Human resources are the people who work in an organization. It is also the name of the department that exists to serve the needs of those people.
William R. Tracey, in The Human Resources Glossary, defines human resources as, "The people that staff and operate an organization… as contrasted with the financial and material resources of an organization."
Human resources are the people who work for an organization in jobs that produce the products or services of the business or organization.
In the past, these people, also known as employees, staff members, coworkers, colleagues, team members, or workers in organizations and workplaces, were called personnel. In some organizations, they are still called personnel, manpower, operators, or workmen — names that are generally no longer used in more evolved and modern workplaces.
Human resources evolved from these older terms as the functions of the field moved beyond paying employees and managing employee benefits. The evolution of the HR function gave credence to the fact that people are an organization's most important resources.
Evolution of the Term "Human Resources"
Human resources, as a name for employees, was first used in a book published in 1893 according to Wikipedia and was regularly used in the early 1900's.
The modern use of the term, human resources, dates from the 1960's. Now, most organizations call employees and the department or office designated to assist the organization and its people, Human Resources.
Over the years, calling employees "human resources" has been the subject of much debate.
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People who do not like the term applied to people believe that identifying people as an asset or resource of an organization — in the same terminology you'd use to refer to land, building materials, or machines — is improper, and can lead to poor treatment of employees.
Efforts are underway to modernize the term, human resources. Increasingly, you hear employees referred to as team members, associates, members of the organization, knowledge workers, or talent. The new names imply that all of the employees in the company are essentially peers, and that they're all equally valued as people.
This is reflected in statements like, "As employees, no matter your job title or rank, we are all equal as team members.
We just have different jobs."
The Second Meaning for Human Resources
In a second meaning, human resources is also the name of the department or functional area from which the HR employees provide HR services to the rest of the organization.
People are an organization's primary asset. You must hire, onboard, pay, satisfy, motivate, engage, manage, develop, and retain your employees.
Your HR department is your investment in accomplishing these goals with the people you employ. Whether their customer is management or individual employees, your HR staff is accountable for producing the results you need in each of these areas. This does not mean that the HR department is solely responsible for results in these areas.
Foremost in accomplishing these goals with employees are your managers or front line supervisors to whom the employees report. They are the people who interact with employees every day to ensure that you have a motivated, contributing workforce. The HR office supports their front-line efforts.
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HR provides the framework, processes, programs, procedures, training, and the information they need to succeed.
The Changing Role of the HR Team
Over time, this has changed and enhanced the role of your HR team. Dr. Dave Ulrich of the University of Michigan identified three significant roles for the HR team: strategic partner, employee advocate, and change champion. He believes that everything HR does must add value to the business.
The next phase for HR “which is emerging, is using HR practices to respond to and create value based on external business conditions." Says Ulrich, “This direction needs to be connected to the business, both the business context which shapes decision making and specific stakeholders around whom business strategies are created.”
If your HR staff remain focused on designing innovative business practices in areas such as sourcing, hiring, compensation, and communication, they are not transforming their role to align with forward-thinking practices.
If every action is not focused on creating value, your senior leaders must question HR leaders about their contribution to the overall organization.
HR must focus on finding, developing and retaining talent; driving organizational culture, and organizational leadership.
It’s time for transformation and asking tough questions about past practices that have outlived their ability to contribute. Annual performance appraisals, outdated hiring practices that include discrimination, a command and control management style, and disempowering micromanagement are examples.
Today’s organizations cannot afford to have an HR department that fails to lead modern thinking practices and contribute to enhancing company profitability. See how these new roles of the HR employees have evolved.
The Changing Names of the Human Resources Function
In keeping with the new roles of the HR professional, organizations are rethinking what they want to call the office that deals with the organization’s human resources. They seek names that will more effectively present the office’s primary role and meet the expectations of the employees for what they need from their HR team.
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'Office of People' is cropping up as a term to describe the HR office. So are People Operations, Office of Talent, Talent Management, Employee Success, People Resource Center, Department of People and Culture, Support Services, People and Development, Employee and Management Solution Center, Partner (Human) Resources, and People Management.
And, of course, changing the name of the HR service organization results in changes to HR job titles. VP of People and Culture, Chief People Person, Employee Happiness Cultivator, People Operations Manager, VP of People, Chief Happiness Officer, Director of Employee Engagement, Chief People Officer, and Chief of Culture are a few that have cropped up in recent years.
What you call employees and the office that exists to serve them and the organization matters when you consider the message that you want to send to people—but it’s not the critical factor. What matters in organizations are issues such as how:
- You respect the people with whom you partner in employment,
- you honor and recognize the contributions of employees,
- you foster employee development and career progress,
- you successfully accomplish organization goals and
- serve and delight customers.
Specific Human Resources Job Roles
Using the longer term titles for HR roles, learn what an HR manager, generalist, and assistant does at work. Here are specific job descriptions for four key roles in HR:
- HR Manager
- HR Director
- HR Generalist
- HR Recruiter
Understand the tasks and responsibilities as you consider a career in Human Resources.
Essential Career Tips and Information
Careers in HR are a popular choice because HR professionals earn above median wages and the work is fast paced and ever changing. No two days ever look the same. These resources will help you understand the HR field and determine whether it’s the proper career choice for you.
They will also advise you about how to best plan and pursue a career in the HR field. They offer advice about necessary education, the skills HR leaders must bring to the table, and how to find a job in HR. They cover the responsibilities in HR as a career choice and even let you know when you might want to leave the field and transition to another.
These resources will also help employees in any role take charge of their career progress and success. You are the person who is most interested in your career success. While the HR staff and your manager can help you make progress, owning your career is your responsibility.
These resources will assist you to create a career path, make a mid-career transition, make your current job work, find happiness at work and keep your job.
