HR has a number of important functions in the organization. These include recruitment, performance management, learning and development, and many more. In this article, we will explain the 12 key functions of HR.
But first, a definition. If we want to understand the functions of Human Resources, we need to understand what Human Resource Management (HRM) is.
According to Storey (1995), HRM is a distinctive approach to employment management which seeks to achieve competitive advantage through the strategic deployment of a highly committed and capable workforce, using an integrated array of cultural, structural and personnel techniques.
In this article, we will go over the 12 functions of Human Resources and explain how they help move the organization forward. These functions are:
- Human resource planning
- Recruitment and selection
- Performance management
- Learning and development
- Career planning
- Function evaluation
- Industrial relations
- Employee participation and communication
- Health and safety
- Personal wellbeing
- Administrative responsibilities
Let’s dive right in.
1. Human resource planning
The first function of HR is all about knowing the future needs of the organization. What kind of people does the organization need, and how many? Knowing this will shape the recruitment, selection, performance management, learning and development, and all other HR functions.
Human resources planning is similar to workforce planning. Both focus on where the organization is today and what it needs to be successful in the future.
2. Recruitment and selection
The second HR function involves attracting people to work for the organization and selecting the best candidates.
Attracting people usually starts with an employee brand. Being an attractive employer has plenty of advantages – just as it is the other way around. A good example of the latter is the tobacco industry which struggles to attract talent due to its tainted reputation.
With a strong employer brand and the right sourcing strategies, you’re already halfway there. Once candidates apply, selection is an HR instrument to pick the best qualified and highest-potential candidates.
3. Performance management
Performance management is essential in ensuring that workers stay productive and engaged. Good performance management involves good leadership, clear goal-setting, and open feedback.
Performance management tools include the (bi)annual performance review, in which the employee is reviewed by his/her manager. It also includes 360-degree feedback tools in which peers, managers, subordinates, and sometimes even customers review the employee’s performance. These kinds of tools can be very helpful in providing feedback.
Performance management is also an instrument to close the gap between the workforce you have today and the one you want to have tomorrow. One of the best ways to build your future workforce is through learning and development (L&D).
4. Learning and development
Enabling employees to develop the skills they need for the future is an essential responsibility for HR. This is also related to the first HR function we listed, in which HR bridges the gap between the workforce today and the workforce needed in the near future.
Traditionally, organizations have a set budget for learning and development. This budget is then distributed among its employees. In some countries, this fee is mandatory. In the UK, for example, companies with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million pay a mandatory rate of 0.5% designated for the professional education of their employees.
In other countries, like Belgium and the Netherlands, L&D falls under the employer’s responsibility to take care of its employees. In a third group of countries, like the US, this is an almost unregulated territory.
Despite the differences in regulation, almost all employers understand the value of investing in the (future) skills of their employees. It’s the responsibility of the HR department to lead these efforts in the right direction.
5. Career planning
The fifth function of HR is career planning, guidance, and development for employees, together also referred to as career pathing.
Showing employees how their personal ambition can align with the future of the company helps to engage and retain them. For the organization, there are the benefits of better succession planning, higher productivity, and a stronger employer brand.
6. Function evaluation
Function evaluation is a more technical role of HR that involves comparing various functions in terms of qualification, the quality, and availability of workers, job location, working times, the economic situation, job responsibility, and how much value this job adds to the organization. The idea behind function evaluation is that similar jobs should be rewarded similarly.
There are different ways of internally ranking functions.
- Ranking method: a method in which subject matter experts rank functions in terms of how much they contribute to the organization as a whole. Functions are paired and raters have to decide which one is more valuable. This is done with all functions and based on the outcome, a ranking is established.
- Classification method: jobs can also be classified in different categories using classification methods. In this case, jobs are categorized and then ranked within these categories to come up with a ranking. Categorizations can include education, experience, the degree of specialized skills needed to do the job, the degree to which these skills are in-demand, and so on.
- Points method: jobs are categorized according to the factors the organization believes contribute most to its success. Points are then awarded to each category for every job. These categories can include key competencies, like problem-solving, technical knowledge, communication and influencing skills, innovative capability, business acumen, and so on. These competencies will differ per organization
- Personal method: in this method, the job itself is not evaluated but the person doing the job is. Here, employees are rewarded based on their personal skills and competencies.
Rewarding employees for their work is a function that is impossible to miss. Rewards include salary but also growth and career opportunities, status, recognition, a good organizational culture, and a satisfying work-life balance.
The total rewards framework shows that rewards are more than just money. They can also be relational and psychological outcomes. For example, fantastic colleagues and meaningful work are also rewarding to employees. The monetary reward of the job consists of financial rewards and other (secondary) benefits.
Rewards are thus much more than just financial. Here is a non-exhaustive overview of total rewards:
- Base salary
- Social environment
- Job security
- Alternating work
- Growth opportunities
- Formal and informal development opportunities
8. Industrial relations
Another function of HR is maintaining and cultivating relationships with labor unions and other collectives, and their members.
Unionization is still very prevalent in Europe. In 2015, 92% of employees in Iceland were a member of a union, followed by Sweden (67%), Belgium (55%), Italy (37%), Ireland (27%) and Canada (27%).
Maintaining good relations with unions will help to spot and resolve potential conflicts quickly and will also be beneficial in more difficult economic times when layoffs or other actions are required.
9. Employee participation and communication
According to Dave Ulrich, one of the key roles of HR is to be a credible activist for the employees. Employees need to be informed and heard on different topics that are relevant to them. Communication relates to spreading information relevant to employees.
10. Health and safety
HR plays an important role in creating and implementing health and safety regulations. Making these regulations part of the company culture is one of the main functions of HR.
A famous example is oil company Shell where it is forbidden to walk the stairs without holding the railing – also in the company’s HQ. This is part of Shell’s ‘Goal Zero’, which stands for zero accidents. Although holding the railing is much more important on an oil platform, safety is such a big part of the company culture that safety roles are applied everywhere.
11. Personal wellbeing
HR has a function in assisting and taking care of employees when they run into personal problems. Personal wellbeing is about supporting employees when things don’t go as planned.
12. Administrative responsibilities
The final function of HR is its administrative responsibility. These include personnel procedures and Human Resource Information Systems.
Personnel procedures involve the handling of promotions, relocations, discipline, performance improvement, illness, regulations, cultural and racial diversity, unwanted intimacies, bullying, and so on.
For each of these situations, policies and procedures need to be developed and followed to successfully comply with the requests, or overcome these challenges.
Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS) store employee data. These systems need to be purchased, implemented and managed so the data can be used for better decision making.
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