A Human Resources Department Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover what HR departments do and how they benefit a company. Learn about different functions of HR, including recruiting, training, and employee relations.

[Featured image] A human resources manager is in an office.

The human resource (HR) department takes care of a company's employees. An effective HR department ensures that an organization has the necessary workforce to achieve its business goals and that employees can work in a positive and productive environment. 

Post pandemic, technology has become central to relationships in companies. The HR department has had to adapt and build new skills to be successful. Learn about the HR department, the different HR roles, and building a career in this field.  

What does the human resources department do?

The human resources department is responsible for various functions within an organization. Most of the HR department's operations fall under:

  • Recruitment 

  • Training

  • Pay as you earn (PAYE) and payroll 

  • Performance management 

  • Employee relationship management 

  • Employment law and contracts 

  • Health and safety

Recruit people.

One of the core duties of the HR department is recruiting new employees. When working in recruitment, you'll be responsible for hiring the best candidates for open positions. You may also be involved in identifying competency gaps, hiring temporary staff, and succession planning.

Here are some of what you'll do on a day-to-day basis:

  • Sourcing and screening candidates

  • Conducting interviews

  • Checking references

  • Making job offers

  • Onboarding new hires

Train new and existing staff.

Training ensures that employees are up-to-date on company policies and procedures and have the skills necessary to do their jobs effectively. 

As a trainer, you'll be responsible for designing and delivering training programs that meet your organization's needs. This will involve working with managers to identify training needs and using suitable training methods to help staff improve their competencies, attitudes, and knowledge. 

Here are some of the daily tasks you can expect to work on:

  • Developing and implementing training programs

  • Designing training materials

  • Conducting training sessions

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of training programs

  • Providing feedback to employees

Organize PAYE and payroll.

Payroll management is managing employee salaries, wages, and other compensation. This includes ensuring staff gets paid correctly and that tax and other deductions are made. 

Payroll management is a critical function of HR, as it impacts employee morale and government regulations compliance. When managing PAYE and payroll in an HR department, you’ll be:

  • Tracking employee absences and tardiness

  • Processing payroll (if not done by a finance department or third party)

  • Administering benefits programs, including health insurance and 401k

  • Calculating hours worked, withholdings, and deductions

  • Handling any questions or concerns from employees regarding their pay

Manage performance of staff members.

Performance management includes setting clear expectations for employee performance, providing feedback on employee progress, and taking corrective action when necessary. 

Performance management is essential because it helps you ensure that your employees meet the organization's standards. When done correctly, performance management can improve employee satisfaction, motivation, and overall organizational performance. 

Here are some actions you'll take when managing staff performance:

  • Developing policies and procedures for employee performance

  • Creating and maintaining employee records

  • Monitoring employee performance and identifying areas needing improvement

  • Providing coaching and feedback to employees

  • Conducting scheduled performance reviews

  • Administering salary increases and bonuses

Manage and improve employee relations.

The HR department manages employee relations. A relationship between management and employees is necessary for a productive and positive work environment. Employees who feel that their employer values them are more productive and engaged in their work. Activities include:

  • Handling staff issues, such as employee conflict, communication, and training

  • Ensuring that employees can work together effectively

  • Creating a company culture that is positive and supportive

  • Developing initiatives to enhance employee wellbeing

  • Designing and implementing policies related to employee conduct

Understand employment law and contracts.

The HR department often takes care of all aspects of employment law and contracts. Having sufficient legal knowledge in your HR department is crucial because it helps protect both you as the employer and the employees and can avoid costly legal disputes. 

You may work with the legal department or external lawyers to ensure that all contracts comply with state and federal laws. You'll also work with the employees to explain their rights and responsibilities under their employment contracts. Here are some of the legal and contract-related duties that you may carry out:

  • Creating and maintaining employee contracts

  • Ensuring compliance with employment law

  • Conducting background checks

  • Negotiating salaries and benefits

  • Developing company policies

  • Managing employee records

  • Handling employee discipline and termination

  • Reviewing and updating employee handbooks

  • Investigating complaints of harassment or discrimination

  • Coordinating with benefits providers to ensure compliance with health insurance, leave laws, etc

  • Conducting exit interviews

Health and safety training and protocols

The human resource department ensures the workplace is safe and compliant with health and safety regulations. By ensuring employees are safe and healthy, you can reduce the number of workplace accidents and injuries, which can save money, improve morale, and improve productivity. 

