What Is Human Resources and HR Management?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Human resources has an important job overseeing employee-related matters. Find out what is human resources and learn more about what HR professionals do.

[Featured image] A male, wearing a gray suit, blue shirt and dark tie, and glasses, is sitting at his desk after talking to a potential employee, in his role in human resources.

Human resources (HR) is the department that oversees employee-related matters. It recruits, hires, trains, and retains workers for a company. Beneath these duties are dozens of human resources tasks that keep organizations running smoothly. HR management is both the process and the team of people in the department.

History of “human resources” term

The term “human resources” was first coined in the early 20th century when it began to replace the word “personnel,” which had been used to describe the function [1]. The change in terminology reflected a shift in focus from machine-focused manufacturing to people-focused modern business. Human resource processes have since developed to balance a company’s needs and the importance of employee working conditions and benefits.


What exactly is human resources? 

Human resources is the department within a business responsible for all things worker-related. That includes recruiting, vetting, selecting, hiring, onboarding, training, promoting, paying, and terminating employees.

You perform administrative functions for new and existing employees in an HR position. As a human resources professional, your role is to help a business run smoothly by ensuring that departments are staffed with a skilled and motivated workforce.

What is human resource management?

Your day-to-day role in HR management will involve working with department leaders to identify competency gaps, staffing requirements, staff disciplinary actions, and ways of improving employee engagement and performance. You’ll ensure that staff feel treated fairly, have a voice, and meet their aspirational needs.

As an HR manager, you’ll guarantee that your business remains compliant with standards, regulations, and laws for employees in your location and industry. Your HR activities will be governed by federal, provincial, and territorial laws, so you’ll need to stay on top of emerging trends and new legislation. 

What do human resources do?

Your job responsibilities in an HR department can vary considerably depending on the size of your organization. In a large corporate environment, HR managers may specialize in specific HR areas such as training, recruitment, or staff benefits. In a smaller company, you may be one of two human resources generalists who oversee all HR functions. Here are some core HR functions.

Recruitment and hiring

You may think the hiring process begins with creating a job advertisement, but you’ll be involved before it gets to the stage. You may help create a list of required skills and job duties that the company needs before writing a job description. Once you complete your job description, you’ll advertise the position in various channels, field inquiries from candidates, take references and help select candidates for interviews. 

Onboarding new employees

Once a candidate is selected, you may need to provide the onboarding support required to help the new employee integrate into the company. Tasks may include providing orientation materials, arranging training sessions, and scheduling meetings with key stakeholders. The process also involves ensuring new employees fill out the necessary paperwork.

Employee training and development

You’ll ensure employees receive training to develop a rounded skill set to perform their jobs competently. You’ll collaborate with managers to identify gaps, design training, and deliver sessions. Depending on the company's resources, you may use modern media to facilitate the process and enable self-paced learning. Alternatively, you may use seminars, workshops, or online training programs through third-party vendors.

Compensation and benefits administration 

You’ll oversee payroll processing and benefits administration as a human resources manager. Managing employee compensation is one of HR's most important responsibilities. You must ensure fair compensation levels in internal positions and the job market while meeting budget constraints.

You may also be responsible for administering benefits programs, such as Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP), medical insurance, paid time off (PTO) policies, etc. This could include enrolling employees in benefit plans or working with third-party administrators (TPAs) to resolve issues with claims or billing statements.

Cultivating a positive company culture

Every company has its unique culture, encompassing its values, goals, mission statement, and ethical barometer. As an HR professional, you help to embed the company culture by being the link between staff and the company. 

You need to balance the psychological contract between staff and the company. This means ensuring the company keeps its promises on wages, promotions, job responsibilities, performance feedback, and training opportunities. 

At a higher level, you’ll need to ensure that employee communications through the company are well thought out, that leadership projects have a unified vision, and that employees make positive comparisons between your company and others in the industry.

Types of jobs in HR

Human resources is growing, and jobs within the field are surprisingly varied. The duties and salaries you can expect depend on your company and job title.

*All salary data is sourced from Glassdoor as of July 2024.

1. HR assistant

As an HR assistant, you help the human resources manager with various tasks, including recruitment, training, and employee relations. Duties may include screening resumes, scheduling interviews, and collecting information needed for payroll, personnel activity, and employee records. An HR assistant may also handle payroll activities, including distributing paychecks and calculating overtime hours. 

