What Is a Human Resource?

Definition and Examples of a Human Resource

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Human Resources

The Balance / Elise Degarmo

A human resource is a single person or employee within an organization and part of the overall personnel or workforce of that company.

Learn more about human resources so you can better understand their role in an effective organization.

What Is a Human Resource?

A human resource is one person within a company's overall workforce, with each person lending their skills and talents to the organization to help it succeed. Any person willing to trade their labor, knowledge, or time for compensation in an effort to improve the organization is a human resource. It doesn't matter if they're part-time, full-time, freelance, or contract employees.


While a company usually has many different kinds of assets (capital, equipment, supplies, or facilities, for example), its people are its most significant asset.

Employees must be hired, satisfied, motivated, developed, and retained. A human resources department is the department that manages a company's human resources. Humans need more management than other resources and a different approach, so that's why it's useful to have an entire department devoted to them. Whether it's mediating interpersonal conflicts or setting up a retirement plan, the human resources department is trained to handle it.

  • Alternate definition: Human resources is the field that deals with managing people, pay, and training.
  • Alternate name: Human capital
  • Acronym: HR

How Does Human Resources Work?

The goal of human resources is to use a company's people most effectively. Human resources might deal with issues such as:

  • Compensation and benefits
  • Recruiting and hiring employees
  • Onboarding
  • Performance management
  • Training
  • Organization development and culture

These areas each contribute to employee satisfaction and performance. By attending to these different concerns, human resources can ensure a high-functioning and effective workforce, which in turn helps the company reach its goals and objectives more efficiently.

The human resources department also ensures the company is adhering to labor regulations and works to keeps the environment free from harassment and other impediments to a strong workforce.


Human resources staff help to create and implement workplace policies as well, such as vacation policies or dress codes. These policies ensure the fair and consistent application of the rules across the workforce.

For example, imagine Chris is a sales rep for a company. Chris is one of the company's human resources: an employee. If Chris has concerns about her employee benefits or questions about an enrollment form, she would contact the Human Resources department for assistance. If Chris and another employee or manager have a conflict, the human resources department can help find a solution. And the department makes sure that Chris and the other members of her team are receiving appropriate training so that they can perform their duties efficiently.

Criticism of Human Resources

Some people take issue with regarding employees as "resources." In their view, to consider workers as human resources commodifies them and reduces them to a figure on a balance sheet, or a means to an end. Instead, they promote renaming "human resources" to better encourage the full development of the human workforce.

Alternatives to Human Resources

Many of the functions of a human resource may in some cases be executed by non-human resources. In other words, robots or computers sometimes replace human employees, especially in hazardous conditions or for repetitive tasks. This is called automation, and it can greatly improve efficiency.

For example, you may often find robots on production lines, such as for cars. Automating certain parts of the production can increase production speed, but humans are still needed for some tasks, especially those that involve critical thinking.

Human resources functions may also be executed by specialized departments or staff. Instead of a general human resources manager, there may be a compensation and benefits manager, a training supervisor, or an employee recruitment specialist. Such specialization allows for greater efficiency and, often, improved profitability.

Key Takeaways

  • A human resource is a single person in a company's workforce.
  • Human resources also refer to the department charged with managing personnel.
  • A human resource department has many functions, including recruiting, overseeing compensation, monitoring performance, and providing training.
  • Find out the answers to frequently asked questions about HR.
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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing. "What Is Human Resources?" Accessed June 29, 2020.

  2. McGaughey, Ewan. "A Human Is Not a Resource." King's College London Law School, 2018.

  3. SHRM.com. "Can Robots Replace Humans? Just Ask Elon Musk." Accessed June 29, 2020.

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