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What Is HR Operations?

HR operations, also known as human resources operations or HR ops, encompasses the day-to-day activities and administrative duties necessary to efficiently run an organization's human resources functions. 

This means implementing HR policies, processes, technologies, and best practices to support the organization's objectives and meet the needs of employees.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

Download our 2024 Workplace Trends Report to stay ahead in a transforming HR landscape. Get insights from leaders on trends that will define your strategies in AI, talent dynamics, and DEI.

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Core Functions Of HR Operations

The scope of HR operation’s responsibilities will vary depending on the organization's size, needs, and culture.

Broadly speaking, HR ops will normally carry out and assist with the following functions:

  • Workforce planning: Working with leaders to identify skill gaps and create strategies to fill them.
  • Recruitment: Employer branding, recruitment marketing, sourcing, interviewing, job offer.
  • Onboarding: Ensuring new hires feel welcome and get off to the best possible start
  • Talent development: Creating initiatives such as training courses, mentorship programs, and succession plans to help employees develop new skills and competencies that benefit them and the organization.
  • Retention and engagement: Helping ensure workers are healthy, satisfied, and engaged with their work.
  • Employee relations: Balancing the wants and needs of the employer with those of the employees, both collectively as well as individually.
  • Offboarding: Helping people leave the organization as constructively and gracefully as possible.
  • Performance management: Assisting with the creation and implementation of an effective performance management system.
  • Organizational design and development: Identifying multiple aspects of an organization (e.g. mission, workflow, strategy) and then aligning or realigning them to meet organizational goals in the current business environment.
  • Compliance: Ensuring the organization’s adherence to the laws, regulations, policies, and procedures that govern employment practices, the physical workplace, and the treatment of employees.
  • Compensation, benefits, and payroll: Ensuring total compensation is optimized to attract and retain the right talent and assisting with the benefits enrollment and payroll processes.
  • Administration: Maintaining accurate and up-to-date records of employee information, such as personal details, job descriptions, performance evaluations, and training records.

The Main Goals Of HR Operations

“HR professionals need to understand the strategy and financial goals of the organization to be able to translate those into a cohesive talent strategy. We need to understand where the business is going—it is the first, most important step to shape that strategy.” - Wesley Vestal, Chief People Officer, CAI

The primary goal of HR ops is to use their expertise to help the business achieve its goals. When HR operations leaders sit down to create their goals, they start by looking at what where the organization is headed and what it needs. 

Some areas of focus could be enhancing organizational efficiency, ensuring a healthy talent pipeline, improving employee engagement, and ensuring compliance with laws and regulations.

Here are some common goals that HR departments might aim to achieve through their operational activities:

  • Improve recruitment efficiency: Streamline the recruitment process to fill vacancies faster and with the best-fit candidates, reducing the time and cost per hire while ensuring a diverse and talented workforce.
  • Enhance employee engagement and satisfaction: Develop and implement strategies to boost employee morale and engagement, leading to higher productivity, reduced turnover, and a positive organizational culture.
  • Ensure legal compliance: Stay updated with and ensure adherence to all relevant employment laws and regulations to avoid legal penalties and protect the organization from potential lawsuits.
  • Optimize payroll and benefits administration: Ensure accurate and timely processing of payroll and benefits, enhancing employee trust and satisfaction while maintaining budgetary controls.
  • Support learning and development: Develop learning and development strategies that help ensure the organization has the skills it needs to be successful and aid in employees’ career development.
  • Increase HR operational efficiency: Utilize technology, such as HR Information Systems (HRIS), to automate and streamline HR processes, gather and interpret data, reduce manual work, and increase accuracy.
  • Develop and maintain HR policies and procedures: Create clear, comprehensive, and up-to-date HR policies and procedures that are easily accessible to all employees, ensuring consistent and fair treatment.
  • Enhance organizational communication: Improve internal communication channels to ensure that employees are informed, engaged, and aligned with the organization's goals and values.
  • Manage risk and ensure workplace safety: Implement and enforce health and safety protocols to minimize workplace accidents and ensure a safe working environment for all employees.

Challenges In HR Operations

HR operations teams face a variety of challenges, largely due to the dynamic nature of the workforce, evolving legal landscapes, and the complexities of juggling competing demands and roles. Some common challenges include:

  • Adapting to regulatory changes: Keeping up with the continuous changes in labor laws and regulations at local, state, federal, and international levels can be daunting. Non-compliance can result in legal issues and financial penalties.
  • Managing diverse workforce needs: The modern workforce is increasingly diverse, with employees from different generations, cultures, and backgrounds. Catering to their varied expectations and needs, from flexible working arrangements to diverse benefits packages, can be challenging.
  • Change management: Effectively managing organizational changes, whether due to restructuring, mergers, acquisitions, or strategic shifts, and ensuring smooth transitions for employees.
  • Being seen as a strategic partner: Often HR has to get over the perception it’s just there to hire and fire people and protect the business, prohibiting its capacity to act as a strategic partner.
  • Balancing strategic and administrative tasks: HR ops professionals often struggle to balance strategic initiatives with the day-to-day administrative tasks required of them.

