When it comes to creating a corporate culture and setting the path to define a company’s success, it’s inarguable that human resources are where it all begins. Human resources responsibilities are about finding the right people for the job, but it goes far beyond that in today’s professional realm. They resolve conflicts, administer benefit programs and manage employee relationships while tweaking team dynamics. Then there’s recruiting, counseling the company brass and other corporate players, and even the daunting task of legal compliance. Human resources may not be out there performing the corporation’s day-to-day business, but without them, the company can’t even get off the ground.


A human resource professional is the cornerstone of any great company because they attract and hire the right staff while establishing the framework for retaining them.

Understanding Human Resources

The easiest way to understand the challenge before a human resource team is to think about movies or your favorite sports team. When it comes to movies, it’s all dependent on the magic that happens on-screen, and that means the dynamic between actors, too. To make that happen, a producer chooses the director; then the director must hire their primary team, including a casting director. The casting director then goes through thousands of photos and auditions to find the right people for the film. Pick the wrong actors, and the film might lie there like a dead fish. The right ones, though, make movie magic.

It’s the same thing with a sports team. The general manager is responsible for everyone in a baseball team’s clubhouse. From the coach to the rehab specialists down to relief pitchers and outfielders, they’re all chosen for specific reasons. Bring in the wrong player, and maybe squabbling erupts in the locker room. Get a coach who doesn’t understand the players, and suddenly millions of dollars in payroll are being squandered under bad leadership. A bad doctor can risk a multimillion-dollar investment in talent. But choose the right management, and players who have a dynamic between them, and that team are aiming for the playoffs.

These are the same responsibilities facing a human resources manager and their team. The future of their company depends on them picking the right people for every position in the company and managing those assets in a way that keeps them both productive and loyal.

Human Resources Responsibilities List

So, what are the duties and responsibilities of a company? When it comes to human resources, there are two ways to look at their roles – there’s the big picture of what they contribute to a company, but then there’s the daily HR activities list, where HR functions and responsibilities are broken down into distinct tasks.

Hiring, Recruiting and Retention

This is the obvious job everyone associates with human resources – finding the right employees for the job. It’s not as simple as running an ad and making a choice. Where they look for employees can impact the quality of applicants, and ads themselves can turn off some applicants – like companies advertising for a “rock star” or “guru.” Great HR teams know how to attract great people, and that goes right down to the wording of their candidate search and how they conduct interviews.

Recruiting and retention are a big deal too. When it comes to the brilliant employees that a company’s future can build upon, sometimes that takes playing hardball to get them to sign a contract. Recruitment is all about knowing the players they want, then going after them.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world, though, and valued team players often get poached by other companies. When that threat arises – or before it can – it’s important to work hard to retain employees. Every employee trained costs tens of thousands of dollars in payroll across several positions – the trainee, trainers, HR time spent on them and anyone else involved in getting that employee up to speed. Retaining staff is keeping investments strong and requires ensuring they compete for advancement and that their skills are being used adequately, and even recognizing and rewarding their contributions where possible.

Vision, Value and Branding

HR can, and should, be involved with the CEO and other company heads to establish what the company vision and core values are. In so doing, they can best understand what attributes need to exist in employees to ensure that these qualities are met in every person at every level.

For example, a culture of collaboration and innovation is achieved through ensuring certain personality types are more predominant in a company. If someone is a diva or a loner, that may not gel with the corporate culture and vision the company is after. On the flipside, if innovation and creativity are hugely valued by the company, HR may want to shy away from hiring vivacious, chatty people who could disrupt the mood in the workplace.

To some extent, this is about branding, too. If a company has a strong brand, it’s critical that the team in place under that brand believes what it’s all about. This starts in HR’s wheelhouse because they can identify who’s on board with the brand mantra versus who may have a difficult time getting behind it.

Employee Advocacy and Conflict Resolution

These may seem like two distinct areas, but if the human resources team isn’t trusted by employees, problems may fester too long for a resolution to be easily achieved. A good human resources department has camaraderie with employees so that when there are workplace issues, staff will approach HR to reach a resolution. In a perfect world, the HR department is like Switzerland – a neutral force that’s always willing to negotiate between parties. Employees need to know HR will stand with them when management is out of line, and management needs to believe HR has the company’s future in mind with every stance they take.

