What Are Human Resources?

The Employees and the Office

Human resources are the people you employ and the office that serves them.
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William R. Tracey, in The Human Resources Glossary defines Human Resources as, "The people that staff and operate an organization … as contrasted with the financial and material resources of an organization."

Human resources are people who work for an organization in jobs. In the past, these people, also known as employees in organizations and workplaces, were called personnel. In some organizations, they are still called personnel, manpower, or people.

Human resources evolved from the term, personnel, as the functions of the field moved beyond paying employees and managing employee benefits. The evolution of the HR function gave credence to the fact that people are an organization's most important resource.

In a second meaning, Human Resources is also the name of the department or functional area from which the employees provide HR services to the rest of the organization. Find out more about the HR department. People are an organization's asset. Employees must be hired, satisfied, motivated, developed, and retained. See how the new roles of the HR employees have evolved.

Evolution of the Term, Human Resources

Human resources, as a name for employees, was first used in a book published in 1893 according to Wikipedia and was regularly used in the early 1900's.

Modern use of the term, human resources, dates from the 1960's. By 2016, most organizations call employees and the department or office designated to assist the organization and its people, Human Resources.

Over the years, calling employees "human resources" has been the subject of much debate. People who do not like the term applied to people believe that identifying people as an asset or as a resource of an organization in the same terminology as things such as land, building materials, or machines, is improper and can lead to poor treatment of employees.

Efforts are underway to modernize the term, human resources. Increasingly, you hear employees referred to as talent. Office of People is cropping up as a term to describe the HR office. So are Office of Talent, Talent Management, People Resource Center, department of People and Culture, Support Services, People and Development, Employee and Management Solution Center, and People Management.

I'm not so sure that what you call employees and the office that exists to serve them and the organization matters. What matters in organizations are issues such as the respect you offer people, how you honor and recognize the contributions of employees, how you foster their development, how successfully you accomplish organization goals and serve customers. 

Learn what an HR manager, generalist, and assistant does. Here are specific job descriptions for:

Long a term used sarcastically by individuals in the line organization, because it relegates humans to the same category as financial and material resources, human resources will be replaced by more people and organization friendly terms in the future.

These are titles in use already to replace Human Resources as the name of the office that deals with people, for example: VP, Office for People; Vice President, Talent, and Culture.

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