What Is HRM?

Written by James Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

HRM Overview

HRM, which is also known as human resource management, is a broad field of social science with applied and theoretical components. The abbreviation may also be used to describe the human relations movement, the broad cadre of sociologists and psychologists who study the behavior of workers in the workplace.

Practically, human resource management concerns the day-to-day development, management, actualization and disciplining of employees. Theoretically, it seeks to explain and control employee behavior within an organization and advance new methods of productivity-enhancing staff management. The study of human resource management is an outgrowth of the archaic science of industrial and labor relations.

Depending upon their size and other factors, modern firms, non-governmental organizations and bureaucracies employ HRM techniques through either in-house departments or outside consulting firms. In popular speech, these units may be referred to as "Human Resources" or simply "HR."

HRM: What You Need to Know

Today, the HR departments of large organizations have several major responsibilities. Their functionaries are responsible for recruiting, hiring and training employees. They may also maintain a centralized database of employee records that includes reports of disciplinary action and termination. An organization's human resource specialists tend to be the primary arbiters of an organization's culture and a collective check on the activities of its senior executives.

Human resource specialists must often interact with parties independent of their firm. In organizations that participate in a collective bargaining agreement, "HR" is the principal liaison between senior management and union representatives. It also falls upon HR departments to ensure that both individual employee activities and executive decisions remain in compliance with local, state and federal statutes.

Like many workplace-oriented practical disciplines, HRM arose out of the formalization of observations made by 19th-century sociologists and psychologists. Modern human resource management owes much to Frederick Taylor, who studied manufacturing processes around the turn of the 20th century. His work is credited with increasing the productivity of line workers.

Initially, applied human resource management had two principal areas of focus: the management of payroll and benefits and the negotiation, execution and interpretation of collective bargaining agreements. While the former role has largely been outsourced to either larger accounting firms or leaner, highly-specialized human resource consultants, the latter remains an important function of human resources departments. However, the steady decline in union membership has reduced the importance of collective bargaining experience among the discipline's practitioners.

The makeup of an organization's human resource management staff depends primarily upon its size. Very small firms may lack a dedicated human resources professional, counting instead on a general-purpose bookkeeper to keep detailed employee records and recruit new employees. In some cases, a small company's general manager or owner-operator may double as its human resources manager.

On the other hand, a large organization might maintain a professional human resources staff of dozens or hundreds. To standardize professional expectations within the discipline, the Society for Human Resource Management offers a Professional in Human Resources certification to candidates who successfully complete its course of study.

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