The key difference between operational human resources activities and strategic human resources is timing. Operational HR activities are tactical and typically focus on the "now," while long-range vision or the HR planning process is the focus of strategic HR. Operational HR activities match the HR functional areas. HR functional areas are employee and labor relations; compensation and benefits; training and development; safety and risk management; and recruitment and selection. As the name implies, these are activities and operations within each of the human resources functions or functional HR areas.
Operational HR activities within the employee and labor relations functional area can range from developing an employee complaint process to investigating employment-related claims and handling union employee grievances. Also, operational HR activities for employee relations may also include coordinating employee outings, awards banquets and recognition ceremonies. These kinds of operational activities are HR functions that are centered around building and sustaining the employer-employee relationship.
Compensation and benefits might arguably be one of the busiest HR functions for many companies. While establishing pay rates involves strategy and a long-term HR planning process, the operational side of compensation and benefits includes processing payroll, monitoring sick and vacation leaves and employee leave balances under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Also, compensation and benefits specialists coordinate open enrollment for employee health coverage and process benefits paperwork for new employees as well as employees who are leaving the company. Depending on the size of the company, operational HR activities in this area can require the effort of an entire team of HR specialists.
HR functions in the training and development area include scheduling new employees for orientation, delivering orientation classes, providing training to employees on specific job tasks or assigning seasoned employees to be job coaches or mentors. Some elements of these operational activities also include strategy, but generally speaking, the actual training and development activities are operational. Also, for companies that use external resources for providing training and development, HR specialists in this functional area may also be required to research learning opportunities, survey employees to compile training needs assessments and identify consultants or trainers who provide services at company locations to accommodate on-site training needs.
HR specialists who focus on workplace safety and risk management are required to perform such operational tasks as maintaining safety logs and interacting with state and federal government inspectors who enforce safety regulations. Also, they are typically responsible for HR functions such as assessing workplace risks and participating in the HR planning process for risk mitigation, which could range from attending meetings with company lawyers or being the point of contact for legal matters.
This human resources function involves posting job ads, meeting with temporary staffing providers, reviewing applications and resumes, conducting preliminary interviews and identifying suitable candidates through contacting references and verifying employment dates and qualifications. There is a strategic component in the recruitment and selection of the HR planning process; however, the operational activities are the day-to-day tasks that help the company achieve its workforce planning goals, for example, attracting and selecting candidates. For companies where the recruitment and selection process is automated, HR specialists' operational HR duties entail monitoring the application tracking systems (ATS) and interacting with hiring managers on the HR planning process regarding workforce development.