Over the last century HR has evolved to much more than a support role. If we have to explain what the HR department of today is in one sentence, it would be the following:

It is a trusted internal entity that contributes to business development and business continuity through building a strategy for attraction, development and retention of talent.

It sounds impressive, but very abstract too, right? Let us explain how it’s done and what you can find behind the HR scenes.

HR departments divide their skillset in three areas: strategy, admin and compliance.

Strategic HR = Recruitment, Learning & Development, Employee Relations, Management Consulting

The “holder” and “executor” of a company’s people strategy is definitely the HR Business Partner (HR BP), helped by the wider HR department. Typically each organization has more than one HR BP, and each of them focuses on a certain business line. HR Business Partners’ most important task is to educate themselves about the everyday work and challenges of people employed in their entrusted department.

The goal is to identify three key personas:

  1. the ones that thrive in the existing environment and actively try to improve it,
  2. the ones that support the effort but never initiate it,
  3. the ones that fail to meet expectations and fit in.

Then, the focus shifts to attracting and retaining the first type, developing and stimulating the second type, and seeking middle ground with the third type. Here is how all that gets done:

Recruitment and selection

Each organization has specific job openings that cater to its business domain and to a specific current need:

  • either the team is being expanded to fit a bigger workload,
  • a new kind of knowledge or experience is needed,
  • somebody is leaving and a replacement is needed.

HR is in charge to define the needed profile, build a recruitment strategy for the role and execute it. Depending on the requirements, different sourcing methods might be applied. For more complex job roles the standard job board posting isn’t enough and HR needs to run a competitor analysis and perform targeted headhunting.

Learning and development

HR is in charge to ensure, together with people managers, that employees will possess the desired competencies to perform their jobs. Whenever new knowledge is needed, HR has to assess the need for trainings and certifications, and organize an appropriate curriculum with external or internal trainers.

Learning and development also stretches to fit personal development within the organization. Whenever an employee is to be promoted, they might be expected to upscale their qualifications by going through a course or a career development program.

Employee Relations

HR has to take on the role of mediator in conflict situations. The HR BP usually serves as an escalation point for any issues, regardless of their nature – professional, ethical or otherwise unpleasant. HR has to be ready to face difficult and uncomfortable situations with grace and unbiased attitude. He should be the initiator of the discussion, and has to lead all parties’ to the desired outcome, while also balancing their expectations.

This isn’t easy at all, but it’s very rewarding once done correctly. Encouraging mature and positive discussions will contribute not only to employee retention, but also to a good company image on the labor market.

Management Consulting

Besides catering to employees and providing a balanced working environment, HR also has to support the management team. Managers hold their senior roles within the organization because of their high level of competence, but – they also need advice. HR can help with coaching on many topics, such as interviewing techniques, conflict solving, employee motivation, talent development, etc.

Administrative HR = Recruitment Administration, Employee Files Management, Absence Tracking, Payroll Coordination

The admin HR tasks are primarily related to information management. A lot of details are collected during the course of any HR process, and they have to be handled properly – according to deadlines, confidentiality, access levels, etc.

Recruitment Administration

The HR Admin could help with interview coordination and/or updating of applicant status into the recruitment trackers. This person might also be in charge of sending job offers, rejection letters, and confirmation emails.

Employee Files Management

Each country has its regulatory framework on how the employer-employee relationship has to be managed, in terms of documentation. The HR Admin should be aware of the required paperwork for employee onboarding, employee exits, promotions, lateral moves, salary reviews, etc. and update the files accordingly.

Absence Tracking

Absence Tracking refers to paid and unpaid holidays, sick days, maternity and paternity leave, study leave, etc. The HR Admin is in charge of documenting and reporting all absences, since they have a direct effect on payroll.

Payroll Coordination

Usually payroll processing is outsourced to accounting consultancy firms. Despite that, it’s the HR Admin’s duty to collect and provide any information that concerns payroll calculations, such as absences, promotions and planned bonus payments.

Compliance = Labor Law Compliance, Health and Safety Compliance

Besides being a strategic and an administrative partner of the business, HR has to be a protector and a good cop. This is actually a critical function – not complying to legal, industrial or internal rules can lead to penalties, complaints and even charges. The compliance department often includes not only HR specialists, but also legal associates.

Labor Law Compliance

This is very self-explanatory – each country has its legal framework which needs to be applied when managing the employer-employee relationship. This framework extends to anything, from minimum wages allowed, to how disciplinary actions can be performed and documented. The Compliance specialist has to follow through and make sure no illegal practices are allowed in the company.

Health and Safety Compliance

Some organizations have a more complex Health and Safety program because of their field of work. For example, companies in the industrial sector have a lot more regulations to follow, since their employees often lift heavy things and work with dangerous machinery. Unsafe working conditions have to be avoided at all cost, not only because of potential charges and lawsuits – but because you need to protect your people. They are your most important asset.

Even though we’re a thousand words in, we haven’t even managed to fit all fields that HRs need to oversee. Many people underestimate the value and the complexity of the HR role, but there is only one truth – in a world of automation and robotization, catering to the human needs and rights will remain one of the most important and rewarding roles within every organization.