Posted on 09/28/2018 in Human Resources

What Do HR People Do?

What Do HR People Do?

Interestingly enough, this is a very misunderstood area of work so I will attempt to provide an idea of what Human Resources people bring to an organization. As in many other professions, this is a career that includes a number of specialties as well generalizations.


Regardless of whether you are a Human Resources Generalist or have a specific Specialty, the Human Resources field is about the management of people in organizations.


What this means is that they provide an assortment of activities; policies and procedures; and people management skills that relate to developing, utilizing, maintaining and retaining the appropriate number and skill of employees to accomplish the organization's objectives.


What many people do not understand about Human Resources, are the things that they are not responsible for. As an example, when a hiring decision is made; it should be Management that makes the final decision. Human Resources personnel may advise Managers about best practices in recruitment and selection and 'guide' the processes but the decisions made are not typically theirs to make. This is the same case in terminations, or performance management concerns.


Many medium size (or smaller) organizations have HR Generalists on staff. These folks are what we typically call a "Jack of all trades" and the work can be extremely challenging. There are some phenomenal Generalists out there - but many times it means that their work can run the gamut from recruiting, to compensation and job analysis to terminations and everywhere in between - so while they often have a multitude of skills, they may need to refer to other sources for completion of tasks or anything that is highly complex.


As an example, if a manager is struggling with performance management issues, a Generalist could provide the Manager with some good basic 'best practices'; however, detailed performance management systems would not ordinarily be something a Generalist could help with. If this performance issue were to result in a discipline issue that could potentially lead to termination, a Generalist may have to refer the employer to the organization's Legal Counsel.


Some of the specialized areas of Human Resources are as follows: 


  • Recruitment & Selection (may include performance management)
  • Training and Development (normally manages Orientations and On-Boarding)
  • Labour Relations (managing compliance with various legislation and collective agreements)
  • Metrics, Performance Management, Succession Planning
  • Human Relations (often relates to discipline, performance management, complaint handling, counselling and coaching and workplace investigations)
  • Benefits (may be included with payroll, which can be another arm of HR)
  • Total Rewards (may include benefits and also strategies for retention, workplace accommodations, and could be under the umbrella of compensation or the metrics)
  • Health & Safety (sometimes this is a department of its own, depends on organizational structure)
  • Wellness Programs, Job Design
  • Change Management (may include Communications)
  • Strategic Planning
  • Records Management


So, as you can see; there are many areas that one could choose to become specialized in.

In small companies, Managers may carry out the functions identified above but as the organization grows, it is advisable to have someone knowledgeable in employment related issues to either come on board on a contractual basis (particularly in the more challenging areas of people management), part time, or consider hiring a full time Generalist.


Policies and Procedures should have the assistance of a Human Resources professional as a starting point, as should your offers of employment or other tricky people management issues.


There is no legislated number of employees a company has to have before a Human Resources staff member is on board; however, the rule of thumb is that once you reach 80 employees, you should consider having HR in the organization. Even larger organizations may go externally for this type of assistance and of course, recruitment or policy writing are two areas in which external assistance may be needed.


A new area for Human Resource Consultants is in the area of Workplace Investigations because as the workplace becomes more complex, the expertise of someone with these skills is desirable. Harassment, bullying and changes to Workplace Safety legislation have created a greater demand on these skills and as anyone who has lived through a poorly handled investigation can tell you; it's not an area for the faint of heart.


Hopefully this high level overview has helped to create some understanding as to what Human Resources personnel bring to an organization and cleared some of the misperceptions about what these people do for business.


Blog Post Courtesy of Kellie Auld, Business Adviser.

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