What Is Human Resource Management? Definition + Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn about human resource management roles, responsibilities, salary, and how to get started in this field.

[Featured image] A recruiter holds a printed CV and interviews a candidate virtually via laptop for a role in human resource management.

Human resource management, or HRM, involves coordinating, managing, and allocating human capital, or employees, in ways that move an organisation’s goals forward. HRM focuses on investing in employees, ensuring their safety, and managing all aspects of staffing, from hiring to compensation and development. Roles in the field aim to build a company culture and carry out its mission and overall goals through the management of employees.

The need for human resource professionals grows as the United Kingdom's job market slowly recovers after the pandemic. Demand for HRM professionals has increased, making this an excellent career choice for those with the necessary skills and expertise. 

HRM careers may specialise in compensation, training, or managing employees. Many HRM professionals hold a foundation degree or a higher national diploma, while some pursue a postgraduate degree. HRM professionals can also earn qualifications to help build knowledge and increase earning potential. 

Definition of human resource management

Human resource management involves organising, coordinating, and managing employees to accomplish a company's mission, vision, and goals. Activities include recruiting, hiring, training, compensating, retaining, and motivating employees. 

HRM staff also develops and enforces policies and procedures that help ensure employee safety. The HRM team manages adherence to federal and state laws that may work to protect employees’ private information and ensure their physical safety and mental and emotional well-being. Organisations of varying sizes and industries rely on HRM to keep business running smoothly and efficiently. 

Purpose of human resource management

Companies use HRM to invest in employees to boost job satisfaction and improve employee performance. The methodology behind HRM recognises the value employees bring to an organisation, also known as human capital. Investing in employees and strategically supporting their needs can improve job satisfaction and, therefore, greater success in their role within an organisation. 

Employees who are well-trained, competent, valued, and supported by their employers will likely have the skills and motivation necessary to carry out the organisation’s goals. HRM professionals may head up programmes like tuition assistance programmes, on-the-job training, or apprenticeships within an organisation that can help employees develop their talents and increase productivity. HRM helps create a highly skilled workforce and boost confidence and competence, motivating employees to contribute. 

HRM has a strong focus on company culture and job satisfaction. Much of what motivates employees comes from the culture in which they work. Building and maintaining company culture can be challenging to measure and quantify, but it’s an important function of HRM to retain and recruit employees. 

HRM also protects employees. Human resource (HR) professionals manage legal documents, policies, and regulations, identify what applies to their organisation, and find effective ways to educate employees and enforce company policy. 

HRM aims to be an ally or partner to employees. HRM emphasises employee development while protecting employees from discrimination, workplace hazards, and unfair compensation. 

Basic elements of human resource management

HRM includes recruiting new hires, evaluating employee performance, ensuring fair compensation and benefits, training employees, supporting education and development, and protecting the health and safety of all employees. These are critical cornerstones of HRM professionals' work. 

From crafting a job posting to providing continuing education options, HRM functions at all stages of an employee's journey with an organisation. To be an effective professional, you will need a mix of workplace and technical skills like recruitment strategies, creating compensation plans, and communication and team building. 


An effective recruitment process is the foundation of HRM. If you can recruit good talent, you can build on their skills and invest in employees for years to come as they add value to the organisation. Equally important is company culture. You want employees who add to the organisation's culture. Some common recruiting tools HRM may use include job aggregators like Indeed or SimplyHired, video interviewing, or even social media sites like LinkedIn. 

Evaluation and performance management  

HRM uses data to track employee performance to ensure a highly-trained and capable workforce. The data compiled can also be used to change staff training methods, implement a merit-based system for raises, and more. HRM professionals use formal measures like performance reviews and informal strategies like interviews or surveys. 


Compensation can mean salary, commission, benefits, time off, and other non-monetary benefits. HRM sets salary rates, commission rates, and benefits according to the industry standard to ensure fairness and create a consistent company standard. Some organisations may use performance reviews to adjust employee salaries, among other measures. 

Employee development and learning

Engaged employees are effective employees. HRM understands the importance of a workforce that is challenged but also supported. Most employees want opportunities for advancement and to feel competent and valued in what they bring to an organisation. Part of HRM is providing these learning opportunities to employees. 

These opportunities could include tuition assistance programmes, on-the-job training options, conferences, conventions, or programmes for continued learning. Aside from individual learning, HRM can also use employee development and learning to help employees adapt to organisational changes, such as system upgrades, technology shifts, and new policies. 

Employee health and safety

The safety and well-being of an organisation’s employees are critically important aspects of HRM. Employee health and safety covers many topics, such as protection against harassment, discrimination, or bullying in the workplace. It can also mean physical safety, which would involve building fire code compliance. Safety in the workplace can also mean adherence to labour laws that protect an employee's rights. Safety in the workplace also means cybersecurity or safeguarding an employee’s personal information. 

