Skip to main content

From what I've witnessed in my time managing teams and people, the role of an HR professional is often misunderstood by those they work with.

While working in HR involves helping people, it certainly isn't the same as being a therapist, and there are many duties that colleagues don’t realize even exist.

Additionally, an HR team’s responsibilities can vary drastically in scope and accountability based on the size of the organization, the needs of the business, and the company culture.

So what does HR do, and what are human resources responsibilities? Here I'll explain what HR is responsible for in terms of serving employees and the business.

What Is Human Resources?

According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), human resource management “is the process of managing an organization's employees. HRM includes all aspects of people management to effectively meet an organization's goals.” 

If that sounds broad, it's because it is. What makes this even more complex is that human resources responsibilities are continuously evolving to meet the needs of the business. I'll get into some of these needs and key responsibilities below.

What Does An HR Department Do?

There are many processes an HR department either owns or assists with:

  • Recruitment and onboarding
  • Learning and development
  • Managing compensation
  • Ethics and compliance
  • Organizational design and development
  • Performance management
  • Nurturing a positive company culture
  • Running payroll
  • Running benefits enrollment
  • Handling employee relations and disputes
  • Administration (updating employee records etc)
  • Workforce planning
  • Leadership support
  • Offboarding.

The list goes on. And, because of the continuous shift, your HR team may have transitioned away from the “human resources” nomenclature and may be leaning into other terminology such as “people and culture” or “people operations.”

This updated branding is better aligned with what human resource responsibilities are transitioning towards—a more strategic, empathetic approach to creating an employee experience where all employees and the business can succeed. 

Human Resources Responsibilities 

In a strategically designed HR function, the HR team is aligned to deliver on its purpose, hit organizational goals, and create a great workplace.

Human resources responsibilities are often structured around the life cycle of the employee (sometimes called the employee journey) which refers to the five core stages in which your employees will interact with your organization.

employee lifecycle infographic
The employee life cycle includes recruitment, onboarding, retention, development, and separation.

That said, the responsibilities I outline below extend beyond the core five in this model to help you understand more thoroughly how HR practitioners provide support to leaders and their employees throughout the stages of their employment.

1. Recruitment

Recruitment/talent acquisition is the process of attracting, sourcing, and interviewing candidates. It's one of the most important HR responsibilities and also one of the most challenging, especially in today’s uber-competitive labor market.

Creating a magnetic employer brand built around an attractive employer value proposition is the holy grail because it makes hiring the talent you need much easier. An added benefit is that this goes hand in hand with retention, another key HR concern.

Thankfully, technologies such as applicant tracking systems and sourcing software help build talent pools/pipelines, post job descriptions, and manage the interview process.

2. Employee onboarding 

Onboarding is the process through which new employees are assimilated into the organization. It begins as soon as a candidate accepts an offer and in some instances can take up to a year. 

Most organizations develop a 30-60-90 day plan to ensure new hires get off to the best possible start and good onboarding software solutions help deliver training materials and track progress.

3. Maintaining employee records

Another essential component of the onboarding process includes setting up and maintaining employee records. This is important for processes such as payroll and benefits administration as well as accurately tracking and reporting key HR metrics.

Generally, most employee info is stored in Human Resource Management System (HRMS) or Human Resources Information System (HRIS).

Through automation and shared access, these systems help HR teams and employees store and update employment data. They may also include other features such payroll, performance management, and benefits administration.

4. Employee retention 

Once someone’s been onboarded, they enter what we hope to be the largest section of the employee life cycle: employee retention.

This includes all activities designed to deliver a great employee experience and ensure that your people have everything they need to remain successfully engaged with your organization.

Good data hygiene to accurately track metrics such as turnover and promotion rates is crucial to this, as is employee listening.

5. Creating a great culture

LinkedIn’s 2022 Global Talent Trends report stated that "For companies to attract, retain, and grow talent that will bring them sustained success, they need to fine-tune—or overhaul—their culture to meet the expectations of professionals to be seen as human beings first."

This means that HR is responsible for partnering with the executive leadership team to both define and maintain the company culture. This includes helping to define the company’s mission or vision statement and values, and also ensuring employees and leaders at all levels are living by the company’s values.