Human Resources Management Careers
Since so much about HR involves managing people and resources, fundamental management skills are critical players in the HR role. And not just for HR staff, the managers who do the day-to-day managing of the people in your organization need all of the development help they can get.
Managers set the tone and pace for your organization. Why not empower them to create a motivational, engaging, productive, continuously improving work environment in which people will thrive. Use these resources to find out how.
Job Search Resources: Job Descriptions, Resumes and Cover Letters
Whether you're looking for a new job, hiring a new employee, or sending a letter to recognize an employee at work, these templates will help you get started. Take a look at these job searching resources to understand the interview questions employers will ask, the proper etiquette in job searching, and why you didn’t get the job despite your preparation.
Take a look at these sample job descriptions, human resources letters, employment forms, and interviewing, hiring, and firing checklists to get a head start in your job search or hiring employees.
Training Management Resources
Foundational in the HR function, training and developing employees is critical to retaining employees and helping them grow in their jobs and careers. In fact, in a Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) study about what retains employees and makes them engaged in their work, five of 18 factors had to do with ongoing professional development. It is one of the five factors that employees want from work.
See the tips about how to train, what to train, and how to help employees transfer skills learned in training from the classroom to the workplace. You’ll also learn about how to do a needs assessment, offer effective on-the-job training and other forms of training including coaching and mentoring. As an added plus, look for a vast array of sample icebreakers to use in your meetings, team building, and training sessions.
Recruiting, Hiring and Termination Best Practices
Starting with the checklist for hiring employees, you’ll find everything you need to most productively source, interview, select, and hire employees. Use these recruiting and staffing resources to develop a high performance, superior workforce that is dedicated to making your organization successful.
Learn, too, the proper way to reject job candidates, how to select candidates for cultural fit and how to leave your current job with grace and dignity.
Develop Your Employee Management Skills
Does your role require that you manage and lead employees? If so, you’ll find everything you need to successfully lead a group of people in these resources. Want to know more about employee motivation, engagement, and recognition, you’ll get the best of new thinking about managing a team.
Dealing with bad bosses and difficult people, the top ways that managers turn off good employees, and why some of your employees may hate you are covered in these employee management resources.
Employee Motivation and Recognition Practices
Motivating and engaging employees is the most significant factor in a manager’s job. Human resources’ support of their managers’ ability to effectively interact with employees is critical when you consider what organizations need from human resources.
In these resources find everything you need to successfully motivate your reporting staff members. Understand the underlying values and integrity that are fundamental in enabling employees to trust, respect, and follow you.
Employee Wellness and Work-Life Balance
Employees, and especially your millennial employees and the upcoming Gen Z, your newest and youngest employees are dedicated to work-life balance. In fact, for many, work is something you do all week to make money to spend on fun weekends.
Unlike the earlier generations in your workplace, employee wellness and flexible work schedules are in demand. If you want to attract and retain a superior workforce you’ll guard against factors such as discrimination and harassment and avoid becoming the victim of a lawsuit.
Team Building and Employee Motivation
Want to know more about how to form a team and build a sense of teamwork in your workplace? These resources give you twelve ways to make your teams productive and contributing. You can develop team guidelines that will create strong working relationships among employees.
Knowing the stages a team experiences as it develops will help you manage employees in a way that increases their productivity and powerful workplace relationships. Find also world class, field tested icebreakers and team building activities to use in your meetings and training classes.
Looking for information about how to take your workplace communication to the next level? These resources will help you communicate in ways that produce results in your workplace. You can become a better business communicator, make better presentations, provide feedback most effectively, demonstrate respect, and use nonverbal communication to communicate clearly and efficiently.
Use these resources to improve workplace communication via email, social media, IM, meetings, newsletters, and more.
Organizational Development, Culture and Change Management
Culture is the environment that you create for people at work. It is the result of the blending of the knowledge, experience, values, and beliefs of your workforce but especially those of your senior managers and founder. You can consciously create the culture that will best support your organization to achieve the goals and results you need for the success of your business.
You will find the resources you need to develop, improve, change, and monitor your organizational culture. Discover too, how to manage change and lead change efforts to achieve dramatic results.
Workplace Relationships and Problem Solving Tips
Relationships among your employees need to stay collegial, cordial, and professional. You want to encourage relationships that are positive, supportive, and respectful. At the same time, you want to encourage conflict in your organization when the conflict occurs over ideas, plans, and goals.
Conflict is necessary for effective problem solving and for effective interpersonal relationships. Meaningful work conflict is a cornerstone in healthy, successful organizations.
However, conflict over behaviors, attitudes, and difference of opinion can drag your workplace down. As a human resources staff person or as a manager, you need to maintain awareness of situations when conflict is unhealthy so you can intervene. You will also find resources about dealing with difficult bosses and coworkers, handling workplace bullies, and maintaining effective work relationships.
Salary and Benefits
As a human resources department, you must stay up-to-date on compensation trends and what employees want to see included in their benefits package. While not the most important factor in the employment decisions your employees make, fair pay and outstanding benefits attract and retain the employees you most want to keep.
Learn more about how to negotiate salary, pay employees, and do salary research. You will also find information about paid time off for employees, bereavement policies, jury duty and applying for leaves of absence.
Employment Laws and Rights
Want to stay on the right side of the law? As an employer, you must constantly keep on top of ever-changing employment laws that affect such areas as discrimination, employment policies, dress codes, disciplinary actions, and employment termination.
As an employee, you'll want to know what laws affect how your employer treats you. You can see what your rights and responsibilities are in the workplace.
Human Resources Employment Glossary
If your goal is to succeed at work, you need to know the words and terminology that are used in every workplace. Like all fields, human resources has acronyms and other terminology that those who are in the know—know. You can use these resources to stay up-to-date on HR and workplace terminology.