HR Operations Best Practices

Adopting best practices in HR operations can significantly enhance organizational efficiency, employee satisfaction, and compliance. Here are some key HR best practices:

  • Learn the business. For HR operations to support the organization, they need to understand how it works. This includes understanding the business model and strategy, the wider market, what the organizational objectives are, and the work their colleagues do.
  • Be data-driven. Use data to inform decision-making in areas such as recruitment, retention, and development and demonstrate value.
  • Set clear KPIs. Avoid ‘boiling the ocean’ by creating HR KPIs that demonstrate value to the business.
  • Make time for strategy. Assess the HR operating model and how work is prioritized at a personal level to free up time for strategic work.
  • Be technology agnostic. There’s a lot of hype around new HR software and tools that can do it all and sometimes it can be difficult to decide what’s needed and what isn’t.
  • Maintain open lines of communication: Encourage open and transparent communication between HR, management, and employees. Regular updates and feedback sessions as part of an employee listening strategy can help in aligning goals and addressing concerns promptly.

HR Operations Roles

Roles within HR operations vary from generalist roles to focusing on a specialism e.g. HR analytics.

Some of the common roles within HR operations include:

  • HR operations manager: Oversees all aspects of HR operations practices and processes. This role involves strategic planning to manage people as resources within the organization, as well as ensuring compliance with labor laws.
  • HR operations generalist: Handles a broad range of tasks including recruitment, onboarding, benefits administration, performance management, and compliance with labor laws. May work across multiple HR functions or support specific departments within an organization.
  • Recruitment specialist/talent acquisition specialist: Focuses on attracting and hiring top talent for the organization. This includes working on the employer brand, optimizing the recruitment process, crafting job descriptions, posting job openings, screening candidates, and conducting interviews.
  • Payroll Specialist: Responsible for processing payroll and ensuring all employees are paid accurately and on time. This role involves calculating wages, deductions, and taxes, as well as maintaining payroll records.
  • Benefits administrator: Manages employee benefits programs, such as health insurance, retirement plans, leave policies, and other employee perks. This role involves communicating benefits information to employees, processing enrollments and changes, and ensuring compliance with relevant laws.
  • HR analyst: Collects relevant workforce data and presents it to key stakeholders in an optimal manner.
  • Employee relations specialist: Focuses on building and maintaining a positive relationship between the employer and its employees. This role involves handling employee grievances, conducting investigations, and developing strategies to improve employee engagement and retention.
  • Learning and development specialist: Responsible for the planning, implementation, and evaluation of employee development programs. These programs aim to ensure the organization has the required skills and competencies to meet goals as well as aid in employees’ career development.
  • Compliance officer: Ensures that HR policies and practices comply with all relevant laws and regulations. This role involves staying updated on legal changes, conducting audits, and advising on compliance matters.
  • HR Coordinator: Provides administrative support for various HR functions, such as recruitment, training, payroll, and benefits. This role involves scheduling meetings, maintaining HR records, and assisting with the implementation of HR policies.
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officer: Focuses on promoting diversity and ensuring an inclusive work environment.

The Role Of Technology In HR Operations

The role of technology in HR operations has become increasingly significant, transforming traditional HR practices and enhancing efficiency, accuracy, and employee experience. 

Here are key areas where technology plays a pivotal role in HR operations:

  • Automation: HR technology automates administrative tasks such as data entry, payroll processing, and time and attendance tracking. This reduces manual errors and frees up HR professionals to focus on strategic initiatives. Automation built into applicant tracking systems can also help streamline processes such as recruitment and onboarding.
  • Artificial intelligence: Closely related to automation is the rise of AI and the implications it has for the HR operations function and the wider workforce. AI and tools like ChatGPT can help with an almost limitless number of tasks, but use with caution.
  • Data analytics and reporting: HR analytics tools enable organizations to collect and analyze data on various HR metrics such as employee turnover, hiring costs, and engagement levels. This helps in making informed decisions and identifying trends and issues.
  • Employee self-service portals: These portals empower employees to manage their personal information, apply for leave, access pay slips, and enroll in benefits plans independently, reducing administrative burden on HR.
  • Learning management systems (LMS): Learning management systems aid in training and development by helping learning specialists develop programs, store learning material, and track progress and effectiveness.

Join The People Managing People Community

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By Finn Bartram

Finn is an editor at People Managing People. He's passionate about growing organizations where people are empowered to continuously improve and genuinely enjoy coming to work. If not at his desk, you can find him playing sports or enjoying the great outdoors.