Human Resource (H.R.) department used to be a single physical place where workers could visit for various reasons like picking up a form, asking a question, seeking advice or lodging a complaint. Today, H.R. offices are no longer there, and if a company has one, it’s probably much smaller and less effective than it used to be. Such things as the company’s 800 phone number, a Web portal, and a software program may be to blame for the disappearance of H.R. offices.

According to Lisa Smouts, a researcher at XRC (a market research firm), the last decade has seen the H.R. accelerate and this trend will go on. She also adds that it’s more common to outsource functions to a range of providers despite some companies entrusting their H.R. needs to a single outside firm.

Outsourcing not only saves money but also it allows firms to offload tasks, which do not form part of their core business. Nevertheless, some H.R. experts are frustrated with how companies are over-reliant on outsourcing to the extent that employees are suffering when it comes to such areas as career development. Employers too are not safe, as they are bound to lose significant business opportunities.

Take a look at the various traditional duties of H.R. and you won’t be surprised by the fact that firms are parceling out some duties. The role of human resource is to find, develop, retain, and train the best people, said Susan Frucas in an e-mail. H.R. can also be responsible for legal issues, employee and labor relations, business partners, benefits, data collection, and compensation.

According to Donna Whinstern, senior vice president for product management at EDP (a large human resource outsourcing firm), outsourcing companies can take up many different tasks such as payroll, benefits, and recruiting, to allow a client to pay attention to its strengths. The new healthcare reform legislation, for instance, is expected to have a profound effect on employers, most of whom may already be overwhelmed by complexities. A firm like EDP boasts enormous experience and expertise in these areas, and as a result, relieves a big burden, said Mrs.Whinstern.

The last decade has seen the focus of H.R. shift toward data collection and legal compliance, said Ms. Smouts, who currently lives in Costa Rica but has a 15-years of experience in H.R. in the United States. She said that outsourcing could help a firm, which does not have the means to hire specialists, get access to numerous resources for a relatively small amount of money. And for this reason, a vendor’s call center, she said, “I don’t have to care about morale at your site since it doesn’t have any effects on my day”. (Mr.Whinstern insisted that Triton Group Benefits and HR Solutions can maintain top class, individualized service via its call centers).

If Human Resource professionals work for the same firm as the employees they serve, then expect their interest to be more closely aligned, said Ms. Frucas. She also explained that the firm would make more money if your performance is good. And a top performing firm means a better bonus for me, a happier workplace, and fewer problems throughout.

But more than a few functions of human resources have been reduced to the bone, said Paul Cipriano, a management professor and director of the Center for Human Resources at the University of Southern California

As such, the idea that firms will be more strategic about H.R. after they outsource needs some heroic assumptions, adds Professor Cipriano, author of “Why College Grads Can’t Find Jobs”. According to him, supervisors may be able to take over some crucial roles, but more than a few individuals who were experts at career development, recruiting, and training have been dismissed. So is it a surprise, Cipriano added, that firms complain that they are unable to find good people?

He asserted that the world has moved toward self-service and that puts the emphasis on technology, as well as on information over advice. He went on to say how sometimes, you can lack someone to talk to.

Other times, there’s the call center, and there, Ms. Frucas said, you may find someone who’s reading from a script and normally that’s enough. However, if you have a complex problem, then it can be arduous or downright impossible to have it solved, said Ms.Frucas.

According to her, the best outsourcing leaves some skillful human resources staff as employees. They can refer you to the in-house person when the call center is unable to answer a question, and this saves money while still providing individualized expertise for the company’s employees.