HR glossary



Absenteeism Policy

A policy about attendance requirements, scheduled and unscheduled time off, and measures for dealing with workplace absenteeism. Repeated absenteeism can lead to termination.

Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

A software application that began as a way to electronically handle recruitment needs but has since expanded to the entire employment life cycle. Onboarding, training and succession planning capabilities now exist, for example. An ATS can be implemented on an enterprise level or small business level, depending on the size and needs of the company. Applicant Tracking Systems may also be referred to as Talent Management Systems. An ATS saves time and increases efficiency and compliance for those tasked with managing human capital.


Background Screening / Pre-employment Screening

Testing to ensure that employers are hiring qualified and honest employees and that a prospective employee is capable of performing the functions required by the job. The screening can involve criminal background checks, verification of Social Security numbers, past addresses, age or year of birth, corporate affiliations, bankruptcies, liens, drug screening, skills assessment and behavioral assessments.

Base Wage Rate (or base rate)

The monthly salary or hourly wage paid for a job, irrespective of benefits, bonuses or overtime.

Behaviorally anchored rating scale (BARS)

An appraisal that requires raters to list important dimensions of a particular job and collect information regarding the critical behaviors that distinguishes between successful and unsuccessful performance. These critical behaviors are then categorized and appointed a numerical value used as the basis for rating performance.

Behavioral-based interview

An interview technique used to determine whether a candidate is qualified for a position based on their past behavior. The interviewer asks the candidate for specific examples from past work experience when certain behaviors were exhibited.

Behavioral competency

The behavior qualities and character traits of a person. These act as markers that can predict how successful a person will be at the position he/she is applying for. Employers should determine in advance what behavioral competencies fit the position and create interview questions to find out if the candidate possesses them.



A method of training an individual or group in order to develop skills or overcome a performance problem. Coaching can be between a manager and a subordinate or an outside professional coach and one or more individuals. There are many coaching methods and models, but close observation, accountability and feedback on progress and performance are usually included.

Cognitive ability testing

A testing instrument used during the selection process in order to measure the candidate’s learning and reasoning abilities.


Pay structures within an organization. It can be linked to employee appraisal. Compensation is effectively managed if performance is measured adequately.

Competency-based pay

Competency-based pay, alternately known as skill-based and knowledge-based pay, determines compensation by the type, breadth and depth of skills that employees gain and use in their positions.

Competency Modeling

A set of descriptions that identify the skills, knowledge, and behaviors needed to effectively perform in an organization. Competency models assist in clarifying job and work expectations, maximizing productivity, and aligning behavior with organizational strategy.

Competitive advantage

In the context of Human Resources, competitive advantage refers to the quality of the employees, as a competing organization’s systems and processes can be copied but not its people. All other things being equal among competing companies, it is the company with better employees that has the competitive advantage.

Confidentiality agreement

An agreement between an employer and employee in which the employee may not disclose proprietary or confidential information.

Core competencies

The particular set of strengths, experience, knowledge and abilities that differentiate a company from its competitors and provide competitive advantage. Employees should possess these qualities in order to advance business goals.


The costs linked to recruiting talent. These costs can include advertising, agency fees, relocation costs, and training costs.


Developmental counseling

A form of shared counseling where managers or supervisors work together with subordinates to identify strengths and weaknesses, resolve performance-related problems and determine and create an appropriate action plan.


The inability to perform all or part of one’s occupational duties because of an accident or illness. This can be due to a sickness, injury or mental condition and does not necessarily have to have been caused by the job itself.

Disciplinary procedure

A standardized process that an organization commits to when dealing with an employee who has breached the terms of employment in some way. If this procedure is not standardized and fair, the organization may face discrimination or other legal charges.


The favoring of one group of people, resulting in unfair treatment of other groups.

Distance Learning

Educational programs using instruction via video or audio tapes, computers etc. instead of attending a class in one centralized location.


The collective mixture of differences and similarities that may include: individual and organizational characteristics, values, beliefs, experiences, backgrounds, preferences and behaviors.

Diversity Training

Diversity training is training for the purpose of increasing participants’ cultural awareness, knowledge, and skills, which is based on the assumption that the training will benefit an organization by protecting against civil rights violations, increasing the inclusion of different identity groups, and promoting better teamwork.

Due diligence

In mergers and acquisitions, the process of carefully investigating the details of an investment or purchase to assess risk and potential value and reward.



Web-based software that handles the various processes included in recruiting and onboarding job candidates. These may include workforce planning, requisitioning, candidate acquisition, applicant tracking and reporting (regulatory or company analytics).


