First I must say how much I’ve enjoyed your blog – it helped me a lot when I applied for a new job last year.

Now (for only the second time in my career) I work for a company that is large enough to actually have an HR department!

My question is, I see references to roles such as ‘HR Generalist’ and ‘HR Business Partner’, and I’m sure there are more I haven’t found yet.

Could you please give a quick summary of the various HR roles and the differences?

Oh the desire for Snark is overwhelming me. I may not be able to hold back.

Companies differ and you can have two people with identical titles at different companies do very different jobs. These answers are based on my experiences, YMMV.

HR Business Partner: Works closely with the business leaders to help develop strategy and give general guidance. They take the “business” POV in dealing with a conflict between management and an employee. Things like reorganizations and succession planning falls on their shoulders.

HR Generalist: Most large companies don’t truly have a generalist, although I suspect this term is sometimes applied to employee relations people (See below). A true generalist does everything–benefits, hiring, business partner, employee relations.

Employee Relations: Instead of looking at the department as a whole, they tend to deal with individual problems. Have a problem with an employee? Go there. Have a problem with a manager? Go to ER. Employee discipline problems, performance reviews, all that kind of fun stuff falls on Employee Relations. They also work very closely with the HR Business Partner.

Benefits: People with a benefits title can do a variety of things. Your senior benefits people will be choosing health plans, negotiating with vendors and developing policies. The junior people will be solving employee benefit problems, working with the vendors and making actual changes to individual employees.

HRIS: This stands for HR Information Systems. People with HR Analyst often fall into this category. These are the techie and numbers people of Human Resources. On the tech side, the run the HR systems. The can be the actual HRIS itself, where employee data is stored (employment history, salary, grade, etc) or supporting systems, such as training and development systems and resume tracking systems. Then there is the reporting side. These people provide data–usually to the HR business partners–to help them make decisions. Turnover, headcount, trends, etc. all come out of the HRIS and other systems and are put together by the analysts. This is an extremely important group that is often overlooked. HR can’t provide value without knowledge, and these people keep the knowledge. (You might have detected that I began my career as an HR analyst.)

Staffing or Recruiters: In house staffing departments are responsible for hiring. They do more than just find and interview candidates. They work with the business to develop accurate job descriptions, train managers on how to conduct interviews, vett candidates, relocate employees, source candidates, review resumes, interview (and phonescreen), manage vendor relationships and act as ad hoc employee relations people. A good recruiter can make a manager’s job so much easier. A bad one? Well, you’ll suffer the effects of that for years.

Compensation: These are the people who figure out how much you should be paid. And how you should be paid. You’ll also find people labeled HR Analyst, or Compensation Analyst in this group. They evaluate and grade job descriptions, determine exempt vs non-exempt status, develop annual increase programs, determine bonus levels, and do statistical analysis.

Organizational Development: They sit in leather chairs and think. They annoy the rest of us who do the work. Sorry. They look at how organizations function and develop strategies for increasing productivity and maximizing effectiveness.

Training: They develop and present training to employees. This can run the gamut from technical training to sexual harassment training (how to prevent it, not how to do it) to executive development. They work with line management to determine what employees lack and then figure out a solution to that. They are often associated closely with OD.

Labor and Employment Law: These are the lawyers. We love them. They keep us from making stupid and illegal mistakes. Or at least they advise us that we are making stupid mistakes and then we do it anyway.

Those are some of the basics. And I managed to keep the snark out of it. (At least for the most part.)

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8 thoughts on “HR Roles

  1. Question?

    What is a good ratio for HR departments. If you have 1000 employees, how may people should be in an HR department?

  2. I’ve always believed in the 100-150employees to 1 HR person ratio.

  3. I agree with just another hr lady–100 to 150 employees per hr person. If you have more HR then that, they start making up forms just to fill their time. Less and they go crazy.

  4. “HR Generalist” is a loose term as I have found in my recent job search. Anything from a clerk to a HR Manager level (because the company is too cheap to pay for a real one).

    Want a good laugh check out:

    P.S. Sorry for the profanity, but it’s a site we go to when a manager asks to look into a new position. We give one real one and 4 from the site! HAHA

  5. You hit the nail right on the head, especially for a larger company; The Big Bank where I worked had exactly these roles. Little companies usually get away with less; I’ve often seen “HR Manager” (Or “HR/Finance Manager”) with one or two HR Generalists or HR Analysts or (gasp) HR Assistants reporting to them.

  6. Love and lawyers in the same breath? And meant sincerely?

    Unprecedented, but most welcome! 😉

  7. The website referenced above is a hoot, and the book was a great graduation gift for my friend getting her MBA (ha, like we need another one of those). I’ve been called business partner/generalist, and my job has probably changed about 5 times with varying responsibilities in my last 2 companies. I also had the misfortune of supporting my own dept so I had to recruit for peer generalists. I must’ve encountered 50 iterations of what a “generalist” does.

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