In today’s social media era, the last thing anyone wants is employees taking their issues public. Instead, dealing with matters in-house can avoid a lot of grief all around. Conflict resolution, therefore, is as important as advocating for employees. This can include everything from just reminding workers about policy through advising them or providing counseling and mediation. It can even involve getting the legal team involved or calling authorities in instances of workplace harassment or abuse.

Ideally, before conflicts arise, HR will have created policies and frameworks that can establish a playing ground for conflicts and appropriate resolutions. Some areas that can be covered by these policies include what constitutes sexual harassment in the office, how to respect employee privacy, rules around office gossip and the company’s stance regarding overtime and vacations.

Benefits and Compensation

Part of attracting and keeping employees comes down to the benefits and compensation they may receive in the job. From sick time and sabbaticals to medical packages and vacation time, a lot rides on what comes along with a salary. It’s one thing to offer medical insurance as a job benefit, but it’s also the HR team’s responsibility to decide what company will provide the medical insurance. This involves researching everything from what the medical plan offers to what the co-pay prices are and how much it costs the company to provide this benefit, based on the company’s budget and policies. It’s also up to them to push corporate brass a little if they feel the company isn’t offering employees attractive enough incentives to gain or retain quality talent.

Administering these benefits and any compensations required for bonuses or performance awards also falls to the HR team. There’s little sense in offering benefits or compensation if they are not paid out promptly. To that end, the HR functions list doesn’t just include oversight; it also includes needing clear communication and diligent record-keeping on every employee and department in the company.

Employee Records and Performance Reviews

This is also where diligence in record-keeping and communications weighs in because among the most important of HR functions and responsibilities is keeping files on employees. According to some HR professionals, in keeping these organized, they recommend having three separate files – the I-9, a general employee file and a medical file.

The medical file is for everything from any doctor’s notes through to claims forms, disabilities information and even emergency contacts and relevant allergies. The I-9 file is for the government form that verifies work eligibility. The general file is a catch-all for important communications, their resume and application, reviews, complaints, W-4 forms, disciplinary actions and whatever other records may justify holding onto.

In keeping with this, often performance reviews will be completed by the HR department. They’ll need systems in place that alert them to when it’s time for a periodical review of each employee’s performance. Here’s where they’ll consult files, see where the employee began, what their trajectory has been and then they’ll contrast this with reports and feedback from managers and other team members who work with the employee.

What Are the Different Positions in Human Resources?

For those interested in human resources jobs, there are several roles included in the HR work list. If you’re aiming for a career with HR functions and responsibilities, you’ll likely need a Business BA with a focus on either management or organizational leadership. Once you’ve got that, these are some of the roles that might suit you:

Executive Recruiter For the most competitive HR specialist, this is the high-stakes game of finding the right executives to take their company into the future. It requires exceptional business savvy, strong networking skills and killer negotiating ability for dealing with driven professionals.

Training and Development Manager This is the HR role for people who like to teach and inspire other people. Under a great training and development manager, teams can be a powerhouse moving the company in a profitable direction. Poor training and a lack of proper employee development have sunk many a ship, so this is a critical role that requires great presentation, leadership, motivating skills and creativity for getting the best out of people.

Nonprofit HR Professional These pros need to do a lot with less. They need to be resourceful and imaginative, as well as have great networking savvy and a passion for the cause they’re working for. They must not only attract great paid employees but also create the framework that will attract and get the most out of volunteers.

Global HR Specialist In the age of the multinational, this professional is tasked with recruiting and placing new employees overseas or bringing them into the country. They’ll need to have a cross-cultural savvy and should speak more than one language. They’ll also require an understanding of tax and legal implications regarding the international aspect of these roles.

HR IT Recruiting Specialist Technology is complicated and ever-changing. This is the HR role for someone who loves to geek out over tech and who understands the terms and day-to-day advances in technology. Their role is to find talented staff who can not only manage the IT already existing in the company but who have the vision and savvy for growing with new technologies that are coming down the pipeline, while also being able to be responsive to their colleagues’ needs and problems.

HR Assistant The best way to get started in a career in human resources is by getting a job as an assistant. Working under a quality team, and watching how it’s done, can be invaluable in teaching a newcomer how to wrangle all the skill sets needed to thrive in this industry. As of May 2014, the US Department of Labor said the median salary of HR assistants was $38,040, with the top 10 percent earning nearly $55,000. It’s also a career with a great future, as the Department of Labor reported that unemployment rates were considerably lower than in many other jobs.