Average annual salary (CA): $48,339

2. Training specialist

As a training specialist, you develop programs that teach employees new skills or improve existing ones. Training specialists conduct training sessions in customer service, computer skills, sales, and time management. You may focus on workplace skills, technical skills, or both.

You may also develop materials for training sessions, such as PowerPoint presentations or handouts. In addition to teaching skills to employees, training specialists may also be responsible for evaluating job performance and planning interventions.

Average annual salary (CA):  $65,767

3. HR generalist

HR generalists are responsible for the overall administration of human resource procedures and practices. You typically provide functional support in diverse areas such as recruitment, training, compensation and benefits, performance management, and employee relations. 

Average annual salary (CA): $67,707

4. Compensation and benefits specialist

When specializing in compensation and benefits, you administer programs that compensate employees based on their position and performance. As part of your job, you may need to stay updated with current federal, provincial, and territorial laws regarding compensation to ensure the company remains in compliance. 

Average annual salary (CA): $67,495

5. Recruitment manager

As a recruitment manager, your job is to ensure that your company has the right employees with the right skills. You may develop recruitment strategies to attract qualified candidates with the proper competencies to perform specific jobs, evaluate the effectiveness of recruitment practices, and oversee the daily activities within the recruitment department. 

Average annual salary (CA): $85,632

6. Employee relations manager

In the role of employee relations manager, you will work closely with the HR manager to create a positive work environment where employees understand company policies and procedures and feel valued and engaged. You will also help resolve conflicts between employees or between employees and management. 

Average annual salary (CA): $82,801

7. Human resources information system (HRIS) analyst

As an HRIS analyst, you manage the organization’s HR information systems. These systems help track employees and manage employee information such as pay, benefits, and performance reviews. Your job as an HRIS analyst is to help an organization effectively use these tools by updating and maintaining the systems and creating reports. 

Average annual salary (CA): $76,386

8. Human resources coordinator

Human resources coordinators help develop company policies, manage employee relations issues and liaise between employees and management. You can also help with recruitment activities and hiring new employees. As the HR coordinator, you may be the company’s HR representative, the first point of contact for employees engaging with the department. You may help run campaigns and projects as well. 

Average annual salary (CA): $53,142

9. HR manager

As an HR manager, you support employees on various issues, including compensation, employee relations, benefits, and training. You’re the strategic and day-to-day contact between company leadership and the employees, managing the human resources function. You’ll also ensure the company complies with federal, provincial, and territorial employment laws. 

Average annual salary (CA): $97,142

How to become a human resource manager

To become an HR manager, you typically need experience in the field and a bachelor's degree. The specific requirements for the position vary depending on the position and needs of the company. Still, employers look for some common skills when hiring HR staff or promoting candidates into management positions. At the top of this list are workplace skills that are used regularly.

Workplace skills for HR managers

You need to build strong workplace skills to complete the varied duties of an HR manager. As an HR professional, you may rely on the ability to:

  • Communicate effectively in writing and verbally

  • Demonstrate strong, active listening skills

  • Have an excellent customer service focus

  • Be empathic and have strong interpersonal skills

  • Make sound decisions based on balanced judgments

  • Maintain confidentiality and handle sensitive situations diplomatically

Technical skills

In addition to workplace skills, you need specific technical skills. You may use computers and software programs, including word processing and spreadsheets. You may also use an HR information system (HRIS) or applicant tracking system (ATS). 

Other technical skills that you may find helpful as an HR manager include:

  • Payroll administration

  • Employee benefits administration

  • Human resources information systems management

  • Knowledge of local and federal employment laws

  • Labor relations

  • Social media

  • Employment interview techniques

Build HR skills with a Professional Certificate on Coursera.

Human resources is one of the most sought-after careers in business today. Some courses cover all the topics you need to know, from talent management to workforce planning, to succeed in HR. With a Professional Certificate or Specialization course in HR, you can learn how to lead and manage people at work—and earn the credential that shows you've mastered these critical skills.

Consider the flexible learning options on Coursera, such as Leading: Human Resource Management and Leadership Specialization or Human Resource Management: HR for People Managers Specialization. You can take classes on your schedule and learn at your own pace. Visit the HR section to choose from a variety of HR learning opportunities.

Article sources

  1. Human Resource. “The Historical Background Of Human Resource Management, https://www.whatishumanresource.com/the-historical-background-of-human-resource-management.” Accessed July 10, 2024. 

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