Reading: What is HR?

Business English: Human resources

 Read these texts about HR and underline the vocabulary you think useful. Then, do the Quiz below.

Human Resources

Human resources is a term which many organizations use to describe the combination of traditionally administrative personnel functions with performance management, employee relations and resource planning. The field itself draws upon concepts developed in Industrial / Organizational Psychology. Human resources has at least two related interpretations depending on context. The original usage originates from political economy and economics, where it was traditionally called labor, one of four factors of production. The more common usage within contemporary corporations refers to the individuals within the firm, and to this part of the firm’s organization that deals with hiring, firing, training, performance assessment, and other personnel issues. The modern concept of HR emphasizes that human beings are not “commodities” or “resources”, but creative and social beings whose contributions to society extend beyond “labor”. In micro-economics the term “firm-specific human capital” has the meaning of “human resources’.

The objective of Human Resources is to maximize the return on investment from the organization’s human capital and to minimize financial risk. HR managers are responsible for conducting these activities in an effective, legal, fair and consistent manner.
Human resource management serves these key functions:

    • recruitment strategy planning

    • hiring processes

    • performance evaluation and management

    • promotions

    • redundancy

    • industrial and employee relations

    • record keeping of all personal data

  • compensation, pensions, bonuses, etc. in connection with payroll

One of the biggest challenges HR faces nowadays is the ability to retain high caliber staff, likely to be headhunted by business competitors. As Jay Doherty, a representative of the New York-based human-resources consulting firm William M. Mercer Inc. says, “Retention is no longer a human resource issue, it’s a business issue”. It is especially noticeable in technology companies, with thetightest labor markets – and these labor crunches can really hurt.

So, how can HR departments help to keep workers? Pay rises and better benefits can be taken for granted by most sought-after employees, so HR go out of their way to devise more efficient ways to pamper employees. They help employees cope with personal problems they face outside the office, such as child or elderly relative care and financial planning, turn leave policies round, creating “flexible leave banks”. Thanks to this last invention, employees take time off when they need it and don’t have to call it a sick day or vacation. They also let employees work in flexitime system or on a reduced time schedule, just four days a week, for instance, leaving the fifth one for family commitments.

Work-life balance is one of the most cherished concepts for many people, who still want some energy left at the end of the day – to give something back to their nearest and dearest, as well as to the community they live in. Some of them can be referred to as“downshifters”, exchanging high-powered jobs for more leisure and family time.

As personnel specialists have noticed recently, this group of employees tend to choose a job on the basis of their priorities, for instance – the fact if a potential employer is an eco-friendly company, caring for sustainability of natural resources. Due to that, they often manage to launch fresh ideas in human resources sphere, such as car share scheme, aimed at limiting emission of pollution. And, as HR researchers argue, the people are happiest not only when they are respected members of a team they admire but when the team and the company are respected by the world outside. What impact, on the other hand, do such attitudes have on the company’s success? Well, the companies with the happiest and most engaged employees have the most satisfied, highest-spending customers.



  • recruitment – the process of looking for and choosing new staff for the organization (recruitment specialist, agency)
  • performance – the way something is done, especially how skillfully and efficiently it is done (performance appraisal)
  • redundancy – the loss of a job by an employee because there is no longer any work (a person is made redundant)
  • compensation – a payment made to help someone who suffered some loss (to claim a compensation)
  • pension – a payment made to someone who retired (a variant – sick pension)
  • bonus – an extra payment given to employees in addition to their normal salary (for ex. Christmas / annual bonus)
  • payroll – a list of all the people employed by a company and the amount of money paid to each of them (to be on the payroll)
  • high caliber staff – top class specialists, usually occupying executive positions
  • retention – keeping workers in the same workplace
  • tight labor market – the one with more jobs than employees
  • sought-after employee – desired by a potential employer, often hard to get
  • to pamper an employee – to make someone feel comfortable by doing something for him / her or offering him expensive, luxury things (like extra perks or benefits)
  • flexitime – a system allowing employees to vary the time they start or finish their work provided that an agreed total number of hours are spent at work
  • work-life balance – harmony between one’s professional and private sphere of life
  • downshifters – people who choose to have less demanding and worse paid jobs for the sake of more family time and personal satisfaction
  • high-powered job – executive, with wide responsibilities and well paid
  • car-share scheme – providing fewer company cars than there are employees in order to share them
  • impact – sudden and powerful influence that something has on a process, situation or a person
  • attitude – the way you think or feel about something
  • engaged – involved, for ex. in a discussion, conversation or work, project

The interview

Anna Lipska is a training specialist attending a job interview at Astra Zeneca, a renowned pharmaceutical company, who are seeking a person to fill a vacancy for the position of a Training Manager in its expanding HR department.

