Team Management

Why the HR Role Is Getting a Major Makeover

Kira Deutch Former Managing Editor, Gusto 
Why the HR Role Is Getting a Makeover

From Vibe Managers to Happiness Officers, HR is going through an identity remix. Etched inside this two-lettered term are all of the non-glitzy but necessary to-dos that make companies run so smoothly. It includes things like paying employees and following rolls of regulations, but also other areas like keeping employees happy and fulfilled. The ultimate goal? Helping people feel pumped about coming to work every day.

Since the role covers it all, the people who work in HR end up doing it all. They wear a lot of hats, which means trying to describe everything they do is like pulling a rabbit out of one of those hats. That is, unless you start understanding the magic contained within the “H” and “R.” So where did HR come from and where is it going? In this article, we’ll cover the history and latest research, so you can see how people are thinking about the job today — and rewriting it for tomorrow.

But first, how was HR invented?

“Welcome to Human Resources — the department with the personnel touch.” — Anonymous

In essence, from a cash register. Back in 1901, the National Cash Register Company was swept away by this cash register craze, and business was booming. One day, their employees went on a union strike to demand better working conditions. Long (hi)story short, the company won the strike, meaning the people who striked did not.

Enter, HR. The National Cash Register Company extended an olive branch to their bummed-out workers by setting up a special department dedicated to helping them out. It was so special, in fact, that it became the very first HR department. The new team was put in charge of all issues related to workers’ rights, legislation, safety, and other areas that helped people feel more comfortable at work. Other companies soon followed along, and HR officially became a thing.

HR trends today

Since HR spans more areas, it has created an entire encyclopedia of ways to describe it. So what are we calling the field instead? Practically everything.

HR teams are spending more time on developing their company culture, which changes the way we define the role. This year, Airbnb rolled together all of their talent, environment, culture, and other people-facing teams into their new employee experience group. According to Mark Levy, who heads up the new group, it includes “anything that sets our employees up for success or has the opportunity to bring our culture to life.” You can hear Levy describe it more in his own words here.

At Gusto, Slack, and many other companies, “People” is used to capture everything that’s connected to making the heart of the organization — the people — feel good about coming to work. Google’s People Operations Team pours on another layer to how they see HR. The brainchild of Laszlo Bock, their team runs wild experiments and constantly optimize for things like employee happiness. Slate describes their approach as “more like a rigorous science lab than the pesky hall monitor.” We’re playing around with what HR can do, and it’s kicking an entirely new vocabulary into motion.

The HR job description

“Human Resources isn’t a thing we do. It’s the thing that runs our business.” — Steve Wynn

As we mint new job descriptions like Happiness and Culture Chiefs, it can be hard to see what the role actually involves. So, we went straight to the source to find out. We asked over 100 HR experts to explain how they spend their day. Here’s what they told us:

A day in the life of an HR pro

Download the full version

It’s hard to clasp onto a single word that captures the variety of stuff HR people do. We also asked respondents to explain the other job titles that capture their responsibilities. A quarter said they doubled as a recruiter, 34 percent saw themselves as party planners, and 43 percent were keepers of their company culture. In a nutshell, HR people have way more than one role — they do it all.

HR tomorrow

“I believe that, fundamentally, people want to come to work, do a good job, feel like they make a difference, and be recognized for their work. Our job is to provide them with the skills, encouragement, and opportunities to have an impact.” — Beth Albright, HR Director at Day & Zimmerman

Will our HR superstars continue to be spread across so many different areas? The Society for Human Resource Management sure thinks so. They predict that by 2025, HR will be broken into five separate roles. They include:

  • Virtual culture architect
  • Organizational engineer
  • Global talent scout, convener, and coach
  • Data, talent, and technology integrator
  • Social policy and community activist

Integrator, coach, scout — see a theme emerging? Most of these new roles are based on bringing people together. But really, these areas aren’t new at all. That’s what HR people have been doing ever since that day in 1901. Now, we’re just inventing new words to describe it all.

Stirring inside the role of HR is a celebration of what makes work what it is. Sure, some of these HR names may sound a little wacky, but it’s because we’re actively searching for ways to rethink our entire work experience. So the next time you see the name salad that is HR, you’ll know exactly why there are so many ingredients mixed inside.

Updated: January 5, 2021

Kira Deutch
Kira Deutch Kira Deutch is a former Gusto editor. She has a background in publishing and content marketing for startups.


*Required fields

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top