HR Terms and Acronyms Everyone Should Know

If you’re not an HR professional, becoming a walking dictionary of HR terms probably isn’t high on your priority list. HR is evolving, too—and the latest HR jargon isn’t something you’re likely to pick up around the water cooler (unless your water cooler is in the BambooHR office). But whether or not you’re in HR, you probably deal with HR concerns and interact with HR pros at work—and that’s why everyone should know at least a few recent and important HR terms as well as the definitions behind some of the more common HR acronyms.

Important HR Terms

We’ve been building a comprehensive HR glossary over the past few years, which you can check out here. But comprehensive means it covers everything, and you just want the highlights. So, here are nine simplified definitions for nine common HR terms and acronyms you’re probably going to encounter in the next year.

Performance Management – see the glossary definition

Performance management is the official term covering everything involved in employee and management review and feedback programs. Your organization might have peer reviews, 360 feedback, employee goal setting and tracking, performance programs, and more, all combined with annual or quarterly reviews. Or, it might have none of these; some organizations are abandoning performance management entirely. Still others are looking at ways to improve the quality and effectiveness of performance management by making reviews more frequent and incorporating short-term goals that can be more easily tracked and measured.

HR Business Partner – see the glossary definition

An HR business partner is an HR executive who provides strategic direction at the senior level of an organization. Where the typical, or perhaps “traditional” HR professional spends the majority of their time working on day-to-day issues at the employee level, HR business partners act as a consultant on HR matters that impact the entire organization. Their role is to ensure that the broader HR strategy is understood at every level and is in line with overall business objectives.

Onboarding (aka Employee Onboarding) – see the glossary definition

Onboarding includes the initial stages of an employee’s life at a new organization, such as team introductions, policy training, specific job training, benefit paperwork, and other required preliminaries. Onboarding is usually interpreted as the stage between the acceptance of the job offer and the first day of “regular” work. However, as research is beginning to reveal the importance of effective onboarding, organizations are beginning to expand their onboarding programs to overlap further into the typical work role, as a way to ensure a smooth transition for new hires.

Employee Database – see the glossary definition

In short, an employee database is a storage system for employee information. HR’s oversight of compliance means a functional, reliable, and current database is critical to their role. Due to the sensitive nature of personal and financial information and the increasing risks involved with identity theft and fraud, modern employee database services tout enhanced security and redundant backup systems as preventative measures against hacking and environmental disasters. However, some organizations may still use nothing more complicated than a filing cabinet with physical employee records, making data maintenance extremely time-consuming and effective security almost impossible.

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Common HR Acronyms and Terms

However, as they all lack formal definitions, the three initialisms are often used interchangeably even within the software and HR industries. In our experience at BambooHR, HRIS is used more commonly in small and medium-sized organizations, while HCM is used more often at the enterprise level. HRMS is somewhere in between, and is more commonly seen outside the United States.

HRIS/HRMS/HCM – see glossary definition

HRIS, HRMS, and HCM are all initials referring to software platforms designed for human resources. HRIS translates to Human Resources Information System (or Software), which implies a focus on information gathering, management, and distribution—like an enhanced HR database that includes functions like benefits administration, compliance, onboarding, compensation, and reporting. HRMS stands for Human Resources Management System (or Software), and typically combines the function of an HRIS with more advanced capabilities like recruiting, performance management, training and career development, succession planning, and predictive analytics. Finally, HCM stands for Human Capital Management, which some people interpret as being nearly identical to an HRMS, while others see HCM as having all the functions of an HRMS plus payroll administration, time tracking, and benefits management, which are typically third-party services.

ACA – see glossary definition

ACA is the abbreviation for the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the Affordable Care Act or more commonly by its nickname, Obamacare (since it was signed into law by President Barack Obama). The ACA was created with the aim of extending healthcare coverage to more Americans through a series of new regulations and requirements for both healthcare providers, individuals, and employers. For the HR industry, the ACA added new rules and guidelines that affect employees’ benefit choices and require increased monitoring to ensure compliance.

ATS – see glossary definition

An ATS, or applicant tracking system, is software designed to organize and improve the recruiting and hiring process. At the simple end, an ATS might just store incoming applicants’ information and sort candidates by job opening and hiring status. A more robust ATS often includes additional recruiting and reviewing tools like job-posting functions, communication tools, automated approval notifications, smart sorting, and more. The most advanced systems available today are even incorporating artificial intelligence to help with applicant screening.

eNPS – see glossary definition

eNPS, or Employee Net Promoter Score, is based on the Net Promoter Score system, which is a system of survey analysis created to help organizations gauge customer loyalty. eNPS gauges employee satisfaction and loyalty using a similar two-question format. Employees submit a score rating along with anonymous feedback about their employer, which gives the system enough information to provide the organization with an overall score from -100 to +100. Along with scoring, eNPS uses keyword analysis to highlight recurring topics in the positive and negative feedback, which gives employers a starting point for solving issues and reinforcing beneficial aspects of the workplace. Tracking scores and feedback over time allows organizations to see trends and determine whether or not efforts to improve have been effective.

PTO – see glossary definition

PTO stands for paid time off, which many people understand as vacation time. It is time away from work that is compensated by an employer, and may be divided into categories like sick time, vacation, and personal or mental health time. PTO is determined by the employer, which makes it different from federally mandated or state-mandated leave like FMLA, and it is generally not conditional to specific needs or unique circumstances (like maternity leave).