HR Function

What does human resources do?

HR meeting

Updated on 7/11/23


‘What do human resources do?’ might sound like a silly question, but it’s not as silly as you might think. After all, human resources – often simply called “HR” – is an umbrella term for many different functions within your organisation. And if you ask a bunch of different people “what do human resources do?” – then you’ll get a bunch of different answers.

Read on to find out exactly what HR do, and the many different duties they’re responsible for.

What does HR do?

The HR (human resources) department is responsible for managing the employee lifecycle, from recruitment to retirement and covering everything in between, including training, benefits, absences and payroll.

In some organisations, HR responsibilities are separated into their own departments, from recruitment to engagement. Not all organisations classify certain functions as HR functions - for example, some consider payroll a standalone area of business. And in the modern day, HR are also responsible for managing the HR tools that help improve processes, such as HR software.

But as a general rule, HR covers the entire employee lifecycle – and it is a very broad term!

Mixed perceptions about what HR actually does

Because HR is such a broad umbrella, you tend to find that there are mixed perceptions from people about what human resources actually does. Often employees are confused or misguided about what HR is actually responsible for. Common questions include:

  • Is HR there to protect the business?
  • Is HR there to fight the corner for the employee?
  • Is HR there to simply process data?

At PeopleHR, we find that mixed perceptions such as these are often just a result of mixed priorities and organisational styles.

The fact is, different organisations have different HR needs. Not all organisations need a unique HR specialist in every single area – some will get along just fine with an HR generalist who can look after all the different elements of the employee lifecycle. 

Of course, sometimes, HR departments do find themselves assigning specialists, who are dealing with very specific responsibilities such as compliance with employee law and regulations.

The responsibilities and duties of HR departments

To give you some examples of what HR do, we spoke to a few people from different organisations, to find out how HR responsibilities vary.

1. HR is the policymaker

For many organisations, HR’s primary role is to track rules, regulations and laws – and to write, implement and enforce policies which reflect these. HR professionals have a deep understanding of the company's culture and values, as well as the needs of its employees. This makes them well-positioned to create policies that are fair, effective, and in line with the company's overall goals. 

A few different policies HR are responsible for include:

  • Hiring and recruitment policies
  • Compensation and benefits policies
  • Performance management policies
  • Employee conduct policies
  • Leave policies

In addition to developing and implementing policies, HR professionals also play a role in communicating and interpreting their policies to employees. This ensures that employees understand their rights and responsibilities, and that they are able to follow the company's policies easily. 

Take the words of Joe M – founder and CEO of Wood Working Land.

Human resources is essential for employment law compliance, he says. They keep track of changes in employment laws and ensure that they are followed. Tax rules, health insurance provisions, overtime laws, unemployment limits, and family and medical leave policies are a few examples.

2. HR is the administrator

In addition to its role in developing and implementing company policies, HR also plays a vital role in administering the day-to-day operations of the department. This ensures that the HR department and wider company runs smoothly and efficiently. 

HR handle day to day tasks such as:

  • Maintaining employee records: HR are responsible for maintaining employee records, including payroll information, benefits information, and performance evaluations.
  • Processing paperwork: HR professionals process a variety of paperwork, such as new hire paperwork, leave requests, and termination paperwork.
  • Handling employee inquiries: HR are the first point of contact for employees with questions about HR-related matters.
  • Providing administrative support to other departments: HR also provides administrative support to other departments, such as recruiting and hiring, training and development, and compliance.

In the modern day, a lot of the administrative responsibilities of HR are delegated to a cloud-based HR software that automates many of the department's administrative tasks.

3. HR is the link between management & employees

HR plays a vital role in bridging the gap between management and employees. Many organisations consider HR the link between strategic company growth, and front-line people management. After all, they often understand both sides of the equation – what the goals of the executive board are, as well as what the challenges of the key workers are.

This responsibility of HR involves communicating the company's vision and mission to employees, as well as managing employee performance and circulating this back to management. 

When I asked Tanner Arnold, president &; CEO of Revelation Machinery, “what do human resources do?”, we got a similar answer:

"The HR department is established to serve as a link between management and employees” explains Tanner. “A good HR manager understands both the needs of employees and management and provides an impartial approach to the company’s major problems."