E-learning is a method of education via the Internet or other computer related resources. It presents just-in-time information in a flexible learning plan. E-learning can be combined with face-to-face courses for a blended learning approach.

Emotional Intelligence

Based on the book of the same name by Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize, assess and manage their own and others’ emotions.

Employee Assessments

Tests used to help employers in pre-hire situations to select candidates best suited for open positions. These tests can sometimes be taken via the Internet and can provide employees with effective training, assist managers in becoming more effective, and promote people into appropriate positions. Types of assessments include those to determine personality, aptitude and skills.

Employee engagement

Employee engagement, also called worker engagement, is a business management concept. An “engaged employee” is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work, and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization’s interests.

Employee Relations

Developing, maintaining, and improving the relationship between employer and employee by effectively and proactively communicating with employees, processing grievances/disputes, etc.

Employee retention

Practices and policies designed to create a work environment that makes employees want to stay with the organization, thus reducing turnover.

Employee Self-Service

A program that allows employees to handle many job-related tasks normally conducted by HR departments including benefits enrollment, and updating personal information. Employees can access the information through the company’s intranet, kiosks, or other Web-based applications.

Employment Branding

A strategy designed to make an organization appealing as a good place to work. This targeted marketing effort utilizes both print and Internet tactics and attempts to shape the perceptions of potential employees, current employees and the public / investment community.


Short for enterprise resource planning, a business management system that integrates all facets of the business, including manufacturing, sales, marketing, finance and human resources. This is slightly different than best-of-breed HRIS applications and the industry continues to debate the merits of one versus the other. With the growing popularity of web-based applications (ease of use, lower costs) ERP seems to be losing out, especially in the mid-market.

Equal employment opportunity (EEO)

A policy statement enforced by the  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that states that equal consideration for a job is applicable to all individuals, and that the employer does not discriminate based on race, color, religion, age, marital status, national origin, disability or sex.

Equity theory

The idea that people desire to be treated fairly and thus compare their own contributions to the workplace—and resulting rewards—against those of their coworkers, to determine if they are being treated fairly.

Executive Coaching

Executive coaching is a professional relationship between a Coach and an Executive, or an Executive Team. The goal is to assist executives with positive leadership development. It can be provided in one-on-one sessions or via the Internet.

Executive Compensation

Also called executive pay, compensation packages are specifically designed for executive-level employees that include items such as base salary, bonuses, perquisites and other personal benefits, stock options and other related compensation and benefit provisions.

Executive Search

An agency or organization used by employers to assist them with the selection and placement of candidates for senior-level managerial or professional positions.

Exit Interview

The final meeting between management, usually someone in the HR department, and an employee leaving the company. Information on why the employee is leaving is gathered to gain insight into work conditions and possible changes or solutions.


An employee who is transferred to work abroad on a long-term job assignment.


Factor comparison

A systematic and scientific comparison, that instead of ranking complete jobs, ranks according to a series of factors. These factors include mental effort, physical effort, skill needed, responsibility, supervisory responsibility, working conditions, etc.

Fixed Term Employment

An employee agrees to work for a fixed term - until a certain date, at the completion of a project, etc.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Schedules that allow employees to structure their work hours around their personal responsibilities. Examples include flextime, job sharing, telecommuting and a compressed workweek. Home sourcing has become a popular flexible work concept in recent years. In this arrangement, employees work full-time from their homes.


Goal Setting

Assigning specific, attainable goals to a person, team or organization. Goal setting is a motivational technique, as workers often rise to the challenges given them.


A complaint by an employee due to an alleged violation of law or collective bargaining or dissatisfaction with work conditions.

Gross misconduct

An action so serious that it calls for the immediate dismissal of an employee. Examples include fighting, drunkenness, harassment of others and theft.

Group dynamics

The way that people interact within a group that determines how it functions and how effective the group is.


Hawthorne Effect

The theory that organizations can motivate their employees as much or more by expressing concern for problems as by actually improving their work conditions. This personal interest results in increased performance, according to the observations of productivity researcher George Elton Mayo.

Hierarchy of needs

A theory created by psychologist Abraham Maslow that states humans constantly strive to meet a series of needs, going from physical (food and shelter) all the way to spiritual (self-actualization).

HR Audit

A periodic measurement of human resources effectiveness, conducted by internal staff or with the use of an HR audit system.

HR Generalist

An individual who is able to perform more than one diversified human resources function, rather then specializing in one specific function.

Human Capital

The collective skills, knowledge and competencies of an organization’s people that enables them to create economic value.