Here are some of the things your HR department will do:

  • Developing and implementing health and safety policies and procedures

  • Conducting regular health and safety audits

  • Training and educating on health and safety

  • Investigating accidents and incidents

  • Taking corrective action to prevent future accidents and incidents

  • Keeping records of accidents and incidents

  • Overseeing compliance with health and safety laws

Read more: What Is Human Resources and HR Management?

Which job roles work in an HR department?

Human resources is responsible for many functions that require diverse roles. In small businesses, one or two people in the department work across different functions. Small departments sometimes use external partners, such as third-party payroll or recruitment providers. 

Typically, HR departments are staffed by a team of HR professionals who work together to ensure the department runs smoothly. Here are some of the people that work in HR departments.

*All salary data is sourced from Glassdoor as of March 2023

Human resources assistant 

Average annual base salary (US): $43,838

A human resources assistant provides administrative support to the HR department. This entry-level role may include maintaining employee files and records, assisting with recruitment and onboarding processes, , scheduling meetings, and providing support during employee training.

Human resources director or partner

Average annual base salary (US): $150,578

A human resources director or partner oversees the overall management of the HR department. They’ll develop and implement policies, oversee HR budgets, and manage staff. This may include leading recruitment, training, and development initiatives and managing employee relations issues.

Training manager 

Average annual base salary (US): $67,469

A training manager develops and delivers employee training programs. They may also design performance improvement plans, and conduct needs assessments. The job role may also include creating training materials, conducting training sessions, and evaluating the effectiveness of training programs.

Recruitment manager

Average annual base salary (US):  $71,726

A recruitment manager leads the organization's recruitment efforts. This will include all aspects of sourcing and recruiting candidates for open positions. They may also develop recruiting strategies, conduct job fairs, screen candidates, post job advertisements, conduct interviews, and extend job offers. 

HR coordinator

Average annual base salary (US): $49,696

An HR coordinator is responsible for coordinating the activities of the HR department. This may include scheduling meetings and events, maintaining department records, and supporting employees and managers. HR coordinators tend to overlap with human resources assistant duties with more senior responsibilities.

Building your career in HR

You won’t find one specific path to a career in HR. However, most HR professionals have at least a bachelor's degree in human resources or a related field, and some have master's degrees or advanced degrees. Many HR professionals also have certifications to demonstrate knowledge and competencies.

Different degrees for HR roles

You don't necessarily need a college education to work in HR. However, the more education you have related to HR, the smoother your career progression is likely to be. Many employers may also prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree. Here’s what you can expect if you do different types of degrees.

  • With an associate degree, you'll learn the basics of HR and how to apply them in a professional setting. This can be enough for entry-level roles in good companies.

  • A bachelor's degree in human resources will give you a more comprehensive understanding of HR, including benefits administration, leadership, employee relations, and more. By doing a four-year college program, you'll qualify yourself academically for most non-management roles and even some junior management roles. 

  • A master’sdegree will allow you to specialize in a particular HR area, such as organizational development or compensation and benefits. Companies also value the advanced problem-solving, collaboration, and strategic thinking skills you’ll learn.

Get experience in HR-related functions

Different ways exist for you to gain experience in the HR field. One way is to volunteer with organizations that have an HR department. This will allow you to see how an HR department functions and what kinds of tasks they perform daily. 

You can consider internships or entry-level positions in HR. These positions will give you some hands-on experience with the day-to-day operations of an HR department. If you have a contact who works in HR, you could network with them and ask them for advice on getting started in human resources.

Key skills for HR jobs

You can enhance your chances of getting a job in HR by building your portfolio of HR-related competencies. These are some of the key skills to learn.

  • Effectively communication

  • Problem-solving

  • How to conduct interviews

  • Technical skills, including computers and HR software programs

  • Navigating employment law

  • Writing person specifications and job descriptions. 

  • Conflict resolution

  • Critical thinking

  • Organization and administration

Courses and certifications 

To enhance your resume consider taking courses and certifications to develop valuable knowledge and skills that can make you more effective in an HR role. 

Many courses and professional certificates can be beneficial when you're looking to build your career in HR. Some examples include:

Get started in your HR career

You can also take professional certificates to both enhance your resume and learn more about the ins and outs of HR. If you’re aiming for an HR management role, consider the Human Resource Management: HR for People Managers Specialization offered by the University of Minnesota could be an excellent place to start. 

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