Illustration by Lavarmsg for

Illustration by Lavarmsg for

Tell people you work in human resources, and you’ll usually get one of two reactions: “So, you‘re a recruiter?” or, “The employees must be scared of you.” When the answer doesn’t confirm these assumptions, be prepared for reactions of disbelief. Here are the facts: In my 10 years in HR, I had only a very brief stint in recruiting, and even then I was the client for the recruiting team, interviewing candidates and assessing their fit in the business and its culture.

According to a Society of Human Resource Management study from 2005: “There is no typical HR department. Factors such as organizational culture, leader behaviors, and operational and technological constraints are but a few of the dynamic reasons why HR departments vary from one organization to another.” In deciding the purpose of the HR department, understanding the expectations of the organization, and the need at its stage of growth, become essential factors.

In general, HR consists of a number of domains. Functions include recruiting, compensation and benefits, talent management, career development, and project management. HR employees can be specialists with deep knowledge in a particular area, or generalists with broad knowledge across many fields.

Businesses in all phases benefit from a solid human resources department. From administering payroll to ensuring Equal Employment Opportunities Commission directives are met, HR handles a variety of tasks, allowing other employees to stick with their specialties.

HR jobs can be strategic or tactical. For example, recruiting can range from the basic task of sourcing candidates and coordinating interviews to more complex workforce planning and strategy development. The function could include predicting workforce requirements based on the organization’s business plans, attrition trend, and skill-gap analysis based on the organization’s talent profile.

Similarly, the compensation team does more than decide pay rates. There is a lot of back-end work most employees aren’t aware of. The team works with consultants to benchmark salaries at similar jobs in the market. The rule of thumb is people performing similar roles need to be paid similarly, and that’s what the compensation team aims to achieve. It’s easier said than done, especially if you throw in variables such as scarcity of talent, market competition, internal ranges, and performance ratings. The compensation team helps the organization create a compensation philosophy that makes the most sense to its position in the marketplace.

The talent-management team works with business leaders to create a strong and steady talent pool for the organization. It designs the right performance-evaluation model to identify critical assessment factors and helps with succession planning. A generalist typically would handle all these functions for a business while maintaining a steady level of employee engagement.

At least, HR helps organizations plan ahead and avoid lawsuits due to improper practices. At best, the department helps bolster the employee strategy, which makes it far easier for the organization to achieve or exceed its goals.