What is HR?

HR is the commonly used name for Human Resources. In the past, it has also been referred to as Personnel, Staff Welfare or Human Capital Management. The need for ‘personnel management’ started during the industrial revolution when social reformers such as Lord Shaftesbury started to exert pressure on employers with poor employment conditions.

HR has scientific roots in the Human Relations movement, with researchers such as Frederick Taylor, Elton Mayo, Frederick Hertzberg and Abraham Maslow striving to find more efficient manufacturing processes, more effective and engaged workforces and more productive workers.

As the industrial landscape changed and legislation began to afford workers protection, businesses realised they needed to value the contribution of their employees and the discipline of HR emerged. At a more operational level, HR is generally involved in four main areas:

  1. Recruitment
  2. Employee Relations
  3. Training and Development
  4. Reward

This can be broken down further and while the list of activities which HR are involved in will vary from business to business, some of the main deliverables include:

  • recruitment and selection of staff
  • on-boarding, training and developing of staff
  • administration of employment – letters, sickness, holidays, payroll, maternity, paternity etc.
  • enabling managers to manage their teams effectively
  • supporting wellbeing and engagement
  • developing and embedding values and culture
  • advising on the rewards and benefits given to staff
  • personal development and career planning
  • organisational design and succession planning
  • advising on disciplinary, grievance and mediation processes
  • supporting redundancy and TUPE procedures
  • developing HR policies and procedures which are legally compliant
  • working with staff representatives and Union officials

Today, business guru Professor David Ulrich defines the role of HR as ‘aligning HR and Business Strategy, re-engineering organisation processes, listening and responding to employees, and managing transformation and change’. HR should be supporting the organisation’s goals and culture with an appreciation of the larger business sector within which the business operates.

HR is delivered in a variety of ways. Large corporations will have HR departments, while smaller businesses may have an individual responsible for HR, or outsource HR to consultants, solicitors or helplines.

The risks of ignoring HR can destroy a business, both in terms of reputation and financially.