Astra Zeneca: Why have you decided to look for a new position?

Anna Lipska: I’ve been working for my current employer for over three years and have recently started to feel the need for a new challenge. Additionally, I’d really welcome a chance of promotion from the position of a specialist to a managerial one but, despite my experience and dedication, I wasn’t offered that.

A.Z.: Which training areas have you been mainly responsible for, so far?

A.L : I was directly accountable to the head of a HR department and assisted him in the developing and monitoring of the Performance Partnership Programme, which included the setting of the procedure and programme co-ordination as well as an in-depth analysis of specific training needs within the company.

A.Z: What, would you say, turned out to be the most and least rewarding aspects of your work?

A.L: That’s an interesting question. Let me think… I guess, what I found particularly stressful and difficult to cope with, was matching expectations of my superiors with the actual needs of the company staff – my trainees.

A Z: Could you specify what these specific needs were?

A.L: Many employees expected us to deliver training that would give them the nitty-gritty of their particular positions. In other words, they seemed focused on perfectly tailor-made training sessions, whereas my boss preferred to give them just the big picture. As a result, some of the staff felt misinformed or even neglected.

A Z: Are you implying your trainees have turned out to be exceptionally demanding?

A.L.: I must admit they were demanding, but they were also able to appreciate real effort and involvement.

A.Z: I can see from your cv that, apart from obtaining a degree in pharmacy, you’ve also completed post-graduate studies in psychology of business. To what extent, if at all, does it help you in your day-to-day duties?

A.L: Absolutely! My post-graduate studies have enabled me to enrich induction programmes for newly hired workers with psychology part, including carefully selected elements of NLP. Moreover, thanks to the background in psychology, I was also able to better assess high potential employees, as well as co-ordinating feedback sessions more effectively.

A Z: Which forms of training are you particularly fond of?

A.L: Apart from in-house trainings, I appreciate crash courses and kick-offs outside the company- very effective as far as integration and team-building are concerned! I usually try to include role-plays, simulations and brain-storming sessions.

A Z: And what are your favourite tools applied during training?

A.L: When it comes to tricks of the trade, I’m really fond of computer-assisted presentations, which combine conveying a clear message with vivid graphics and animation.

A Z: Finally… Why would you like to work for us?

A.L.:You company is a household name in the pharmaceutical environment and is generally considered to be one of the most forward-looking companies on this competitive market. It would be a real honour to contribute to its success with my training programme.

A Z: Why should we want to employ you?

A.L: I consider myself to be an open-minded and creative person, good at persuading others and giving clear feedback. I also believe I have strong training and organizational skills, enhanced by my work in a complex matrix organization. What’s more, I’m generally perceived as an analytical thinker, thanks to which I’m able to analyze training plan effects, including its more down-to-earth aspects, such as planning budget and long-term costs.

A Z: Thank you for your time. We should contact you within two weeks’ time.

A.L: Thank you. I look forward to hearing from you.


1. Up-and-coming employees mean:

a. employees working for a long time b. new employees c. employees who are about to leave

2. A rookie is:

a. a fresh employee b. an experienced employee c. a boss

3. To groom an employee means:

a. to tell him off b. to reward him c. to prepare him for a new, challenging position in the future

4. Going by the book is the same as:

a. sticking very closely to rules and regulations b. reading company mission statement regularly c. reading fiction at work

5. A perk is the same as:

a. a pay rise b. a benefit c. an award

6. A kick-off means:

a. a football match among employees from various departments b. a meeting to discuss a company’s past c. a meeting to discuss future goals of a company and initiate new projects

7. Enticement is:

a. an incentive b. a discouragement c. support

8. Hot desking is:

a. a modern type of high-tech desk b. a working system in which employees do not have permanent working places but get them on the “first come, first served” basis c. gossiping at work

9. Presenteeism means:

a. making it appear that we are extremely busy while we are simply staying in the office to be seen by the boss b. being well-presented c. offering many presents to your business partners

10. Seagull management is a modern metaphor of office life meaning:

a. extremely effective way of managing people b. last minute assignment of urgent tasks to employees, without guidance or help from higher management c. contacts between management and low level staff

11. Incentive tour is offered to:

a. key accounts b. senior management only c. employees in recognition of their dedication and involvement

12. High flyers, in HR jargon, stand for:

a. staff who regularly fly on business b. young, ambitious employees with high potential  c. executives


Key: 1. b. 2. a 3. c 4. a 5. b 6. c 7. a 8. b 9. a 10 . b 11. c 12. b

Last modified: Tuesday, 16 September 2014, 4:51 PM