What does an HR manager do? 7 functions of the human resources department

Human resources departments are often considered an essential part of many organizations. They are present in numerous industries, and take on many different functions in their day-to-day responsibilities.

HR departments act as a liaison between employers and employees to help ensure both are well equipped to do their jobs safely and effectively. While some organizations have an in-house HR department, others may use an outside firm. In either capacity, HR managers help maintain the structural and organizational integrity of the workplace. While HR may sometimes be regarded as the disciplinary arm of a company, in reality, it bears various supportive responsibilities like the ones we’ll discuss on this page. From making sure employees are paid and receive benefits to overseeing employee development, HR departments and managers aim to create workplaces where both employers and employees can thrive. On this page, you’ll find the main functions of an HR department, and what each entails:

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Recruitment and hiring

For many organizations, attracting and retaining the best talent in the industry is a priority. HR managers play an important role in this, helping to build the future of the company by overseeing the recruitment and hiring process. To begin, HR may work with a department manager or supervisor to learn about an open position, including its requirements and qualities of the ideal candidate. The HR department may then set forth a recruiting strategy. This might include creating internal and external job postings, screening incoming applicants’ résumés and other application materials, and conducting initial interviews. HR may also be responsible for professional reference checks and background checks to verify that candidates are eligible to work for the company.

Training and development

Hiring qualified employees is just one aspect of an HR department’s job. In order to retain talent and remain competitive, HR managers are often responsible for launching employee development initiatives. This could entail additional on-the-job training, professional development programs, or educational opportunities that allow employees to grow and develop in their current roles — or prepare them for career advancement within the organization. HR departments know that investing in training and development benefits both employers and employees. For employers, it may mean higher employee productivity and lower turnover rates. For employees, seeing the company invest in their development may help them feel more valued, increase job satisfaction, and incentivize them to stay with the company.

Employer-employee relations

Another aspect of the workplace that HR departments manage is employer-employee relationships. With this function, HR departments strive to help employers and employees see each other as mutual contributors to the company, fostering a positive dynamic between the two. HR managers may also help craft and determine company policies that ensure fairness and equity in the workplace.

When an employee has a workplace grievance — whether regarding compensation, benefits, workloads, work hours, or anything else — HR may step in to act as a liaison between the employee and employer, helping to settle any disagreements. Overall, when HR departments succeed in creating positive employee relations, employers may trust their employees and value their input more, and on the flip side, employees may respect and appreciate their employers more.

Maintain company culture

Elements of company culture may include sound hiring practices, ongoing development, and strong employee relations. However, establishing a strong company culture is not a quick achievement that can be accomplished and then set aside. HR departments are involved in continuous efforts to maintain the strength of their company culture overtime.

In the employee onboarding process, HR managers may share the company’s values, norms, and vision with employees — familiarizing them with the overall ethos of the organization. Team outings, community building, and any reward systems or recognition programs are additional ways HR departments might keep employee motivation and morale high. Maintaining company culture also means being equipped to identify any shortcomings within the organization and having the ability to address them effectively.

Manage employee benefits

On the administrative side, HR departments oversee both mandated and voluntary company benefits. While employers are required to provide some benefits like Social Security, unemployment, and worker’s compensation, other benefits like paid time off, disability income, and gym reimbursements are provided on a voluntary basis — and serve as additional incentive for potential and current employees to work at the company.

Of course, employee benefit programs vary by organization. Some may offer employer matching programs (in which employers match an employee’s contribution to their retirement fund), while others may offer comprehensive health insurance plans. Regardless of the specific benefits an employer may offer, managing all of these components is a complex job. It requires HR managers to be well-versed in their understanding of company benefit programs and have the ability to clearly explain and answer any questions employees may have regarding their policies.

Create a safe work environment

In addition to managing benefits, HR is responsible for ensuring the safety of employees in the workplace—both physical and emotional. In the physical sense, HR must ensure the workplace is free of danger, typically through worksite analysis and hazard prevention and control. HR may also establish safety programs through risk management training and provide information on procedures and protocol for any potential emergency scenarios.

Workplace safety also entails ensuring that the organization acts in accordance with federal and state employment rules and regulations. HR departments have a responsibility to maintain work environments that promote respect and dignity for all employees. They must also ensure that employees are protected from behaviors like harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and exploitation. They may provide training sessions for employees, managers, and supervisors to learn to identify harmful practices and know how to report them when needed.

Handle disciplinary actions

Disciplinary procedures and terminations are delicate and sometimes complicated matters. HR managers must know how to handle them fairly and consistently to prevent conflict or escalation. This may involve having a transparent disciplinary process that begins with a written warning and increases in severity with suspensions or demotions — or adhering to another established system. Regardless of the specifics, HR managers must have a system in place to hold employees accountable.

Additionally, HR may consult with legal counsel to ensure the company acts in accordance with the law, avoiding any mishandled situations and subsequent lawsuits. At the end of the day, HR departments have a responsibility to enforce an organization’s policies and meet legal requirements, while still maintaining the dignity and humanity of its employees.

Looking to start or enhance your career in HR?

From hiring to development to terminations, HR managers are an integral part of the organizations they serve. They oversee the entire employee life cycle and contribute to a company’s organizational success. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected job outlook for human resources managers is 5% from 2022 to 2032.

To become an HR manager, a bachelor’s degree or a master’s in HR is usually required. Some employers will consider candidates with a degree from an HR-related program. Related fields of study can include industrial and organizational psychology, labor relations, and business administration. Interested persons, including newcomers to the field, can take the SHRM-Certified Professional Exam, offered by the Society for Human Resource Management. This credential demonstrates one’s proficiency and dedication to the field. For more information, be sure to review the eligibility criteria.

Last updated December 2023