12 Best HR Books to Read in 2021

Home » Books » HR BooksUpdated: September 16, 2021

You found our list of awesome HR books.

HR books are guides to human resources subjects like performance management, recruitment, company culture, employee well-being and labor relations. These books explain key concepts and evidence-backed philosophies to help HR professionals excel in their roles and better serve their organizations.

These books help develop HR skills, and are similar to employee engagement books and books on people management.

This article includes:

  • HR books for beginners
  • best selling HR books
  • human resource management books
  • human capital books
  • HR operations books
  • books by HR thought leaders

So, here is the list!

List of HR books

From HR manuals to manifestos on employee empowerment, here are the best HR titles to read or reread in 2021.

The 9 Faces of HR: A Disruptor’s Guide to Mastering Innovation and Driving Real Change by Kris Dunn

The 9 Faces of HR

Kris Dunn’s is a longtime HR blogger, speaker, and CHRO. This experience led Dunn to the nine basic HR personalities distinguished by career level, attitude towards innovation, and ability to influence change. The 9 Faces of HR analyzes each of these archetypes, such as the mentor, the judge, the fixer, and the assassin, and describes the driving traits of each. Rather than presenting personas as preferable or undesirable, Dunn lays out the strengths and weaknesses of each. This approach creates nuanced profiles, so that HR professionals can better understand their own nature and approach.

Notable Quote: “The most interesting thing related to the 9 Faces of HR is to think about which persona is uniquely yours. The second most interesting thing is to think about which of the faces the people you love (and hate) in the world of HR are.”

Buy The 9 Faces of HR.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads for HR Leaders Collection by the Harvard Business Review

HBR's 10 Must Reads

The HBR’s 10 Must Reads for HR Leaders Collection is the ultimate set of HR operations books. This set is ideal for HR veterans and beginners alike. The collection contains five books:

  • Reinventing HR
  • Change Management
  • Building a Great Culture
  • Diversity
  • Managing People

Each book in the series is a compilation of top articles from The Harvard Business Review, alongside extra insight from experts. The set encompasses a wide scope of human resources topics, gathering wisdom from highly accomplished professionals in the field.

Notable Quote: “The CHRO is in a position to pinpoint precisely why an organization might not be performing well or meeting its goals. CEO’s must learn to seek such analysis from their CHROs instead of defaulting to consultants. The CHRO should work with the CEO and CFO to examine the causes of misses, because most problems are people problems.”

Buy HBR’s 10 Must Reads for HR Leaders Collection.

HR on Purpose: Developing Deliberate People Passion by Steve Browne

HR on Purpose

HR on Purpose is one of the most motivating human resource management books. HR veteran and blogger Steve Brown shares insights, advice, strategies, and best practices to help HR professionals excel. The book encourages HR staff to find passion and meaning in their roles.

Notable Quote: “Employees will NEVER be engaged unless HR is engaged first and models that engagement by taking it directly to where the employees work.”

Buy HR on Purpose.

The Practical Guide to HR Analytics: Using Data to Inform, Transform, and Empower HR Decisions by Shonna D. Waters PhD, Valerie Streets, et al.

The Practical Guide to HR Analytics

Human capital books teach HR professionals how to measure employee value through the use of facts, figures, and statistics. The Practical Guide to HR Analytics explains basics of data analytics and suggests specific ways to apply these principles. The book outlines how to collect and interpret HR data, as well as use that information to communicate findings and plan next steps.

Notable Quote: “People can be resistant to relying on data or algorithms to make decisions. Analytic evidence can be perceived as a threat, given its potential to develop conclusions contradictory to one’s personal judgment. Developing analytic skills in HR professionals is critical to building the foundation for a broader evidence-based approach.”

Buy The Practical Guide to HR Analytics.

The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth by Amy C. Edmondson

The Fearless Organization

Creating psychological safety is one of the most important team building tips, and is essential for any workplace to thrive. The Fearless Organization details how to empower employees to speak honestly, take creative risks, learn and grow, and be their best and most authentic selves at work. The author asserts that safety boosts performance and benefits organizations on an institutional level.

Notable Quote: “For jobs where learning or collaboration is required for success, fear is not an effective motivator.”

Buy The Fearless Organization.

Bring Your Human to Work: 10 Surefire Ways to Design a Workplace That Is Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change the World by Erica Keswin

Bring Your Human to Work

Bring Your Human to Work is a guide to improving company culture with authenticity and intention. There is a good reason this title is one of the best selling HR books in recent years, given the growing focus on the benefits of employee engagement best practices within the workplace. Erica Keswin shares advice on how to hold purposeful meetings, connect meaningfully with colleagues, and enhance employee wellness. These efforts will help you with earning respect, goodwill, and sincere effort from employees in the process.

Notable Quote: “The way I see it is it doesn’t matter how strong somebody’s technical skills are if they can’t manage relationships. If they can’t manage stress, if they’re operating from a place of fear . . . it doesn’t matter what their technical skills are because they won’t be able to access them.”

Buy Bring Your Human to Work.

Belonging At Work: Everyday Actions You Can Take to Cultivate an Inclusive Organization by Rhodes Perry MPA

Belonging at Work

Diversity is an important topic, including in the HR world. And inclusion is the ultimate goal towards which human resources professionals should strive. The sense of belonging is a basic human need, and employees who truly feel like part of a team tend to achieve more and feel happier. Belonging At Work shows how leaders can cultivate an environment where every team member feels valued, safe, and accepted.

