What’s the Difference Between Human Resources and People Operations?

Explore the difference between people operations and human resources and learn about jobs you can get in both fields.
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Updated on October 3, 2023
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  • Both human resources and people operations work within a company to recruit, hire, and support employees.
  • People operations is a relatively new term, originating with Google, to describe a shift in attitude in human resources.
  • The job outlook in human resources and people operations has a higher growth rate than in other fields.
  • Majors in business administration, communication, psychology, and data analytics are good starting points for careers in HR and PeopleOps.

Do you like working with people? If so, a career in human resources or people operations might be a good fit for you. According to Business Insider, human resources is one of the top 30 high-paying, fastest-growing careers.

But what's the difference between human resources and people operations? Is people operations, also called PeopleOps, just the latest buzzword? Not exactly.

Originating with Google, "PeopleOps" has found popularity among many tech companies, and more and more HR jobs are being advertised as "people operations."

What Is Human Resources?

A company's human resources department manages the recruitment, hiring, orientation, and ongoing support of employees. It also communicates and ensures compliance with workplace policies and regulations.

An HR employee can expect to:

  • Manage employee benefits, including health insurance, disability, paid time off, and payroll.
  • Resolve any issues or conflicts among staff.
  • Enforce policies.
  • Work on important initiatives such as diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
  • Act as points of contact for concerns like harassment in the workplace.

Departments of larger companies may also work on programs for training and fostering a positive work culture.

What Is People Operations?

People operations is a newer term. Laszlo Bock, former senior vice president of people operations at Google, coined the term in his book, "Work Rules!: Insights From Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead (2015)."

Bock describes people operations as a more holistic and empathetic approach to working with employees. The term values understanding employees as people and not just another asset in the company. It focuses on building a culture of mutual respect between employer and employee. Many tech companies have since adopted it.

CEO of WideAngle Jon Birdsong makes this distinction: "HR departments exist to make their company's infrastructure run smoothly — People Ops' departments exist to make their company's infrastructure run effectively."

While traditional HR functions make up the foundation for a people operations department, those who embrace the concept see it as going beyond that. PeopleOps serves an integral function of the company in concert with other leaders and sees employees' well-being as central to the company's success.

Human Resources vs. People Operations

People operations, as envisioned by Bock, differs in several key ways from traditional human resources, as illustrated below.

Human Resources

  • Informs employees of policies and disciplinary actions
  • Hires new employees
  • Has its own department and limits itself to only those duties
  • Carries out decisions made by upper management
  • Works to reduce liability
  • Involves HR professionals

People Operations

  • Works on ways to engage employees to achieve higher performance
  • Supports employees to reduce turnover
  • Assesses and implements best practices in hiring and retention
  • Integrates various departments
  • Works closely with management to consider the impact of employee culture and policies
  • Strives to build an inclusive, positive, and supportive culture
  • Involves professionals from other fields in addition to HR professionals

Popular Online Human Resources Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Degrees Do You Need to Work in Human Resources or People Operations?

To work in human resources or people operations, you can pursue a bachelor's degree in human resources or a bachelor's in business administration. Professionals in the field might also major in communication or psychology. Some roles require a master's degree in HR.

A company that has a people operations department may look to hire from other fields. It may have positions available for someone who does data analytics, education and training, and business strategy.

But what matters more for an entry-level position in this field is demonstrating skills in basic office support functions, as well as in the following areas:

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    Strong communication skills, including listening
  • Check Circle
    People skills
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Human Resources Jobs

Human Resources Generalist or Specialist (entry-level)

Supports the administrative functions of a human resources department. While generalists assist in all aspects of the department, a specialist usually focuses on one particular area, such as hiring or benefits. Jobs for human resources generalists and specialists require a bachelor's degree.

Projected Job Outlook (2021-2031): 8% (faster than average)
2021 Median Annual Pay: $62,290

Labor Relations Specialist

A person in this role ensures compliance with labor-management contracts. A labor relations specialist might major in labor relations or a similar HR concentration.

Projected Job Outlook (2021-2031): While the job outlook isn't as strong as other roles (projected decline of 3%), there are still opportunities in this area as older workers retire. These positions are directly tied to union membership.
2021 Median Annual Pay: $77,010

Human Resources Manager

A step up from a specialist, this position requires experience. A manager oversees employee benefits programs and advises managers on employee-related issues. They may also manage recruitment, hiring, and training, and oversee initiatives for improving work culture.

Projected Job Outlook (2021-2031): 7% (as fast as average)
2021 Median Annual Pay: $126,230

Human Resources Director

This position requires more experience and responsibility. Human resources directors assume department leadership and may work on company-wide systems, programs, and initiatives.

Projected Job Outlook (2021-2031): 6% (as fast as average)
2021 Median Annual Pay: $98,980

People Operations Jobs

While various companies are adopting people operations, this term is mostly used in the tech sector. It may be used interchangeably with traditional HR positions and have the same job outlook.

Given the increasing understanding of its importance, people operations is likely to become a more popular concept for future human resources departments.

Payscale reports that people operations managers earn an average salary of $79,660 per year as of December 2022. Managers with 5-9 years of experience make an average of about $85,000 each year.

Some jobs found under the people operations category include the following:

People Operations Coordinator or Generalist

These workers provide administrative support in the department. They may act as the primary liaison between employees and the department. In addition, they support hiring, training, and processing benefits.

People Operations Specialist

Similar to the HR specialist, this position supports the department in administrative work, often with a specific focus. They might run background checks, work on payroll, or help recruit and onboard new employees.

People Operations Analyst

This role focuses on collecting and analyzing data to drive decisions. Someone in this role should have a data operations background.

People Operations Manager

This professional manages a team of people to ensure smooth functioning. The role usually requires experience.

Director of People Operations

An even higher position than a manager, this person leads the department, assesses and oversees process implementation, and supports employees overall. This role requires suitable experience and leadership skills.

Frequently Asked Questions About Human Resources and People Operations

Can you get an HR job without a degree?

Yes. You can start in HR at an administrative support level, such as an HR assistant with skills in office support. But you will likely need to earn a degree to advance in your career.

What skills do you need for people operations?

Depending on the role, communication, management, leadership, and data analytics skills are essential for people operations.

Is there career progression in HR?

Yes. Usually, you start in an administrative role, as a coordinator or generalist, then work up from there. Eventually, you may become a manager and then take on senior roles like a director or vice president.

For senior roles, comparable experience in another position can make you a competitive candidate. This is particularly so in people operations, where companies might be looking to staff from outside of human resources.

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