Human resources. You may recall writing to the department in your job application, and sitting down to lengthy chats with an HR specialist when you came on board.

Then … nothing – not until your annual performance review, at least.

So what do human resources professionals actually do?

Marisa Iuculano, HR recruitment manager for recruiter Robert Walters, said the sector involved a widely fluctuating workload and a mixed bag of administrative and creative tasks.

Iuculano’s clients include Australian and multinational investment banks, manufacturing, media and FMCG firms.

Larger firms with 5000 or more staff tend to need “hundreds” of HR specialists, while a company with a headcount of 500 may only need an HR department of about 4, and an organisation of 100, just 1, she said.

Iuculano explained that bigger companies needed disproportionately more HR professionals because they tended to hire specialists rather than all-rounders.

“An HR person manages anything to do with people relations in an organisation: the legality aspect of contracts; OH&S; performance management; on-boarding; talent management; reporting; union negotiations and so on,” she said.

“The larger the organisation, the more specialists you need – a large organisation may need an entire recruitment team and HR help desk.”

Earlier this year, RedBalloon founder Naomi Simson credited the company’s employee experience manager Megan Bromley for helping to turn RedBalloon from a haphazard workplace with a 64% staff turnover rate to one of Australia’s top-rated places to work.

Iuculano highlighted talent management as one of the key HR responsibilities that went on behind the scenes.

Besides producing workplace policy documents to help define an organisation’s culture, HR professionals also research and report on competitors’ compensation and salary packaging practices to make sure top talent doesn’t stray.

[Talent management is] keeping people engaged to keep staff turnover low. Good people are attracted to good brands,” she said.

A bulk of HR tasks come in cycles, with the busiest periods typically coinciding with performance reviews and union negotiations. Iuculano said HR professionals tended to work late during the busiest times.

“Senior HR professionals can work incredibly long hours – the same as an investment banker,” she said.