HR on laptop

Modern HR: Tracing the Profession’s Evolution

The world of human resources is changing. From artificial intelligence to human resources information systems, HR technology is not only revolutionizing the way HR professionals perform their day jobs, but also changing the very nature of that work. Only ten years ago, HR was known unaffectionately as “personnel management.”  The department was tasked with mitigating legal risks, overseeing administrative tasks and employee inquiries, and maintaining the office’s ever-growing library of personnel files.

Today’s HR professionals barely resemble their predecessors. With titles ranging from “people analyst” and “chief happiness officer,” it’s clear the profession has evolved to fill a new role, one that involves taking care of an organization's most important resource: people.

How far has the profession come in the last few years? Here’s a side-by-side look at how things used to be and how far “modern HR” has come:

  Old HR Modern HR

New hires spent half of their onboarding buried beneath piles of paperwork. HR would have to manually enter the information into the appropriate software, before whisking away the paper copies to a filing cabinet.

Employees submit most of their onboarding paperwork long before their start date, so you can jump right into introducing them to your organization and getting them up to speed.


An entire department, usually the finance team, was dedicated to running payroll. Payroll software didn’t integrate with HR and benefits software, so teams would have to manually enter employee hours and benefits deductions before processing payroll. Employee paystubs were then printed and distributed by hand.

Equipped with all-in-one HR technology, teams can manage time, benefits, payroll, and people data all in one place. While still a complex process, payroll can be managed by one or two professionals, instead of an entire team. Employees can view their paystubs online and even access them on their mobile phones.


HR managed comprehensive annual performance reviews that were tied to compensation increases and bonuses. Performance conversations typically happened only once a year, which often led to surprises come review season.

Employees receive ongoing feedback from managers during weekly or biweekly one-on-ones, in addition to larger annual or quarterly performance reviews. Your company’s HRIS stores past and current employee goals and performance feedback, so employees and managers can check in on progress and performance at any point.


Employees couldn’t self-serve. They had to approach HR directly with any questions and requests, only further burdening their busy HR team. Even the simplest request could take days to complete.

Now, employees can access the information they need via their company intranet or HRIS—enabling them to self-serve and save your HR team valuable time.  


HR would have to track down employees’ punch cards and timesheets, so their team could process payroll on time. Once collected, an HR rep would have to manually enter hours into their payroll and time tracking software, as the systems weren’t yet integrated.

Most company’s time management software integrates directly with payroll processing systems, so employee hours flow seamlessly between programs. That said, some things never change—you’ll probably still have to chase down employees to submit hours.

Time Off

HR would track employee vacations, sick days, absences, and family leave in a large, color-coded Excel spreadsheet. Employees would request time off verbally, by email, and by paper—making it difficult to keep track of requests and employee availability.

Employees can use your HRIS to request time off at any time of day. Once a manager approves their request, your time management platform records the time off usage, displays their availability on the organization’s calendar, and notifies payroll.


The complaint department,” “the fun police,” and “personnel management.”

HR teams are known as change agents, culture champions, and strategic business leaders. Even HR job titles reflect this shift in responsibilities and reputation—note the popularity of creative job titles that use the words “human” and “people.”


Recruiters used to be limited to the local talent pool. They sourced talent through classified ads, job fairs, employee referrals, and recruiting agencies. Interviews were conducted over the phone or in person, meaning candidates based further away would have to be flown in for consideration. The hiring climate also used to be different. It was a “recruiter’s market,” meaning companies had more control and leverage in picking top talent.

Today, recruiters can find, reach, and interview talent from all over the world thanks to online job boards, LinkedIn, video conferencing, and applicant tracking systems. Recruiters are focusing more on diversity and using tools that anonymize resumes and remove gendered language from job descriptions. In today’s hiring landscape, the balance has shifted. We’re in the height of a “candidate’s market,” in which companies are competing for top talent and trying to differentiate themselves from their peers.


HR teams were preoccupied with keeping their heads above water. The discipline was primarily an administrative function dedicated to risk aversion. With little time to be strategic, teams relied on basic metrics like turnover, attrition, and headcount to understand organizational health.

Now, HR is more data-driven than ever before. With access to more centralized people data than ever before, HR teams can share analytics and insights to get a more accurate understanding of business needs and build more effective initiatives and strategies. 


Employees viewed a job as a way to put food on the table and earn money for their family. Passion, mission, and values didn’t hold much importance. Employees often worked at the same company for years, sometimes decades.

Employee expectations of work are changing. Candidates and employees seek out employers with values that align with their own beliefs. HR now has to focus on building a strong employer brand and a culture of transparency and inclusion to attract and retain talent. 

Today, employees are much pickier and discerning about the companies they work for. Flashy perks aren’t enough to get quality candidates through the door and keep them around. To keep up with the changing workplace, HR has evolved to play a more proactive role. Building competitive benefits and compensation packages, fostering open and inclusive cultures, developing eye-catching employer brands, and analyzing people data puts a lot more on HR’s  plate, but also helps the company put its best foot forward.

What do the next ten years hold for HR? Thanks to technology, HR professionals have access to more data and analytics than ever before, giving them the insights they need to make strategic business decisions and demonstrate impact.

Learn how modern HR technology can help your team save time, streamline your HR processes, and get the most out of your people data.

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