What Is an HRIS? The Would-Be Human Resources Pro’s Guide

illustration of an hr professional working hris on her computer

As you explore your career options, it’s clear that the human resources field could be a great fit for you. But when you scroll through HR job postings you’re noticing a trend: Employers want new hires who are familiar with human resources information systems (HRIS) tools. You might have the natural characteristics needed in the HR field, but you’re not sure what this HRIS requirement is all about.

So what is an HRIS? In a nutshell, it’s the combination of HR database software with information technology resources. But hold on a minute! You didn’t have any plans for a high-tech career—so should you be worried about working with HRIS tools?

Don’t give up on the human resources field just yet. We’re breaking down every aspect of HRIS, including what they do and what types of HRIS systems you’re likely to encounter in the workplace. You might even discover that the technology side of HR could be right up your alley—or at least nothing to be wary of.

What is an HRIS and what does it do?

HRIS systems are software designed to store information about a company’s employees. These HR software systems are all about organizing data in a way that’s easy to access for HR professionals.

“An HRIS is an electronic database that stores employee information at various stages in the employee lifecycle,” says Laura Handrick, contributing HR professional for Choosing Therapy. They’re used to track all sorts of employee data, from basic contact information to their pay rate, job description and benefits package.

This IT system keeps relevant data connected and stored in one place. “That means if the employee updates their address when they relocate, it will update to their benefits software to notify the provider, update to the payroll software to modify tax rates and be available in case of emergency,” Handrick says.

The benefits of an HRIS

Ultimately, an HRIS is designed to streamline things that could require a lot of repetitive paperwork, communication and duplication of information. That’s something practically anyone in the field can get behind.

When set up properly, HRIS systems can save human resources professionals a lot of time.

“It essentially offers HR employees a one-stop shop for all the data they may need in order to handle their duties, freeing up time for them to focus on the more creative and nonnumerical or clerical duties of their roles,” says Chris Laan, founder of Designer Sheds, where he implemented his company’s HRIS system.

When used correctly, an HRIS benefits everyone in an organization—even employees working outside the HR department. An HRIS system that allows employees to make their time-off requests electronically keeps paperwork off their managers’ desks and gives them a better sense of control. Accessible payroll systems make it easy for an employee to check on the number of hours they’ve worked that week or correct an error before the problem makes it into their paycheck.

The end result is a company that’s more efficient and potentially has happier employees. “An HRIS helps HR departments do what they do best: Make employees feel more valued and heard by paying attention to the right metrics and data,” Laan says.

The drawbacks of an HRIS

Although HRIS systems do an excellent job of helping HR professionals stay organized and save time, they do have some downsides.

HR workers who use HRIS systems must be careful not to focus too much on data, losing sight of qualitative metrics that are difficult to measure. “It doesn't track employee engagement and performance as well as other non-data factors that influence your business,” Laan says. “HR departments can lose sight of how employees are really feeling if they get too caught up in what the HRIS can do.”

HRIS systems can also be costly, especially for smaller organizations that don’t need to use every feature they offer, according to Handrick. These companies will need to do their research to decide if an HRIS is a cost-effective solution or if they would be better served by outsourcing their HR needs to an outside firm.

Who uses human resources information systems?

HRIS systems are used in nearly every area of the human resources department. “You should use your HRIS for any repetitive tasks that can be handled by the software,” Laan says.

That includes payroll, requesting and managing time-off requests, recruiting job applicants, and onboarding new employees. Tasks like these occur in nearly every organization across all industries. However, those working for larger companies may have additional duties related to these data information systems.

“In larger firms, HRIS systems help HR pros manage training programs, ensure compensation is fair, provide OSHA reporting and track employee benefits enrollment,” Handrick says.

You should be prepared to use an HRIS system as more than just a database. It’s also there to help you see the big picture when making high-level HR decisions, such as filling open positions, determining pay rates and selecting employee benefit packages.

What are the types of HRIS systems?

There are lots of HRIS systems out there for companies to choose from, each with varying capabilities. Some are all-in-one tools that can handle any aspect of HR data organization, while others are geared specifically toward a specialty like payroll.

These are some of the most common HRIS systems in use today. Don’t be surprised if you see some of these software names appear on HR job postings:

  • Kronos Workforce®
  • CoreHR®
  • BambooHR®
  • Homebase®
  • CommonOffice HRIS
  • Optimum HRIS®
  • Paycor®

Is it hard to learn or use an HRIS?

The bottom line is that HRIS systems are used in organizations of all sizes across all industries. If you have your heart set on a human resources career, you’re going to need to gain some familiarity with this technology.

The good news is HRIS systems are largely designed to be intuitive and user friendly. There’s no need to be a tech wizard! With enough time and patience, most people will have no trouble learning to navigate an HRIS.

The bad news is that with such a wide variety of HRIS options out there, it’s impossible to be fully familiar with every single one of them. You might get an introduction to some of the more common HRIS systems in an HR degree program or internship. Beyond that, your best bet is to head into the job market highlighting your willingness to learn and gain experience with whatever HRIS system the employer uses.

Don’t stop exploring the HR field!

What does an HRIS system do? These data organization systems can do plenty—but one thing they shouldn’t do is stop you from exploring your interest in human resources. Now that you know more about the purposes of an HRIS, you can feel confident in your ability to learn this technology.

The HR field has plenty to offer. But is it the right fit for you? Find out how you’d fare in a human resources career by reading “7 Surefire Signs You Should Be Working in HR.”

Kronos Workforce is a registered trademark of Kronos Technology Systems.
CoreHR is a registered trademark of Core Computer Consultants, LTD.
BambooHR is a registered trademark of Bamboo HR, LLC.
Homebase is a registered trademark of Pioneer Works, Inc.
Optimum HRIS is a registered trademark of Optimum Solutions, Inc.
Paycor is a registered trademark of Paycor, Inc.

Will Erstad

Will is a Sr. Content Specialist at Collegis Education. He researches and writes student-focused articles on a variety of topics for Rasmussen University. He is passionate about learning and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.


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