The role of human resource management has been around in business, at least in a simple form, since the late 18th century. During the industrial revolution, scientists and philosophers started to make the correlation between productivity and happy, safe workers. Until this time, there had been no advocates for the workers and work conditions were dangerous and oppressive.
It is easy to see how HR developed in these conditions. Factory workers had no rights and were in need of someone on an executive level who could give them a voice and advise bosses on how to maximise productivity through better employer-employee relations. A large part of early HR was made up of:
- Using the scientific method (observation, hypothesis, test, observation) to find the most efficient and productive way of working
- Matching workers to tasks they were best suited for
- Monitoring performance and productivity and providing feedback
- Allocating tasks according to seniority and skill to enhance efficiency
These early principles are what paved the way for modern HR management and executives are still largely responsible for the same tasks. An HR executive is, at the most basic level, the advocate between employee and employer and is responsible for keeping both informed and happy in order to improve business outcomes. The HR executive or team are in charge of the employee lifecycle and all the administration that goes alongside it. This includes:
- Onboarding and training
- Administration of pay and benefits
- Liaison between employees and employers
- Ensuring safety of workers
- Ensuring legal requirements for workers are in place and upheld
- Disciplinary action
- Firing or handling resignations
In larger companies, HR executives will often now specialise, with one executive focusing on health and safety while another is focused on recruitment. But in smaller companies, the responsibilities of the HR executive may all fall to one person. Knowing what an HR executive does will help you hire the right person for your business as well as fully understand and appreciate their function within your business. A lot of small businesses feel there is no need for HR, especially if they are trying to keep to a tight budget, but HR is invaluable to businesses and plays an important role in the health of the company.
The first responsibility to fall to HR is recruitment. It is the HR executive’s job to understand the company and its needs well enough to draw up recruitment material, market openings in the right channels, and monitor the recruitment process. This is an involved process that requires a level of skill and focus as the HR executive has to understand the nuances of the position as well as the rest of the job market that is competing for the same recruit. This knowledge will need to be used alongside stakeholder decisions and budgetary requirements.
Once the advertisement has gone out and applications have started to come in, the HR executive is responsible for sifting through applications to look for the best prospects. There is a huge amount of pressure placed on HR in recruitment because hiring the right person can transform business and strengthen it, but the wrong new hire can prove expensive and counterproductive for a business. HR executives are required to have the analysis skills and intuition required for assessing candidates and hiring the right people for various roles.
Within recruitment, HR also has to handle all the relevant paperwork. This will involve handling personal data and applications but will also include all onboarding paperwork that needs to be processed for a new hire. Contracts need to be drawn up and agreed to. Company policies and processes need to be shared and understood. Personal data needs to be collected for payroll and benefits. All of this will fall to HR.
Payroll and Benefits
Although it would seem like a more appropriate job for accounting, payroll falls to HR. It is the HR executive’s task to calculate or verify hours on timesheets and make sure all employees are paid the right amount at the right time. Along with salaries and wages, HR also works out taxes, pensions, and other benefits that need to be included in payroll. They also handle expenses, raises, and bonuses.
Unfortunately, this is the role of HR that most people know. HR departments and executives are often represented as only looking out for management and not for the staff because it is their responsibility to carry out disciplinary action. This can take many different forms and will have to fall in line with company policy on dealing with grievances and problematic staff.
HR executives need to be adept at handling conflict and have excellent communication skills in order to navigate discipline well. Badly executed disciplinary action can lead to the loss of good staff, a poor reputation for the company, or even legal action if it is handled particularly badly. On the other hand, well managed disciplinary action can improve relationships within the company and lead to better productivity and happier management and staff.
Disciplinary action is also not necessarily negative. The HR executive takes on the role of investigating the root of the action requiring discipline and can also offer employees alternate ways to handle problems. Therapy, flexible working conditions, compassionate leave, and self-help courses are just some of the ways an HR executive can help employees.
In some instances, however, it is not appropriate for employees to stay on at a company and it is the HR executive’s responsibility to properly handle the firing process. The HR executive needs to have a strong enough relationship with the company, including both managers and employees, to know what is best for everyone and when a single staff member is throwing off the team.
This aspect of HR alone makes the HR executive vital to any business. The skills that are required for handling disciplinary action are unique and should be valued within a company structure.