Human Capital Management

The challenge of recruiting and retaining qualified candidates, and helping new employees fit into an organization. The goal is to keep employees contributing to the organizations intellectual capital by offering competitive salary, benefits and development opportunities. The major functions of human capital management include Recruitment, Compensation, Benefits and Training.

Human Resource Information System (HRIS)

Business software systems that assist in the management of human resource data (e.g. payroll, job title, candidate contact information). Some of the larger HRIS platforms include SAP and Peoplesoft.

Human Resource Outsourcing (HRO)

A contractual agreement between an employer and an external third-party provider whereby the employer transfers responsibility and management for certain HR, benefit or training-related functions or services to the external provider.


Incentive pay

Additional compensation used as a motivational tool to exceed specified work goals.

Incidence rate

Indicates the number of workplace injuries/illnesses and the number of lost work days per 100 employees.

Independent contractor

A self-employed person who works for another person or organization on a contract basis.

Indirect compensation

Compensation that is not paid directly to an employee and is calculated in addition to base salary and incentive pay (i.e., health/dental/vision insurance, vacation, retirement benefits, educational benefits, relocation expenses, etc.).

Individual employment agreement

A written document that describes the legal relationship between an employer and employee.

Industrial Psychology

Applied psychology concerned with the study of human behavior in the workplace and how to efficiently manage an industrial labor force and problems encountered by employees.

Industrial relations

A field of study that examines the relationship between employer and employees, particularly groups of workers in unions.

Intangible rewards

A subjective benefit that has no monetary value, such as praise for excellent performance.

ISO 9000

A set of internationally-accepted standards, created by the International Organization for Standardization, for quality management and quality assurance. These standards apply uniformly across all industries and company size. Companies can receive ISO 9000 certification for meeting these standards.

ISO 9001, 9004

Developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), it is a set of standards for quality management systems that is accepted around the world. Organizations that conform to these standards can receive ISO 9000 certification. The standard intended for quality management system assessment and registration is ISO 9001.


Job analysis

The process of gathering information about the requirements and necessary skills of a job in order to create a job description.

Job Board

An online location that provides an up-to-date listing of current job vacancies in various industries. Applicants are able to apply for employment through the job board itself. Many job boards have a variety of additional services to help job seekers manage their careers and their ongoing job search processes.

Job classification

A method of evaluation used for job comparisons, which groups jobs into a prearranged number of grades, each having a class description and a specified pay range.

Job Description

A written statement that explains the responsibilities and qualifications of a given job, based on a job analysis. The job description usually includes specific required tasks as well as an overview of the position and whom the employee reports to.

Job evaluation

A comparison of one job with other jobs in a company for the purpose of assessing fair compensation.


Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Tasks that are central to the success of a business and show, when measured, whether the business is advancing toward its strategic goals.


The Knowledge, Skills and Abilities an employee needs to meet the requirements of a job.


Labor Market

A geographical region (local, national or international) in which labor transactions occur—employers find workers and workers find work.

Leadership Development

Activities, whether formal or informal, that enhance leadership qualities.

Learning Management Software and Systems

A software platform for businesses and organizations designed to train and educate employees. Components typically include content delivery and other tools needed to administer, measure, track, and report / analyze the effectiveness of a company’s training initiatives. Modern learning management systems (LMS) are often cloud-based solutions, allowing access to training and other LMS content & features online using a standard web browser.

Lump sum payment

A single large payment given to an employee, usually instead of more and smaller pay increases.


Management by Objective (MBO)

A process of defining objectives within an organization so that management and employees agree on the overall goals and objectives for the organization. The  employees determine and set goals for themselves based on the overall goals and objectives for the organization.

Marketing PR

Marketing PR is the combining of what are traditionally two separate departments, public relations and marketing, to one integrated front whereby all marketing and PR activities focus on reaching buyers directly. Marketing PR incorporates both traditional marketing and PR tactics with social media and other Internet-based initiatives that support the measurable goals of online publicity, increased web site traffic, search-optimization (SEO) and, lead generation. A key difference between traditional PR and Marketing PR is the use of a press release. Traditional PR writes and distributes a press release for the sole purpose of securing media placements. Marketing PR does this as well but also uses the press release to enhance website SEO, increase web site traffic and generate qualified sales leads.

Matrix organization

Used primarily in the management of large projects, a horizontal authority structure in which teams are created from various departments and report to more than one boss.

Mean wage

The average wage for a worker in a specified position or occupation, which may be skewed up or down if there are a few extreme examples in the sample.

