The best and worst HR names

HR names
Amanda Woodard


written on February 14, 2017

As corporate functions go, HR has been the most unsettled when it comes to describing itself. Finance is finance. Marketing is marketing. And although, Human Resources left behind the ‘Personnel’ tag along with the metal filing cabinets a long time ago, the profession has never seemed entirely at ease with the names that replaced it.

Consider a few of the alternative HR names that have been adopted in a rebranding process designed to do what, exactly? Make HR sound more dynamic?

Human Resources departments are variously called:

  1. Human Capital Management
  2. People Operations (Popular title among tech firms such as Google and Uber)
  3. People Resource Centre
  4. Talent Management
  5. People @ (Facebook’s choice)
  6. Employee Experience (At Airbnb, HR roles responsible for employee health and happiness fall into this category)
  7. Employee Success (Salesforce use this title for traditional HR functions such as recruitment but also employ newer roles here such as analysts who collaborate with IT to build and manage internal HR apps)
  8. Partner (Human) Resources (Starbucks choice makes the ‘human’ element look interchangeable – with robots, perhaps?)


Another recent example of inventive HR names came to my attention last week when Xero, which produces online accounting software for small businesses, was named the Asia Pacific winner of Linkedin’s ‘Bring Your Employer Brand to Life’ award.

When their CEO, Rod Drury, spoke about the people at Xero being the big differentiator, he said: “With the help of the human resources team (which we appropriately refer to as PX or People Experience, rather than HR), we have specifically moulded a unique environment to work.”

So move over HR, enter PX! Two far sexier letters.

Head of People

Rebranding the HR function is a hot topic, particularly at the moment, as with the effects of new technology the role and responsibilities of HR are transforming before our eyes. Along with departmental name changes, job titles are moving away from the impersonal sounding Chief Human Resources Officer or Head of HR, to Chief People Officer or People Operations Manager or VP of People. Referring to employees as people rather than resources being one way to convince staff that they are valued and not simply gears in a machine and, that the Chief People Officer is there to advocate for them rather than simply ensure they obey the rules.

At social media management company, Buffer, they have taken this one step further, employing a Chief Happiness Officer, who while he or she may not carry the same gravitas in the C-suite as the CFO, at least is pretty clear about their responsibilities (although one wonders, how they cope with having an off-day).

Changes in HR names, job and departmental titles are an indication of how more and more companies are realising that highly engaged, highly productive people are crucial to their success. As a result, HR is becoming more central to business strategy. So, does it really matter what HR names itself as long as it brings skills and knowledge and behaviours to the job at hand and performs them professionally?

Lyn Goodear, CEO at the Australian HR Institute, says confidence in the ability to do one’s job comes with professional certification and recognition of those standards from outside the profession. AHRI’s certification strategy, she says, is about creating a reliable, evidence-based consensus in relation to what is required to deliver good HR into an organisation.

“HR Certification, and the CPHR and FCPHR post-nominals that represent the independent assessment as having met the global practice standards, will create a confidence among employers in relation to the standard of HR practice they can count on.  And for HR practitioners – HR certification provides a reason to feel proud of their professional contribution and status as a valued business partner, regardless of the name of the department they work for!”

Consolidate your HR career by becoming a certified HR practitioner.  Find the certification pathway that best suits your professional level by using the HR Certification Pathfinder.

Don’t miss out on more great content like this.


11 thoughts on “The best and worst HR names

  1. I personally DETEST the term Human Capital (Management) as it makes me think of a cattle yard for some reason. PX does sounds interesting however as I have long been searching for an acceptable (to me) alternative. People n Culture is another one used.

  2. The USA Army has called its on base shops ‘PX Stores’ since World War 1 if not earlier. Usually referred to by the soldiery as ‘The PX’. Hardly a good name to adopt!

  3. When “Human Resources” first hit our businesses, I initially thought how clinical it sounded…like your valued employee was just a ‘resource’ you can make money out of! Whilst in practice that is somewhat true, it still engenders a ‘I’m going to get all I can out of this person’ undertone…I believe “Personnel” explained the procedure better but we can’t go backwards and I’m sure many would protest.
    The question is do we need to change what we call the ‘people management’ function of our businesses and secondly, change to what?
    My philosophy is, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”!
    The dilemma may be – cost of change, confusion with rebranding, whether to redefine roles or not, acceptance by employees?
    I will be watching this space for other suggestions!

  4. The term Human Resources sounds just fine. Leave it alone. There remain many ‘dumb’ names for HR such as People and Culture (rolls his eyes) and a plethora of others. People Experience sounds just as silly as the rest of the ‘other’ names we are required to deal with.

  5. PX – please no! People Experience sounds like a department focussed solely on keeping employees happy. I’m well aware that our people need to be engaged and treated well but I feel that there’s a tendency at the moment for HR to be so much about looking after people and keeping them happy that the actual business they’re employed by is forgotten. I actually think it’s a tactic used by HR practitioners to justify their existence – let’s keep changing things. HR, or whatever you want to call it is about managing a resource, both in terms of the ‘touchy-feely’ emotional and engagement side of things as well as productivity, efficiency and process. Certainly look at the former but not at the expense of the latter.

  6. It all really depends on the nature of the role – HR, HR services, Shared services, Talent Management, People&Culture – really all do different things. Pick the name that suits your organisation and role you want people to connect with – one name will definitely not fit all organizations. Perhaps companies who have used PX actually have offshored all ops and have the capacity to work with the Stakeholders to help with initiatives and people management that helps drive Engagement in the business. Who are we to say its bad or good?

  7. The HR brand is now established. It’s up there with Finance,Marketing, IT, PR,Operations,Sales,Credit,
    Legal, etc as a critical separate institution function requiring professional representation As with each of the above, the HR title covers a wide array of services and advice.
    Interestingly this debate simply reinforces how influential HR has become because it now is respected for covering all the disciplines involving strategies to maximise the organisation
    and development of people.
    It needs simply to be continually reinforced mainly by staffing the function with credible and respected executived who reflect the brand

  8. Humans. A word that classifies one of the living creations. Resources?…sounds like a tool..or product. Oil, petrol, instruments, equipment. Both words contradict each others. If we say capital….again sounds like a piece of paper called money.

    The point here is, the department in its both platforms, a supporting body or a Business partner, should be called Industrial Relations Department. That plays a role of meeting the ends of an Employer and an Employee relationship during Business times. And to create a acceptable environment to work in, also to lead ethics and best practices and disciplines. Employers themselves are Human, and need to be assisted to keep their businesses and investments healthy, due to their Employees satisfaction. Employees are the best Customers to any business. It is time to change the word Train…to Learn.

    Riad Bejjani
    Regional Director
    Human Resources
    And Training (well Learning )

To comment on this article please provide your name and email address. Your email address will not be available publicly.