6. Employee experience 

One of the ways that organizations keep abreast of the employee experience is through pulse checks, listening sessions, or other data collection methodologies.  

While business leaders play a primary role in driving employee engagement within their segments, HR is strategically positioned to act as cultural ambassadors to help drive business leaders’ focus on refining the employee experience, as well as recognizing opportunity areas and proposing/implementing solutions.

Get weekly insights and how-tos on leadership and HR’s biggest and most pressing topics—right to your inbox.

Get weekly insights and how-tos on leadership and HR’s biggest and most pressing topics—right to your inbox.

7. Assisting employees

If you ask a room full of HR professionals what they love most about their job, you’ll commonly hear the same answer: “Having the opportunity to help people.”   

Providing employees with support, coaching, and feedback is the bedrock through which human resources can help create a positive work environment at their organization. 

This could be anything from helping employees find information related to their employment (such as Paid Time Off (PTO) issues, benefits questions, etc) or it could be more complex, like helping with their career path.

8. Strategic partnerships

Human resources is also a strategic partner. Roles such as HR Business Partner (HRBP) are often embedded into parts of the organization so that an HR professional can partner directly with each team’s senior leadership to help define their business strategies and align HR strategies to support the direction of the business.

Additionally, as organizations grow or change, HR plays a role in the organizational design process: the process through which teams are structured to ensure they are efficient, effective, and functionally capable of delivering on their goals/objectives.

9. Compensation and benefits

A major part of boosting employee retention includes creating a compensation and benefits structure that helps employees feel valued for their contributions. This is done by paying fair and equitable remuneration for the value they’re generating.

Your compensation philosophy, benefits program, and benefits administration process are a key part of ensuring your employees stay healthy and cared for.

When done right, both compensation and benefits can be key drivers in promoting employee engagement, loyalty, and retention.

10. Processing payroll

Beyond the philosophical components of a compensation and benefits program, it’s equally essential that employees consistently receive their paychecks on time with both the correct compensation and in compliance with tax laws. 

Human resource teams are partly accountable for using HR payroll software and ensuring the organization has a culture of accountability where employees trust that they will receive accurate and timely compensation. This includes base pay, other incentives, bonuses, paid time off (PTO), and deductions.

11. Creating company policies

HR policies are the rules and processes that govern the employment relationship between you and your team members.

As organizations grow, policy documentation becomes essential in providing self-service support to employees and managers.

These established HR policies and procedures empower your people to navigate complex issues ethically and ensure that everyone is treated fairly, equitably, and consistently.

There are many examples of HR policies covering areas like employee conduct, technology use, paid time off, and health and safety standards. 

12. Ethics and compliance

The reality of operating any business is that it’s essential to have an ethics-driven workforce that remains compliant with the rules, and HR teams play a major role in setting these ethics and compliance standards. 

This includes helping manage policy definition, employee training, incident management, and third-party audits.

Compliance is key in maintaining your organization’s reputation within your industry, mitigating risk for the organization, and preventing unwanted costs associated with regulatory violations. 

Ethics and compliance can help build a culture of accountability, and ensure that employees live by the company values. Jessica Cieslinki’s guide to HR compliance is a great resource here.

13. Employee relations

Improving employee relations is another critical human resource responsibility. This means addressing items that impact employee performance, interactions with other employees, or other issues relating to the overall work experience at a company.

HR plays a key role in acting as an unbiased moderator when addressing conflict between co-workers or management, addressing performance issues, and overseeing organizational disciplinary standards. 

This necessitates establishing investigation protocols and disciplinary policies, and acting as a resource to both employees and managers based on the concerns an individual is bringing forward.

14. Training and development

Training and development (also referred to as learning and development) is the process of aligning your talents’ capabilities to meet with the organization’s strategy and vision. 

HR teams are strategically positioned to help advise on employee developmental needs and help build strategies that support the growth and development of your talent. Based on complexity, this can vary but often includes:

  • Advising leadership on development needs and helping build L&D strategies to support employee growth 
  • Coaching employees and leaders through the creation of individual development plans (IDPs) to help employees take ownership of their growth
  • Curriculum creation, including the design and delivery of course materials (instructor-led training, web-based training, on-the-job training)
  • Development of internal career mobility solutions designed to help connect employees to new growth opportunities like their next role and mentoring.