Health and Safety
Although the role of HR has changed dramatically since the 18th century, the safety of the workers is still one of the tasks that fall into the HR role. Certain laws govern health and safety in a lot of settings, and most companies will have their own policies in place as well. These laws and policies protect employees, but they are also in place to protect employers from potential loss of business or lawsuits caused by an unhealthy or hazardous workplace.
The HR executive will be responsible for reviewing health and safety procedures and ensuring they are being followed. If they need specific equipment or personal protective equipment, HR will also need to handle procurement of these items.
The HR executive might also need to defend health and safety decisions to management, especially if they will cost the company more money. This means the HR executive needs to be well versed in standard health and safety rules and regulations and needs to have a deep understanding of what happens in all departments of the business.
In an office setting, this could be fairly straightforward. But in a warehouse, outdoor space, or business that works with heavy machinery or animals, health and safety will form a large part of their role.
All businesses have comprehensive policies on almost all procedures. Without policies and guidelines in place, there is often confusion and businesses run the risk of losing time and money. Miscommunications can also cause stress in the workplace or cause the business to lose clients. Although a lot of policies will be drawn up by other departments as needed, it often falls to the HR executive to understand, explain, and uphold policies.
When onboarding new employees, the HR executive will need to explain company policies and get the new employee to sign off on them. They will also need to follow up and ensure policies are being adhered to.
For any policies pertaining to the staff themselves, the HR executive will also be responsible for drawing up the policies. These could include:
- Sick day policies. Who needs to be contacted, how soon they need to be contacted, and how many days of sick leave are acceptable before an enquiry needs to be made
- Hours and overtime. Who is able to get overtime, what is the pay for overtime, and how many hours can an employee work each day, week, or month?
- Expenses and reimbursement. What qualifies as a company expense, how much can be spent, and who needs to agree to expenses before they are made
There are a lot of laws in place to protect workers. These range from minimum wages to maximum hours worked. An HR executive needs to know about these laws as well as any new developments or changes to them.
Worker’s rights are an important part of the HR role because if they are not adhered to, the business can face legal action. A good HR executive will regularly attend courses or meetings to keep themselves informed and will read about new developments in the area of business law as often as possible.
In bigger companies, this part of the job will be given to a legal team or consultant. This alone should indicate how vital this part of the HR role is.
Maintaining employee records
The law requires that all personnel records are kept up to date. Details should be current and old records should be safely deleted or destroyed.
Proper personnel records ensure businesses follow laws around demographics and discrimination prevention. They also contain important details such as emergency contacts which need to be kept up to date for staff safety.
Keeping accurate records will also help the business to identify gaps in skills or experience which will help with skills development programs and the hiring process. Knowing the exact makeup of a staff team gives a business insight into how they can strengthen their team. It will also show any biases in the hiring process that might need to be rectified.
Analysing the competition is not a task that lies solely with the marketing team. HR executives are also required to complete analysis of the competition, but in a different area. HR will look at how other similar companies are carrying out their recruitment campaigns. They will need to be aware of competitive pay scales, benefits, and where the talent pool is deepest.
With regular investigation and analysis it is possible to see exactly why the competition seems to get all the “best staff”. It could be that your company needs a better benefits package, that the other company offers free parking, or that there is an option for home-working. It may be that the staff you are looking for are driven by company values rather than an attractive package, so making your values known could be the strongest way to sell a vacant position.
Knowing what competitor businesses offer their staff helps you to make your business more attractive to potential employees and that, in turn, will make your staff team stronger.
Continued professional development
Even the best employees can get bored, stagnate, or start to work on autopilot rather than bring new fresh ideas and enthusiasm. HR has the responsibility of ensuring this doesn’t happen.
The HR executive should know enough about each staff member to know what continued professional development (CPD) would suit them and their role in the company. Finding courses and classes to offer to employees can improve morale while building a skillset that the business will benefit from.
Collective CPD and team building for the entire workforce can be implemented for building company culture or offering training in generally weak areas. At other times it may be more appropriate to offer each employee one online course of their choosing.
Encouraging CPD is one way a business shows employees that they are valued. An employee who feels valued will be more enthusiastic about their work and will also feel more comfortable sharing ideas and communicating with managers.
Employees aren’t the only ones who benefit from CPD. HR can also offer managerial support and training. Competent leadership will strengthen the business as a whole, and that is the goal of the HR executive.