Median wage

The margin between the highest paid 50 percent and the lowest paid 50 percent of workers in a specific position or occupation. It is often more representative of the average wage than a mean would be, as it can account for extreme outliers.

Mediation Services

The use of a trained third party to settle an employment dispute. The third party has no legal authority and so must use persuasion to settle the dispute.

Medical savings account (MSA)

A savings account funded by employees  in which tax-deferred deposits can be made for use as medical expenses, co-payments, or deductibles.


An informal training process between a more experienced person and a junior employee.

Merit pay

Performance-related pay which provides bonuses or base pay increases for workers who perform their jobs effectively, according to measurable criteria.

Minimum wage

The lowest amount an employer can pay an hourly employee. This rate is set by the federal government.

Mission Statement

A description of an organization’s purpose: what it does, what markets it serves and what direction it is going in.

Mobile Recruiting

Using mobile technologies to find and connect with people (candidates) who use mobile devices (e.g., phone).

Motivational Theories

Psychological models that attempt to explain what motivates people. These theories can help employers design incentive strategies.



Bargaining between two or more parties with the goal of reaching consensus or resolving a problem.


Preferential hiring of relatives and friends, even though others might be more qualified for those positions.


Observation interview

A method of assessing job requirements and skills by observing the employee at work, followed by an interview with the employee for further assessment and insight.


The act of moving work to an overseas location to take advantage of lower labor costs. Offshoring usually involves manufacturing; information technology and back-office services like call centers and bill processing. Companies can build its own work center abroad, establish a foreign division, or create a subsidiary in remote locations.


The process of moving a new hire from applicant to employee status ensuring that paperwork is done, benefits administration is underway, and orientation is completed.

Open-book management

A management strategy emphasizing employee empowerment and individual impact on the success of the company by making the organization’s financial data available to all employees so they can make better decisions as workers.

Organizational Culture

The values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that characterize an organization. It is the unwritten workplace ethos that is picked up by new employees.

Organizational Development

A planned organization-wide effort to improve and increase the organizations effectiveness, productivity, return on investment and overall employee job satisfaction through planned interventions in the organization’s processes.


Introducing new hires to the organization and its policies, benefits and culture. Training and familiarization with each department are sometimes included.


A benefit offered by a downsizing employer to assist former employees in re-entering the job market. Assistance can include job training, resume workshops, interview practice and career counseling.


Contracting out non-core functions, such as payroll, benefits administration or manufacturing, to save money and focus on what the company does best.


Pareto chart

A quality assurance tool that ranks information, like reasons for certain problems, in descending order. The goal is to identify the most serious problems so improvements can be made.


Documentation created and maintained by the employer containing such information as hours worked, salaries, wages, commissions, bonuses, vacation/sick pay, contributions to qualified health and pension plans, net pay and deductions.

Peer appraisal

A performance assessment given by an employee’s peers who have observed the employee’s job performance.

Performance Appraisal

A periodic review and evaluation of an individual’s job performance.

Performance Improvement

A plan to improve an employee’s performance in which the performance problem is identified, modified and monitored.

Performance Management

The process of maintaining or improving employee job performance through the use of performance assessment tools, coaching and counseling. The ultimate goal is to better meet organizational objectives.

Performance Planning

An organization-wide plan to manage employees and their performance wherein goals are set for employees, departments and the organization as a whole.

Plan Sponsor

An entity that has adopted and has maintained an employee-benefit plan. The plan sponsor is often an employer, but may be a union or a professional association. The Plan Sponsor is responsible for determining employee participation and the amount of benefits involved.

Probationary Arrangement

An agreement between an employer and employee that the employee will work for a set amount of time on a trial or probationary period.


Quality management

A system to make sure that a product or service meets standards of excellence, and that the process by which the product or service is created is efficient and effective as well. The three key components of this system are quality control, quality assurance and quality improvement.


Random Testing

Employer-administered drug and alcohol tests conducted at random intervals.


The process of finding and hiring the best-qualified candidate for a position.

Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO)

The outsourcing of the recruiting process to a third party.


Eliminating jobs or job categories as they become unnecessary to the functioning of an organization.

Replacement charts

A tool in succession planning in which current and future job vacancies, as well as the number of employees in currently filled jobs, are visually summarized.

Return on investment (ROI)

The percentage of profit on an investment compared to the cost of that investment. Also called the rate of return or yield.

Risk Management

The use of insurance and other strategies to minimize an organizations exposure to liability in the event a loss or injury occurs.