15. Performance management

HR’s duties also include defining and maintaining performance management processes that enable the company and its colleagues to hit organizational goals.  

A well-designed performance management process provides transparency to company goals and a deeper understanding of how all colleagues are contributing to those goals. It also creates a collaborative process through which colleagues and their managers can work together to improve performance.  

Performance management is also commonly tied to an organization’s compensation philosophies. In a pay-for-performance model, raises, bonuses, and other incentives are often tied directly to both the company's and/or the employee's individual performance over the calendar year.

16. Succession planning 

Succession planning, or the process of “building systems and processes to ensure future leadership continuity in an organization”, is a key way in which organizations identify and invest in high-potential talent.  

Often, succession planning is part of the wider talent planning process, sometimes known as a “talent review”, during which leaders and HR partners collaborate to assess workers based on their performance and potential (9-Box rating).  

Regular HR-facilitated conversations about high-potential talent and leadership gaps ensure that organizations are developing a pipeline of ready-now talent to fill the leadership vacancies of tomorrow.

17. Diversity, equity, and inclusion 

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) remains both a key human resources responsibility as well as an effort that must be championed by all members of the leadership team. 

There are many components, but the purpose of DEI work is to build more inclusive and equitable organizations that are representative of the communities in which we live and serve. 

It's important to note that DEI efforts are closely intertwined with all elements of the employee life cycle and human resources responsibilities, from recruiting diverse talent to developing a leadership succession slate that's representative of your organization's employee population.  

One common way that organizations are celebrating diversity and building more empathic employee relations is through facilitating employee resource groups. These are a great way for underrepresented groups of employees to come together to celebrate their interests and organically influence change.

18. Employee offboarding 

Human Resources responsibilities also extend into employee offboarding, aka separating or terminating employees from your organization. Generally, the HR function is accountable for defining an offboarding process (commonly presented as an offboarding checklist) and guiding people through this event. 

Depending on the circumstances through which an employee is exiting the organization, there may be additional responsibilities such as exit interviews or surveys. 

In a layoff or position elimination situation, additional tasks include the generation of a severance package to help support employees as they transition out of the company and to mitigate legal risk for the organization.  

19. Talent planning and strategy

Proper talent planning and strategy are key to organizational success and HR is responsible for working with leaders to ensure their teams have the talent in place to achieve their goals.

HR plays an important role in helping teams determine the talent they need and using their internal and external knowledge to fill any skills gaps.

As part of this, HR is responsible for developing an effective workforce planning process.

How HR Supports The Business

HR supports organizations by helping ensure that they have the talent in place to achieve their goals and that talent is healthy, engaged, and has everything it needs to perform and reach its potential.

It sounds simple in a sentence but, as we’ve discussed above, there’s a lot to it. Hopefully, non-HR folks reading this will have a newfound understanding and respect for the function and what we do!

One day we might be coaching managers on how to give better feedback and the next we’re helping update the compensation structure. No two days are the same, but the common theme is helping the organization deliver its goals through effective talent management strategies.

As mentioned, HR also supports the business by ensuring compliance with relevant laws and regulations.

How HR Supports Employees

When it comes to workers, HR supports them by:

  • Ensuring that their legal rights as employees are adhered to
  • Helping them with any queries related to their employment
  • Ensuring they’re paid on time and accurately
  • Assisting with benefits enrollment
  • Welcoming them to the organization and helping them reach their full potential during their tenure
  • Helping ensure a safe and convivial working environment that’s supportive of their needs
  • Coaching and mentorship.

HR Jobs

Human resources has many potential career paths and the list is always expanding. Roles range from HR generalist touching on pretty much everything to highly specialized such as mergers and acquisition specialist.

Here I’ve broken down HR job titles by function.

