What Is HR?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

HR takes care of employees. Find out how HR supports employees and the tasks HR professionals handle.

[Featured image] An HR team looks at a document on tablet while standing in an office hallway.

A human resources (HR) department performs HR management functions, such as finding, hiring, training, and supporting new employees. Its function includes:

  • Reviewing resumes

  • Keeping track of employee information

  • Ensuring the company complies with labour laws and employment standards

In some companies, HR also administers compensation benefits. HR departments exist to add value to organisations by providing objective guidance to managers and employees on people-related matters. This work is done through day-to-day support for employees, project work, and long-term strategic planning. A well-managed HR department finds the right people for the job and does what it takes to keep them content and productive.

What are the duties of an HR department?

HR’s primary activities include recruitment, administration, compensation and benefits, training and development, employee relations and performance management. However, they often do much more.  The following includes some of the different responsibilities of an HR department.


Recruitment includes all aspects of hiring, from sourcing candidates to onboarding. You may work with hiring managers to determine the needs of a particular role and then find candidates that meet those requirements. You will typically use job boards, career websites, social media, employee referrals, and more to find potential candidates. You may interview HR candidates or interview alongside department managers to assess whether the applicants are a good fit for the position. 

After choosing a candidate, you'll work with them through onboarding. This includes collecting payroll and benefits administration paperwork, direct deposit forms, and other documents your company needs. In addition, you may prepare new hire materials, such as orientation packets or company handbooks outlining company policies.


A well-known role of HR is keeping track of documents, including employee records related to attendance, earned leave, medical leave, and other employee data. This helps demonstrate that the company complies with labour regulations about working hours and conditions. It also helps ensure employees receive the correct salary and benefits based on their employment status, hours worked, and pay rates. 

Compensation and benefits

Compensation and benefits work involves ensuring your company takes care of your employees by offering competitive salaries and a satisfactory benefits package. Your job as an HR professional may include ensuring employees receive the correct pay and access the benefits they want. You may also process payroll or work with an accounting department or third-party company to process payroll.

If you have a management position with HR, you may analyse the benefits offered by competing companies in your geographical area and industry. Your work can help managers make compensation decisions for current and future employees. When you make changes, you may administer new company policies on benefits, such as retirement plans.

Training and development

Training and development ensure that employees are up-to-date on their skills and improve their job performance. Whether you develop the training in-house or contract with another group, it's essential to establish an inventory of what training and development opportunities are available within your company. This also can include outside sources that can provide the information and skills employees need.

When developing a training program, you'll consider mandatory and voluntary opportunities. Some training may be required by law, and other training may be geared toward individual career goals or the company's needs. Your ultimate goal is to ensure that all employees have access to the tools they need to succeed and become more valuable to the company.

Employee relations and performance management

Employee relations include everything a company does to create a positive working environment and facilitate positive employee relationships. This can consist of participating in conversations about employee policies like compensation, working conditions, and dispute resolution.

In HR roles, you must be a company culture ambassador. You may work with management to develop an organisational structure and culture that supports the company's strategic goals. You'll also act as a liaison between employees and managers to ensure appropriate communication between all parties.

How does HR support employees?

As an HR professional, you support employees by providing continuing education, training, and support for health and wellbeing. Adequate HR is key to maintaining employee satisfaction and morale. The way HR supports employees may vary from one company to another. Here are some ways your HR department can provide support to employees.

A career path within the organisation

As an HR professional, you support employees by offering a career path within the company. Your department should offer clearly defined avenues for advancement, promotions, and transfers to other departments or divisions. This helps ensure that employees stay with the company rather than seeking outside opportunities when ready for new challenges.

Continuing education opportunities

HR may oversee continuing education programs that benefit the employer and the employee. This may be professional development, tuition reimbursement for courses, or certifications. Giving employees opportunities to enhance their skill sets and industry knowledge can boost morale and incentivise workers to continue working for the company. Education assistance programs often work well as recruitment and retention tools.

Train and support managers

You may work with department heads and managers to improve their knowledge and skills as an HR professional. By training leaders in the company, you'll help employees throughout the organisation. Your training may focus on staff motivation, effective feedback, disciplinary issues, diversity, technical skills, and legal compliance.

Support health and wellness

Your HR department will likely support employees by managing health plans, employee assistance programs, retirement planning, and disability benefits. These programs can help employees resolve conflicts and manage stress outside the workplace that could otherwise interfere with their work. In some companies, these program benefits extend to the immediate family.

You also may assist managers with creating employee wellness programs that include fitness challenges, healthy eating guidelines, and stress reduction practices. Healthy employees tend to use fewer medical days, which affects the company's productivity. Some employers offer these on-site, while others collaborate with outside vendors to provide services. 

What types of jobs are available in HR?

Types of jobs in HR range from administrative support roles and HR generalist positions to management and specialist jobs like benefits coordinator and labour relations specialist. Here are some typical jobs you can find in HR:

  • Benefits administrator: Assist new employees as they select benefits and current employees when they update their selection.

  • Employee relations manager: Help leaders build relationships with employees, address employee concerns, and resolve disputes between employees and company leadership.

  • HR assistant: Support HR management with administrative tasks like recording information, processing documents, and communicating with applicants.

  • HR director: Supervise the HR department, oversee orientation and training programs, and monitor compliance with labour laws.

  • HR generalist: Manage or oversee HR operations in small companies, including hiring and onboarding new employees, overseeing compensation and benefits, and maintaining compliance.

  • HR information system (HRIS) analyst: Manage and monitor technology used in the HR department.

  • Labour relations specialist: Review employee contracts and assist with the collective bargaining process.

  • Recruiter: Find qualified candidates to fill open positions.

  • Training and development specialist: Develop and conduct training programs for employees.

The size of your company can dictate how many people will be involved in each HR specialism. In large companies, entire teams may focus on one aspect of HR, with each team member having specific skills and knowledge. If you work in a smaller company, you'll find more general roles and HR professionals do a little of everything.

What skills do you need to work in HR?

To work in HR, you need a combination of workplace and technical skills, such as communication and talent management systems. The specific skills you need may vary depending on your desired job, but the following list gives you an idea of the skills valued in HR jobs.

  • Active listening: You will likely find it helpful to practice functional listening skills, as it can help you pay attention to important details and show employees that you value their time and perspective.

  • Analysis: HR professionals often use data to evaluate recruiting methods and employee performance. Being able to interpret this data can be helpful.

  • Administrative: Good organisation, data entry and analysis skills, and capacity to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously can be helpful in HR jobs.

  • Communication: In an HR role, you spend a considerable amount of time talking to people in interviews, training sessions, and conversations. You also will likely write many emails, handbooks, and other documents.

  • Training: You may need to develop and deliver training sessions for adults, including new and existing employees.

  • Technical skills: The specific technical skills you need depend on the company you work for, but being able to use a computer and operate word-processing documents, spreadsheets, and databases is helpful in most companies.

Ready to build your HR competencies with online learning?

Build the skills you need for a career in human resources with the HRCI Human Resources Associate Professional Certificate on Coursera. Learn how to recruit and retain talent, manage performance, and evaluable benefits and remuneration at your own pace from industry experts at HRCI. 

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