Retention Strategy

In order to retain employees and reduce turnover managers must meet the goals of employees without losing sight of the organization’s goals, utilizing valence and expectancy theories.

Rotational training

A training method where employees are rotated among a variety of different jobs, departments or company functions for a certain period of time.


Sensitivity training

A form of individual or group counseling geared toward increasing self-awareness of one’s own prejudices and sensitivity to others.

Short-term disability

Disability income insurance designed to replace employee income for a temporary, specified time frame while they are unable to perform their duties due to illness or injury, before they return to work.

Situational leadership

A management theory stating that effective leadership varies, but is task-relevant, and the most successful leaders are those that adapt their leadership style to the maturity of their audience.

Social Collaboration

Processes that help multiple people within an organization interact, share information to achieve common goals. Globalization and the rise of contingent workforces and telecommuting have given increased importance to social collaboration and social collaboration software.

Social HR

The extent to which human resource departments leverage social media tools (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) to conduct human resource activities (recruiting, employment branding, etc.) aimed at aligning HR goals to the company’s business goals.

Social Media

Forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).

Social Networking

The building of online communities of people who have common interests. LinkedIn, Facebook and MySpace facilitate these interconnected systems. HR departments have begun to incorporate social networking into the recruiting process as a means to attract and evaluate candidates.

Social Recruitment

The process of recruiting potential job candidates through the use of social networking platforms and/or websites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Social recruitment software is used to search social networks for passive candidate information, manage active social recruiting efforts, as well as distribute job postings and information related to open positions to job posting websites.


The developing of lists of potential candidates. Also relates to the task of requisitioning, or creating job descriptions, approval workflows and actual job postings. Most e-recruitment software providers include modules for requisitioning.


A method of finding, evaluating, and establishing a working relationship with future employees. They may be current employees or future employees.

Strategic HRM

Aligning human resource management (HRM) with the strategic goals of an organization.

Strategic Planning

The process of considering an organization’s future, usually three to five years ahead, and then working backward to create strategic plans and allot resources to realize this desired future state. This includes a hiring strategy.

Stay Interviews

Unlike exit interviews, stay interviews are conducted during employment to help employers understand why good employees stay and what might make them leave.

Succession Planning

The process of identifying long-range needs and cultivating a supply of internal talent to meet those future needs. Used to anticipate the future needs of the organization and assist in finding, assessing and developing the human capital necessary to the strategy of the organization.

Summary dismissal

The immediate firing of an employee, usually due to an act of gross misconduct.

Summary material modifications

A summary of modifications or changes made to an employee benefit plan that is not included in the summary plan description.


An employee is sent home for a period of time, usually without pay, as a disciplinary measure.


Talent Management

Also called Human Capital Management, the process of recruiting, managing, assessing, developing and maintaining employees.

Tangible rewards

Gifts in the form of merchandise, gift certificates, etc. that can be physically held or touched.

Team building

A philosophy of job design which fosters teamwork to create a work culture that values collaboration. It is a training program designed to encourage employees to view themselves as members of interdependent teams instead of as individual workers, in which people understand and believe that thinking, planning, decisions and actions are better when done cooperatively.

Total Remuneration

An employee’s complete annual pay package, including benefit and pension plans, bonuses, incentives, and paychecks.

Training and development

Providing information and instruction that equips employees to better perform specific tasks or attain a higher level of knowledge.

Training Needs Analysis

An assessment to determine the training needs of a group of employees, taking into account the employees’ prior education and skills and the desired outcome once training is completed.

Transformational leadership

A systematic form of leadership that enhances the motivation, morale and performance of followers through change, innovation, and group dynamics.


The number of employees lost and gained over a given time period.



Workers who organize a united group, usually related to the kind of work they do, to collectively bargain for better work conditions, pay or benefit increases, etc.


Virtual HR

The use of various types of technology to provide employees with self-serve options. Voice response systems, employee kiosks are common methods.

Voluntary Benefits

Benefits that are paid for by the employee through payroll deductions. The employer pays for administration. Examples of these benefits include life insurance, dental, vision, disability income, auto insurance, long-term care coverage, medical supplement plans and homeowners insurance.


How a company supports an employee who wishes to volunteer or otherwise offer unpaid services to a community organization, often by providing paid leave of sponsorship.


Work-life Balance

The attempt to balance work and personal life in order to have a better quality of life. A person with a balanced life is an asset to his or her business, as he or she experiences greater fulfillment at work and at home.

Workforce Planning

The assessment of the current workforce in order to predict future needs. This can consist of both demand planning and supply planning. Many e-recruitment software providers include modules for workforce planning.