Generalist and management roles

  • HR assistant
  • HR generalist
  • HR specialist
  • HR manager
  • HR business partner
  • HR director
  • Vice president of human resources
  • Chief human resources officer (CHRO)

Recruitment/talent acquisition

  • Recruiter
  • Talent acquisition specialist
  • Sourcing specialist
  • Recruitment coordinator
  • Recruitment manager

Training and development

  • Training coordinator
  • Learning and development specialist
  • Corporate trainer
  • Training manager
  • Director of learning and development

Compensation and benefits

  • Compensation analyst
  • Benefits administrator
  • Payroll specialist
  • Compensation and benefits manager

Employee relations

  • Employee relations specialist
  • Labor relations specialist
  • Employee relations manager

HR information systems (HRIS)

  • HRIS analyst
  • HRIS coordinator
  • HR technology specialist

Performance management

  • Performance manager
  • Performance improvement specialist

Compliance and risk management

  • HR Compliance Officer
  • Workplace Safety Officer

Diversity and inclusion

  • Diversity and inclusion specialist
  • Diversity officer

Organizational development

  • Organizational development specialist
  • Change management specialist
  • Organizational development consultant

HR Skills

As you can see HR’s responsibilities are quite varied and HR professionals acquire a broad range of hard and soft skills throughout their careers. It’s one of the joys of working in the profession.

Some key HR skills include:

  • Communication skills: Effective verbal and written communication is essential for interacting with employees, management, and external partners.
  • Interpersonal skills: The ability to build and maintain good relationships is crucial for managing employee relations and navigating workplace dynamics.
  • Conflict resolution: HR professionals must be adept at resolving conflicts between employees or between employees and management in a fair and effective manner.
  • Organizational and project management skills: Managing multiple tasks, deadlines, and projects efficiently is crucial in the fast-paced HR environment.
  • Discretion and confidentiality: Handling sensitive information with discretion and ensuring confidentiality is critical in HR.
  • Empathy: Understanding and sharing the feelings of others is important for addressing employee concerns and fostering a supportive workplace.
  • Negotiation skills: Negotiating salaries, benefits, and workplace conflicts requires tact and diplomacy.
  • Legal compliance: Knowledge of labor laws and regulations is essential for ensuring that the organization complies with all legal requirements.
  • Adaptability: The ability to adjust strategies and practices in response to changing business environments and workforce needs.
  • Business acumen: Understanding the broader business context and aligning HR strategies with organizational goals.
  • Data analytics: The ability to collect, analyze, and interpret HR data to inform decisions and improve processes.
  • Technology proficiency: Familiarity with HR Information Systems (HRIS), payroll software, and other tech tools used in HR management.
  • Performance management: Skills in developing and implementing performance evaluation systems that are fair, effective, and aligned with business objectives.
  • Recruitment and selection: The ability to identify, attract, and select the best talent to meet organizational needs.
  • Training and development: Designing and facilitating training programs that enhance employee skills and organizational performance.
  • Cultural awareness: Understanding and appreciating diversity to foster an inclusive workplace environment.
  • Leadership: Providing guidance and direction to the HR team and serving as a role model for company values.
  • Change management: Leading and managing organizational change initiatives in a way that minimizes resistance and maximizes engagement.
  • Problem-solving: Identifying issues promptly and devising effective solutions to resolve them.

Is It Better To Outsource HR?

It’s clear that human resources responsibilities are broad, complex, and essential to the success of your organization. How do you manage them all?

A common approach is to outsource some (or potentially all) of your HR functions. My recommendation, however, is to maintain at least a small, strategic human resources function within your organization.

I find having an in-house HR team is essential to understanding your employees’ needs, providing strategic thought partnership and coaching to managers and leaders, and ensuring your HR responsibilities enable your company to deliver on its purpose, hit organizational goals, and create a great workplace for people.  

Moving Relationships Forward

While human resources may have standalone accountabilities, there are many shared goals between people leaders and HR professionals.

Ultimately, HR folks should be positioned to help better manage the entire life cycle of employees and provide strategic input to help meet business deliverables.

Some further resources to help you on your journey:

Join The People Managing People Community 

For further advice on the responsibilities of the HR function and how to effectively manage human resources in your organization, join our supportive community of HR and business leaders sharing knowledge and expertise to help you grow in your career and make greater impact in your organization.

Alex Link
By Alex Link

Alex is a HR Director for a Fortune 4 organization with a passion for developing the leaders of tomorrow. He has a Masters of Science in Human Resources and Labor Relations and has extensive experience in HR, Leadership Development, Talent Management, Learning and Development, and more. When not focused on helping people realize their career aspirations, he enjoys playing guitar, reading sci-fi fantasy novels, relaxing with his wife, and playing with their two young children.