Chapter 01

Introduction & Overview

HR 101: Exploring HR Responsibilities

Welcome to the HR 101 Guide. If you’re here because you’re starting up a business, you’re thinking about a career in HR, you did a random Google search, or for any other reason, you’ve come to the perfect place to learn all things HR. If you already know what HR is, why it’s important, and all about HR responsibilities and careers, you can go ahead and skip to the next chapter. But for those of you looking for the basics, we’ll give you the HR 101 breakdown, so even if you start not knowing what the letters “H” and “R” stand for, you’ll finish with an understanding of and appreciation for the many hats of an HR professional.

HR 101 Guide text book

What Is HR?

HR stands for human resources. Within a business, human resources is the department responsible for the development, hiring, and training of employees. Every company’s most important asset is its people, so it makes sense to dedicate part of your business to cultivating the employee/employer relationship. Depending on the size of the company, the HR department may consist of one person or many. While some assume HR duties are only administrative tasks, human resources professionals take on a wide range of strategic roles and responsibilities.

What Do HR Professionals Do?

So what are those HR roles and responsibilities? We will cover each of these topics in detail in later chapters, but as an overview, HR departments generally oversee and manage the following:


Talent Acquisition

Onboarding & Offboarding

Performance Management

Compensation & Benefits

Time Tracking


HR Reporting & Analytics

Conflict Resolution

HR Compliance

HR Software

Why Is HR Important?

Rarely do HR professionals get to be the face of the company. They usually act as behind-the-scenes champions. An excellent HR team keeps things running smoothly, nurtures positive relationships between employees and the organization, and is crucial to a company’s success.

Why Human Resources Is So Important

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As you saw above, HR juggles a lot of responsibilities. When time tracking is running smoothly, incredible new hires are joining the company, payroll is accurate and on time, and the business is in compliance with state and federal laws, it can be easy to forget the people behind the curtain making all that happen.

These types of tasks don’t manage themselves. For example, HR is crucial for not only knowing laws and regulations, but training employees, communicating standards, and enforcing policy to keep their organization compliant with those laws and regulations. In 2018, there were over 76,000 discrimination and harassment charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and legal disputes regarding workplace harassment cost U.S. companies 505 million dollars in settlements. But with a highly-trained HR teams careful guidance, companies can keep themselves out of hot water.

Another way HR supports your business is by creating, analyzing, and revising time tracking processes or training programs. For example, when organizations have poor time tracking capabilities, employees take on average three days of unreported PTO. Or consider that 76 percent of new employees say they want on-the-job training. HR can create engaging, effective onboarding processes that get new hires started the right way.

While these are only a few examples of how HR supports your business, later chapters will dive further into important HR responsibilities.

HR Careers

There are two main career paths for an HR professional: generalist or specialist.

HR Generalist

This is a Jack- (or Jill) of-all-HR duties type HR professional. They have a broad range of HR knowledge and may be in an entry-level position, such as an HR assistant that supports the entire department, or they may be running the HR department as the manager, chief HR officer, or people services manager. HR generalists are found in organizations of all sizes, but especially in small and medium-sized businesses where HR departments may not be big enough to have a large team with different specialties. But, in order to get a master of one particular discipline, you need a specialist.

juggling onboarding, payroll, compensation, reporting and analytics

HR Specialist

HR specialists are often found in large organizations where HR departments have employees dedicated to specific HR responsibilities. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), one of the largest HR professionals association in the world, outlines the five most common areas of HR specialty:

1. Workforce Planning and Employment

These specialists are usually interviewers or recruiters. Their main focus is on creating a smooth recruitment and hiring process by doing tasks like:

These HR pros may hold roles like:

76 percent of new employees say they want on-the-job training.

2. People Development

Companies who require a significant amount of employee training will often want an HR specialist with a title like:

These HR responsibilities include:

3. Total Rewards

Compensation and benefits are two of the most essential HR roles and responsibilities, so even a smaller organization may choose to hire someone in this role:

Those specializing in total rewards have HR duties such as:

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4. Employee and Labor Relations

This specialization changes based on the presence of unions. For those who work in industries or locations with unions, their HR responsibilities may include:

But those who do not work with unions will focus on:

Those specializing in employee and labor relations often have titles like:

5. Risk Management

Your standard office environment generally doesn’t include the need for HR duties beyond monitoring basic employee safety guidelines, but industries that involve manual labor, heavy equipment, or high-risk environments like construction sites or warehouses need to be especially mindful of safety compliance.

A safety officer, risk management specialist, or OSHA manager is in charge of:

Beyond physical safety, risk management specialists may also be involved in security. A security specialist may be in charge of protecting confidential information or creating a secure work environment.

“An HR pro needs to do things with purpose, be thoughtful, and have a business sense.”

—Ben Peterson, Co-Founder, BambooHR

What Do CEOs Look For in an HR Professional?

No matter which HR career an HR professional chooses, they need to know their stuff. For example, what are the rules and regulations in the states where you have employees and in your industry? Those laws and practices change and evolve frequently, and you have to stay on top of them or risk your company getting in major trouble (and probably risk losing your job).

But understandably, you can’t expect everyone to be an HR wiki—or at least, not at first. On-the-job learning is especially important for those in HR. “Not every HR person has every skill set and every level of experience they need,” says Cassie Whitlock, director of HR at BambooHR. “It’s being willing to figure it out. If you’ve never built a compensation model before, go figure it out. Research, talk to people, take a class.”

To be a true MVP in the field of HR, you need to be able to contribute to business strategy. “An HR pro needs to do things with purpose, be thoughtful, and have a business sense, “ says Ben Peterson, co-founder and former CEO of BambooHR. “...[It’s] so much more than policies and procedures. Everything from payroll, which is super technical, to working on culture, which is super broad.”


To demonstrate you are staying on top of HR trends and able to contribute to business growth, you can get an HR certification. HRCI and SHRM are the two most common HR certification providers, and both offer multiple certifications at different levels of experience to help train HR professionals on additional skills and further their careers. All certifications require an exam administered through HRCI or SHRM, and most require recertification credits to maintain the certification. Recertification credits can be earned through activities like on-the-job experience, volunteer work, webinars, and conferences. While many HR jobs don’t require you to have a certification, having one or more is a definite boost on your resume and helps you keep up with new ideas in the HR field.

Does My Organization Need an HR Team?

Why would an organization need a full HR team when they can purchase software to manage HR responsibilities? Because software can’t do it all. HR software can eliminate a lot of the busywork involved in HR, but software can’t do the people work—such as informing business strategy, negotiating benefits packages for employees, creating onboarding programs, or recruiting new talent. Plus, a software doesn’t actually interact with your people and foster a stronger culture creating a better work environment.

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Startups and businesses with only a handful of employees often aren’t ready for some of the programs and major initiatives that HR handles, so HR software can reasonably manage the necessities like time tracking. In small organizations, people work happens naturally as all members of your small team interact daily and recognize the value of each other’s work. But as a business grows and divides into specialized departments like IT, sales, and marketing, it takes more than software to maintain productive personal connections between coworkers and between the employees and employer.

While there is no magic number of employees when a business needs to bring in an HR person or team, if you’re seeing signs of subcultures develop, it’s probably time for HR. You may also consider hiring HR when you notice that traditional HR responsibilities are being neglected as executives or others are no longer able to manage them as part of their day-to-day. When HR is enabled and empowered to bring their full value to an organization, it is clearly an essential part of any business.

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Chapter 2: Culture