Protecting all aspects of employees’ health and safety is crucial, and HRM professionals are responsible for ensuring that protection. Some ways HRM professionals may go about this are installing security cameras, enforcing internet usage rules, implementing a zero-tolerance policy, or creating restricted access areas.

Careers in human resource management

You can find many different careers in HRM, with varying entry points into this field. Many positions in HRM require at least a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related field. You can also earn additional professional qualifications to help you find the best position within the vast landscape of HRM. HRM professionals have important jobs that can be both rewarding and fulfilling.  

*All salaries are sourced from Glassdoor UK, January 2023, and include base pay and additional compensation.

Payroll specialist

Average annual UK salary: £29,522 

Payroll specialists gather employee information, ensure accuracy, and administer compensation based on hours worked. This role usually works with a team of other payroll specialists and other departments to approve expenses, manage budgets, and process payroll. A degree in accounting or experience in payroll or accounting is common. 

Training and development manager 

Average annual UK salary: £36,710

A training and development manager, who may also be called a training coordinator, oversees employment training and implements training initiatives to build employee competence. Other responsibilities of this role include communicating an organisation's mission statement or company values and creating training programmes. Training coordinators typically hold a bachelor’s degree and have experience in HR.

Human resources manager 

Average annual UK salary: £45,978

An HR manager oversees an entire or a portion of the department, depending on the company’s size. This role manages staff hiring, policy implementation, payroll and benefits oversight, and advice to managers or other supervisors from other departments. Qualifications typically include a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related field and relevant experience. 

Benefits manager

Average annual UK salary: £57,856

Benefits managers oversee the payroll department, ensuring all functions related to compensation and benefits are carried out accurately. This job ensures employees get paid correctly and are granted benefits based on the terms of their contracts and the organisation’s pay structure. As a benefits and compensation manager, you also meet with other departments to discuss financial matters. Qualifications typically include a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field and experience in payroll or management. 

How to get started in human resources management

You have various options for launching a career in human resources management. They often include education, experience, certification, and networking. Read on to discover ways to begin preparing for a job in HRM. 

Consider qualification opportunities. 

HRM professionals don’t necessarily have a required degree in the UK. However, degrees in the field can help you advance faster and acquire different skills. 

Bachelor’s and master’s degrees are common but aren’t the only options. Some people work their way up into HRM after starting as business administrators or HR assistants and completing an apprenticeship. 

Others interested in the field earn qualifications such as a Level 3 People Practice foundation certificate, a Level 5 People Management associate diploma, or a Level 7 Strategic People Management advanced diploma. Typical HR coursework includes workplace diversity, business ethics, labour relations, strategic HR, and workforce planning. Some programmes may also require internship experience. 

Gain HR experience.

You can stand out as an HRM job candidate with some experience in the HR field. You’ll discover opportunities to gain experience at all levels, whether a new graduate or a seasoned professional. One way to get experience is through internships, apprenticeships, and entry-level positions such as human resources assistant or associate. 

In these entry-level roles, you’ll assist in the primary duties of HR and build experience to move forward. Joining professional organisations and attending networking opportunities like conferences and conventions is another way to gain experience, knowledge, and connections in HRM. 

Earn CIPD qualifications. 

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) sets professional standards for HR professionals working throughout the UK. It is the only professional body with the power to confer Chartered statuses on HR professionals. Completing a CIPD-accredited course is a must for some HR roles, while it can be a bonus for others.

You can choose from three levels and sizes, with available full—and part-time options. Upon completing Intermediate or Advanced Certificates or Diplomas, you can apply for CIPD membership.


  • The foundation level offers education in the basics for those new to the field.

  • For those already working in the HR field, the intermediate level can help build upon your knowledge and skill set with this undergraduate qualification.

  • Experienced HR professionals who want to further their careers and become chartered CIPD members must complete the advanced level, a postgraduate qualification.


  • The award qualification allows learners to focus on one specific HR area.

  • The certificate qualification is a popular option that covers all the HR essentials.

  • For the most extensive study, the diploma qualification offers in-depth coursework.

Apply for HRM positions. 

Once you’ve honed the skills you’ll need to work in HRM and acquired the necessary qualifications or training, it’s time to polish your CV and apply for positions in HRM. 

Work on your CV as you go, gathering personal and professional references. Join professional organisations, take online courses, and attend conferences—all of which would be included on your CV and illustrate your dedication and drive. 

When you prepare your CV, include credentials, all related previous professional experience, internships, your education, the professional organisations you’re a member of,  and achievements, qualifications, and skills relevant to HRM. 

Get started in human resource management with Coursera.

Whether you’re just getting started or you’ve been in HR for years, you can always build more skills in HRM. Consider enrolling in online Courses to build knowledge, resources, and confidence to pursue success in this field.

For example, Human Resource Management: HR for People Managers Specialisation can help enhance your interactions with employees and job candidates. Leading: Human Resource Management and Leadership Specialisation provides a global perspective to help prepare you for the future of HR. Both Specialisations, along with other courses, are available on Coursera. 

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