Defining the Human Resource Function

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Defining the Human Resource Function

I recently spoke at a seminar sponsored by BizKeys and hosted by Miller & Martin PLLC, Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The topics spanned a myriad of traditional Human Resource (HR) topics.  During this seminar I had the opportunity to observe the attendees, mostly Human Resource professionals, struggling to keep up with notes and handouts, I found myself reflecting on how demanding, constantly changing, expanding, and challenging the HR function has become.  I have often discussed and debated the idea that this activity is lacking in definition and clarification due to a proliferation of federal and state employment laws along with a national focus on workplace activities and issues.  From a personal standpoint, during the development of BizKeys, I struggled in my attempt to define this area of activity and settled on “employment and workforce issues”, however, I am not satisfied that this terminology properly defines the scope of activity and issues currently facing the business community.  Neither does the term “human resource”, which in reality, is the management function of these activities and issues.

It is reasonable to conclude that the absence of a clearly defined identity of these employment and workforce related activities and issues leads to ineffective management and control of them.  It causes confusion, and misunderstanding, and failure to grasp the potential harm that can occur with management approaches that fail to incorporate a cohesive, coordinated concept.  These activities and issues are often managed in a segmented fashion with various parts handed out to structured organizational departments. Some examples would be: the Engineering Department over safety, the Accounting Department managing all payroll activities, the Manufacturing Manager writing policies and procedures regarding employment and workforce issues.   The problem with this “segmented” or “unilateral” approach is the difficulty in achieving a cohesive, coordinated result.  It is somewhat like the cliché, “the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing” when it is the right hand that is responsible for maintaining compliance and management of those activities.  In my opinion, the best way to achieve effective management and control of workforce related activities and issues is to vest one entity with full authority and managerial responsibility for all such matters.

 I certainly understand that all organizations cannot afford a HR Department, staffed with HR Directors, Labor Attorneys, Paralegals, Specialists and Generalists.  They can, however, centralize the management function with specific oversight designation.

Now, back to defining these activities.  Again, we are talking about employment, workplace and workforce activities governed by a variety of federal and state laws, regulations and executive orders and enforced by federal and state agencies.  It includes: the hiring process, all activities involved during the employment period and all activities following separation of employment. 

It includes independent contractors, subcontractors, joint employers and their employees when engaged on your company’s premises.  In summary, it includes activities involving every action, inaction, or perceived action involving people with any form of association or contact with your company.  Just as it is difficult to list every possible action involved in these activities, it is equally difficult to find a suitable term that clearly defines the activities.

I have been closely involved with the HR function for approximately 35 years as a HR professional and business owner.  I have witnessed the evolution of terms, titles, responsibilities and organizational management structure of this area of business and concluded it is past due for elevating the status and importance of a function that goes far beyond the stereotyped image of filling job vacancies, benefits management and company orientations.  I believe the HR function is underrated and unappreciated in regard to the challenging issues faced and solve day in and day out.  The constant effort  in the pursuit to maintain compliance and correct problem situations, most often created by others, needs to be recognized.

I am ready to stick my neck out and challenge the status quo with new terminology that I believe more accurately defines the employment activities and issues discussed in this article.  I will share my thoughts and recommendations in my next article.

2 Responses

  1. I agree with Jack Hobbs that the legal and operational issues surrounding employment, and the employment relationship, are diverse and complex, and that businesses should adopt a more coordinated approach to managing those issues. But I’m not sure that redefining those functions or changing labels would help much and it might present other issues.

    Hobbs says the HR function is “underrated and underappreciated” and should be redefined to better reflect the scope and importance of what HR professionals do. I would defer to the Society for Human Resource Management on whether “HR” adequately reflects what its members do, but I’m skeptical whether the myriad disciplines involved in employment and work force issues can practically be subsumed under one label. The various professionals involved (lawyers, accountants, benefits managers, IT specialists, and others) all have vested interests in maintaining their distinct professional identity, and would resist being lumped together under a common term.

    • Jack Hobbs says:

      Your professional expertise brings a lot of credibility to the discussion and I am appreciative of your comments. I guess my primary objective is to properly define the realm of activities and issues involved in the “HR Function”, not so much those involved in the management of the activities and issues. My question is, simply put, how can you sufficiently manage and control activities and issues that are not properly defined. If you ask the various professionals you mentioned “what is included in the HR Function”, my guess is you would get different responses from each, all pertinent to the activities and issues, but not inclusive of the entirety of the activities and issues. I have no problem with the term “Human Resource”. It means different things to different people, including those within the profession. There is no doubt HR is an accepted, long standing, term. In my opinion it is lacking in identity and does not reflect the changes and demands brought about during the last fifteen to twenty years. As you will recall, the Temporary Help industry went through a similar change in identity.

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