4. HR is the supportive human touch

In today's rapidly changing workplace, it is more important than ever for employees to feel supported. HR can play a vital role in providing support to businesses: creating a supportive work environment, promoting diversity and inclusion initiatives, and providing assistance to employees during challenging times. 

Importantly, HR will meet employees with high quality listening skills, and be able to discuss one-on-one with the employee their options, such as mental health counselling, career development plans and financial assistance where relevant.   

For some organisations, finding a real human connection with the workforce is the most important HR responsibility of them all. This is certainly true for Tal Shelef, co-founder of Condo Wizard:

“HR’s role doesn’t stop with simply hiring and firing employees,” says Tal. “Human resources is responsible for the full support they can provide to the employees. They should spend their time working on tasks which concern the overall wellbeing of the employees, be it health and wellness, or simply supporting employee concerns.”

5. HR is a risk mitigator

HR’s familiarity with employment law, employee wellbeing, policy-making and strategic oversight, means that HR’s primary role often ends up being that of a risk mitigator. By developing and implementing policies and procedures, HR can help to prevent legal disputes, employee misconduct and disciplinaries, and other workplace problems. They often do this through:

For Jim Cichanksi, founder & CHRO of Flex HR, “HR is a vital backbone to every business” he says. “HR must be on top of constantly changing laws, while minimising risk and ensuring compliance. HR can help mitigate possible liability risks for employers.”

6. HR is the hiring expert

HR is almost always required to be exceptionally good at recruitment, and ensuring people are in the right place at the right time. 

Hiring, screening, interviewing and onboarding candidates is one of the main responsibilities of HR. From there, they also oversee developing and retaining talent, such as organising performance reviews, training sessions and identifying skills gaps to help the company meet its needs.

Shaun Price, Head of Customer Acquisition at MitoQ explains, “HR must talk to department heads about their various staffing needs. They supervise hiring for all of a company’s departments, and while every day in HR is different, many tasks remain the same across the board."

7. HR is a compensation & benefits manager

Human resources play a vital role in ensuring that employees are fairly compensated and have access to the benefits they want and need. By managing the company's compensation and benefits programs, HR can help to create a positive and productive work environment, attract and retain top talent, and support the company's overall goals. They often take part in tasks such as:

  • Setting salaries and wages: By researching job titles, market value and experience in the industry, HR can work with managers to set wages for employees.
  • Administering benefits: Health insurance, pension plans, and travel to work schemes all come under HR’s remit, as does helping employees understand their benefit options.

8. HR is the payroll specialist

Another important role that HR plays is that of the payroll specialist. They help ensure that employees are paid accurately and on time, which ultimately helps create a positive work environment and retain talent. 

Often HR manages payroll in-house with an integrated payroll software, or outsource the payroll to a specialist company where they will be responsible for managing that partnership and answering any employee questions. If HR are fully responsible for managing payroll, they often have a number of duties:

  • Calculating employee pay and deductions
  • Collecting and verifying payroll information
  • Preparing and distributing paychecks
  • Filing payroll taxes with HMRC 
  • Resolving any disputes or questions surrounding payroll

Human resources: Building a better workplace

HR means different things to different people. A HR department can cover a wide range of duties and responsibilities, from recruitment and payroll, to absence management and employee mental health. Every company will have a different balance of HR responsibilities, but no matter the organisation, they have the opportunity and goal to build a better workplace for the employees. 

HR will continue to evolve as businesses grow and change their priorities. And as this happens, the tools they use to streamline HR will evolve too. HR software is already becoming more sophisticated and data-driven. In the future, we can expect to see HR software that is even more intelligent and automated, allowing HR professionals to focus on more strategic and value-added activities.

Get in touch with PeopleHR today to find your modern HR solution, and help your HR department create a positive and productive employee experience.  

Gareth Moss
By Gareth Moss New Business Sales Team Leader

Gareth Moss is a New Business Sales Team Leader with nearly a decade of experience in the Access PeopleHR product. Gareth specialises in serving those within the SMB market, and his passion lies in helping businesses streamline their HR operations. Before transitioning into his current role, Gareth was a HR software product trainer, making him your ‘go to’ guy for all things PeopleHR.