What Does HR Do All Day?

Have you ever wondered, “What does HR do all day?” It’s a good question.

When you’re first hired at a new job, you’ll often spend lots of quality time with members of the HR team. After all, they’ve got plenty of forms for you to fill out, details on your insurance and other benefits, and if they aren’t in charge of your orientation, they can at least point you toward the coffee maker.

But, after that, HR doesn’t enter into the typical worker’s mind unless something goes wrong.

So does an HR representative lurk just around the corner waiting for bad things to happen to their coworkers?

Well, I hope not. There’s a lot more to HR’s role within your organization than that.

Let’s Start With the HR Basics

People think HR is there to help workers. This is not true.

Let me repeat—HR is not there to help workers. Period.

HR has two main functions that I write about in my book Betting On You: Pay people and protect the company from lawsuits. Everything else is fake-work created by an industry of consultants who realized that a bigger and more complicated HR department could be the gateway to additional products and services.

Harsh? Maybe. But it holds true for HR departments across the country and beyond.

Branches of the Human Resources Department

Think of HR as a tree. The “evolved” HR department has numerous branches that correspond with the multiple job functions now associated with the department. Some responsibilities are split between individual HR representatives or performed together.

Compensation and Benefits

A major part of HR’s job is to make sure everyone in your company is paid correctly and has the right benefits, including your 401k, health insurance, and any sort of life or disability insurance.

Nowadays, multiple platforms (one of the products I mentioned) can streamline these processes. These platforms can also manage your leave experience, paid time off and pay frequency.

I don’t know why so many people have this image of HR as a benevolent peacekeeper who will solve internal conflicts fairly and maintain a “positive work environment.”

It’s a totally false impression.

The truth is that if you think going to HR will solve anything—refrigerator wars, the dude with bad body odor, your personal struggle to maintain some semblance of normalcy in your life—you will be very disappointed.

At its core, HR exists to protect the company against employee-related risks. While I would love to write that situations involving workplace harassment, discrimination, or racism are always addressed fairly, I can’t. Even if HR advocates for an employee, final employment decisions often rest with other leaders in your organization.

Let me shatter another misconception often held by employees—HR rarely has the power to fire anyone.

The decision to terminate an employee nearly always comes from their manager or supervisor. HR’s role is to coordinate the process, explain your rights and benefits when leaving an organization, and make sure your employer follows the law and its own policies.


Recruiting and Hiring

Talent management is the practice of recruiting and hiring people to give your company a competitive advantage. HR is in charge of creating the procedures your company uses to entice employees to work there and officially hire them once they accept a job offer.

The role of recruiters can be confusing. Many recruiters are independent contractors working for multiple employers. Other times, recruiters are employees of the organization, too. They might be in the HR department – or they might be over in a separate “talent” team.

Learning and Development

Onboarding isn’t the only program that HR handles. Continuous learning and professional development are encouraged by many organizations as their needs evolve. HR specialists can work with managers to find training programs that will help grow employee skills so that they will perform better in their job functions.

Employee development programs can be outsourced or produced in-house with input from your leadership team.

Workplace Health and Safety

Another HR function is to create a safe and healthy work environment for all employees. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 empowered the federal government to set standards for workplace safety and health for employees.

The responsibility for making sure your company complies with federal regulations falls upon HR leaders. Efforts can include workshops and training on important safety issues, including preventing on-the-job harm to employees physically and, more often since the pandemic began, mentally and emotionally. Additionally, human resources professionals are becoming experienced at implementing and administering leave planning software, which is tailored to your company’s specific leave program and policies and helps manage employee expectations, complicated compliance requirements and your organization’s workforce goals.

HR as a Business Partner?

HR is responsible for recruitment and employee retention. But more and more professionals are buying into the concept that HR needs to thoroughly understand the goals and needs of the business to complete their objective.

The theory is that HR professionals are business partners—understanding the overall business strategy to prioritize the right objectives, hire the right people, and implement initiatives within the company guides everyone in the desired long-term direction.

Sounds good, right?

Many HR professionals are fantastic advocates for workers so long as employee interests don’t run counter to the company’s interests. It’s a challenge to balance, and often workers pay the price.

Key Roles of HR Practitioners

Human resource management responsibilities vary across the board. With so many various tasks, no one HR professional can handle it all. Job titles and positions have been created to accommodate the growth of HR departments.

HR Management Job Titles

Many job titles exist within the leadership team of HR. The number of HR leadership positions in an organization often depends on the size of the team and company.

Leadership teams are responsible for overseeing HR strategy and are a direct line of communication to the CEO. HR professionals in a management or leadership position include:

  • Chief Human Resources Officer
  • Chief People Officer
  • Chief Diversity Officer
  • Senior Vice President of People
  • Vice President of Human Resources
  • HR Director
  • Director of Recruiting
  • HR Manager
  • Recruiting Manager
  • People Manager
  • Payroll Manager

There are plenty more job titles being created as the workforce continues to evolve, but these are some of the leadership titles that you’ll see when you research a company’s team.

Mid-Level to Entry-Level Job Titles

These job titles can be the starting point for someone new to the HR industry or describe people with a few years of experience advancing in their careers. Some of these titles are:

  • Human Resource Intern
  • Human Resource Assistant
  • Human Resource Information Specialist
  • Human Resource Associate
  • Human Resource Coordinator
  • Recruiter
  • People Operations Specialist
  • HR Analyst
  • HR Analytics Specialist

Some organizations have professionals in these roles, while others outsource parts of the job.

HR Certifications and Continuing Education

As I mentioned, HR is in charge of ensuring compliance with federal and state regulations.

Knowledge of these legal compliance requirements requires HR professionals to take training and courses, get involved in the HR community and look into certifications. HR teams can do their jobs better by staying up to date on trends and testing their knowledge.

Many of these programs and tests are managed by large HR organizations such as the SHRM’s  SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certifications, the American Payroll Association (APA), or the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist Program (CEBS).

HR professionals can take advantage of any of these certifications or all of them. Understanding where they want to go with their career can help determine which certifications and courses can help them achieve their goals.

So … What DOES HR Do All Day?

The answer? A lot. HR fills many roles depending on the needs of your company.

At its best, HR can be a source of empowerment for employees to preserve a positive organizational culture. At its worst, HR can perpetuate the worst type of toxic work environment.

You know that the world of work is broken.

But without dedicated HR professionals, we don’t have a chance in hell of fixing it.


  1. I normally agree with you Laurie but I think saying that talent management is only ‘recruiting and hiring people’ excludes 80% of the talent management function. ‘Talent acquisition’ is hiring but ‘talent management’ is much more broad.

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