Notable Quote: “Cultivating a workplace culture of belonging is a journey, not a destination. It takes patience, perseverance, tenacity and grit. The journey starts with yourself by committing to continuous education.”

Buy Belonging At Work.

The Essential HR Handbook, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Quick and Handy Resource for Any Manager or HR Professional by Sharon Armstrong and Barbara Mitchell

Essential HR Handbook

The Essential HR Handbook is one of the best HR books for beginners. This handy guide covers a wide array of topics, from talent acquisition, to performance management, compensation and benefits, and legal considerations. Even seasoned professionals can refer to the book for a quick refresher or reminder of industry best practices. The handbook outlines the essential with a modern touch, for example by acknowledging social media as a recruiting tool or studying the impact of globalization on workplace etiquette.

Notable Quote: “Today’s managers need to stay up-to-date on world events and the global economy to work with customers and employees in other countries, and evaluate whether such events will affect the organization’s business or employee base. They need training in managing across frontiers.”

Buy The Essential HR Handbook.

Work Rules! (Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead) by Laszlo Bock

Work Rules!

Laszlo Bock headed Google’s legendary People Operations divisions for a decade. During that time, the company was repeatedly acknowledged as one of the best places to work in the world. Bock channels this expertise and experience in Work Rules!, a human resources philosophy that champions an emphasis on growth, culture, and humanity. Google’s example is proof that great results do not need to come at the expense of employee wellbeing. Bock outlines how Google revolutionized the human resources field by creating an environment so desirable, candidates willingly waited years for a chance to interview. Yet the author also owns up to mistakes made and lessons learned along the way, offering a balanced and realistic account of the company’s people-centric journey.

Notable Quote: “Put simply, because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure. … [T]hey become defensive, screen out criticism, and put the “blame” on anyone and everyone but themselves. In short, their ability to learn shuts down precisely at the moment they need it the most.”

Buy Work Rules!

Radical Candor (Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity) by Kim Malone Scott

Radical Candor

Radical Candor is one of the most popular recent books by HR thought leaders. Kim Malone Scott established her career as a Silicon Valley CEO coach and faculty member at Apple University. Radical Candor explains how to be honest without being brutally honest, showing how to adopt a transparent and open approach while avoiding being taken advantage of. The book focuses on relationships, advocating for open communication as the basis of all healthy and productive workplace collaborations. Scott released an updated edition in 2019 and continues to write.

Notable Quote: “Make sure that you are seeing each person on your team with fresh eyes every day. People evolve, and so your relationships must evolve with them. Care personally; don’t put people in boxes and leave them there.”

Buy Radical Candor.

1501 Ways to Reward Employees by Bob Nelson

1501 Ways to Reward Employees

1501 Ways to Reward Employees is a collection of ways to boost your team’s happiness, recognize ideas, and express appreciation. The book explains the importance of employee recognition, outlines reward strategies, and suggests rewards for specific achievements. This collection lists hundreds of activities, including individual and group rewards, daily recognition, and special occasions.

Notable Quote: “There’s a revolution going on in today’s workplaces. Workers want respect and they want it now. They want to be trusted to do a good job….they want to be appreciated when they do a good job.”

Buy 1501 Ways to Reward Employees.

Fully Staffed: The Definitive Guide to Finding & Keeping Great Employees by Eric Chester

Fully Staffed

Fully Staffed is a guide to employee retention strategies in the modern workplace. The book explores how to attract and keep great employees in challenging labor markets. Eric Chester emphasizes the importance of finding the right people for open positions and creating an environment that makes staff want to stick around. Fully Staffed is a master course in smart interviewing and hiring practices.

Notable Quote: “Make no mistake, it isn’t just about hiring. You’re also searching desperately for a way to stop the mass exodus of your best workers so you can finally reach business nirvana, that mythical place where you’re FULLY STAFFED with the right people happily engaged in the right jobs. So you can once again focus on building and improving your business.”

Buy Fully Staffed.

Final Thoughts

The field of human resources encompasses a vast range of topics and competencies, many of which change to keep pace with laws, society, and industry standards. Absorbing and processing human resource information can be an intimidating task, and HR books make learning a great deal in a short span manageable and enjoyable. Mastering HR competencies is an ongoing process that requires constant learning and openness to change, meaning that reading books is a must for HR professionals at any stage in their career.

Next, check our list of company culture books, this one with diversity and inclusion books and the best recruiting books.

We also have a list of books on change management and list of HR quotes.

For tools, see our list of human resource software.

FAQ: HR Books

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about HR books.

What are HR books?

HR books are resources that cover human resource topics such as recruitment, compensation and benefits, performance management, company culture, and employee recognitions. These books, written by HR thought leaders and experts, help current or aspiring HR professionals understand industry concepts and standards of behavior.

What are the best HR books?

A few of the best HR books are HR on Purpose by Steve Browne, Radical Candor by Kim Malone Scott, and Bring Your Human to Work by Erica Keswin.

Why should HR professionals read human resources books?

Like any field, human resources grows and changes as new theories and knowledge emerge. Reading human resources books helps professionals gain new perspectives and stay on top of industry trends. While these books can help beginners learn the ins and outs of the profession, they can also enlighten seasoned HR staff to new ways of thinking, strategies, and approaches.

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Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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