Human Resources

We define human resources as sufficient and fairly distributed staff, including management, administration, and service providers, that are skilled, equipped, supported and motivated to provide quality health services.

Human resource management is a critical management area that is responsible for any organization’s most important asset: its people. HRM typically accounts for 70 percent to 80 percent of an organization’s budget. When organizations manage their investment in people wisely, the result is a satisfied and motivated workforce that delivers high-quality health services and an organization that fulfills its mission, meets its health objectives, and contributes to its community by providing excellent services.

Despite the critical importance of human resources to the functioning of health systems, few concerted efforts have addressed the severe staff shortages facing the health sector in many developing countries. The AIDS pandemic has intensified an already serious situation, and the ability of many countries to meet the Millennium Development Goals is further hampered by deficiencies in organizations’ HRM policies and systems.

In many countries, the key challenges include finding ways to:

  • increase employee satisfaction and productivity despite understaffing, poor salaries, and lack of resources;
  • obtain accurate data and conduct effective workforce planning using underdeveloped employee information systems;
  • obtain workers with needed skills and competencies in the face of reduced staffing levels caused by AIDS, the migration of health professionals, and poor working conditions in remote areas;
  • shift tasks to cadres of workers who have, or can easily develop, the needed skills;
  • provide efficient and effective HRM and supportive supervision when managers lack HRM skills and there is weak organizational advocacy for HRM.

These challenges can be addressed with an effective HRM infrastructure. However, the reality is that HRM is perhaps the most misunderstood and poorly developed area in the health sector today. As a result, although most organizations claim that their employees are their most important resource, there is widespread neglect of the policies, systems, and management and leadership practices needed to support the critical HRM function.

There is a need to professionalize HRM throughout the health sector by hiring dedicated human resource (HR) staff and developing their ability to manage complex HR issues. HRM systems need to be strengthened in most organizations. In ministries of health and national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), this should take the form of creating dedicated HRM departments charged with developing, operating, and promoting the policies, systems, and management and leadership practices that address identified HRM challenges.

However, it is the responsibility of all managers and supervisors at every level of an organization to understand and continually practice the principles of effective HRM. Indeed, in smaller organizations, which often lack a dedicated HRM department, it is the collective effort of all managers that will build a human resources for health (HRH) strategy and the HRM infrastructure needed to carry out the strategy.

(Taken from  O'Neil, M. and S. Reimann 2010. Leading and managing: Critical competencies for health systems strengthening. In Health systems in action: An ehandbook for leaders and managers. Cambridge: Management Sciences for Health.)

Click on the links below to access key materials on:

Assessing and Meeting Staffing Needs

Human Resources Information Systems

Human Resource Management

National Health Workforce Issues

Performance Assessment and Improvement