is an experienced content creator, news reporter, and blogger specializing in marketing, business development, and technology. Her expertise covers everything from artificial intelligence to email marketing software and extended reality devices. When she’s not writing, Rebekah spends most of her time reading, exploring the great outdoors, and gaming.

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