11 best books for HR professionals to read

Last updated:
February 24, 2021
December 22, 2021
min read
Brendan McConnell
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As with any profession, HR practitioners must continuously educate themselves on the latest trends and best practices in their industry.

Human resources is a field with a lot of moving parts, all of which can change and evolve at a rapid pace. Because of this, it's helpful to know the best books for HR professionals to read that will help you stay on top of your professional development requirements.

This article provides a roundup of 11 of the top HR books to read in 2021. The list is broken into four key areas that HR professionals are most likely to focus on in their professional development this year.

These include:

Each of the following books for HR was a selection based on its popularity amongst your peers, and its relevance to major industry trends in 2021, such as:

  • A trend toward digitization
  • A deeper focus on people-first organizations
  • The introduction of Gen Y into the workforce
  • A shifting understanding of what drives staff engagement and motivation

Follow this guide to find the best books for HR professionals this year. Let's get started!

Best books for HR professionals

This list focussed on resources for human resources management and general HR practitioners.

1. Human Resource Management

Author: Gary Desler

Human Resource Management, authored by Gary Desler, a pioneer in human resource management literature, is a 700-page must-read for any new or established professionals in the field.

As one of the most read and studied HR books amongst students and professionals, Human Resource Management is a master resource that provides practical, step-by-step explanations of key pillars in human resources:

If you haven't read this book yet, it's a great place to start.

2. The Essential HR Handbook: A Quick and Handy Resource for Any Manager or HR Professional

Authors: Sharon Armstrong & Barbara Mitchell

The Essential HR Handbook, written by acclaimed writers, speakers, consultants, and thought leaders in the HRM industry, provides a detailed overview of time-honored human resources techniques, as well as new and emerging trends.

The 10th edition of the book has been updated to include major trends that HR professionals will need to address in 2021, including:

Use this handbook as your go-to resource for must-know HRM techniques and principles and as your roadmap for navigating new developments in the industry.

3. Standout HR: Transform Your Company's Human Resources from a Generic, Low-Value Commodity to a Strategic System That Fuels Business Results

Author: Vero Vanmiddelem

Standout HR is an excellent resource for any HR professional looking to redesign an organization's HRM strategy to produce true value and results.

Vanmiddelem, an HR professional with more than 25 years of experience in the field, is a regular teacher, writer, and speaker on a variety of topics related to human resources. One such topic aims to help HR leaders embrace the people side of the job and explains how to reshape your HRM strategy to a more employee-centric one.

To accomplish this goal, Standout HR guides the reader on how to create a "company original" HR roadmap that achieves their unique goals and vision for the company. It emphasizes the need to create unique HR paths within the organization that pave the way to a targeted, unique, and customized HR strategy for the organization.

If revamping your HR strategy is in the cards for 2021, this Standout HR is a must-read.

4. HR from the Outside In: Six Competencies for the Future of Human Resources

Authors: Dave Ulrich, Jon Younger, Wayne Brockbank, and Mike Ulrich

HR from the Outside It boasts an impressive list of co-authors, all of whom are experts in the field of human resource management.

Ulrich is a university professor, author, speaker, management coach, and consultant. Younger is an HR thought leader and a regular contributor to HR textbooks. Brockbank is a professor of business at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business. Together, they created a must-read book of HR competencies that all professionals should read.

HR from the Outside In provides a complete list of core competencies for the modern HR professional. These include:

  • Capability building
  • Technological proficiency
  • Change management
  • Innovation and integration

This book also provides the authors' vision for the HR professional's role in an organization. They argue that HR should serve the role of a credible activist for the employees and the business as a whole and includes suggestions for accomplishing this.

If you're looking for a guide to what competencies you should focus on and how your profession fits into a larger, strategic context at your organization, then this book is the perfect place to start.

5. Human Resources Strategies: Balancing Stability and Agility in Times of Digitization (Future of Business and Finance)

Author: Armin Trost

Human Resources Strategies by Armin Trost is one of the best books for HR professionals looking to navigate digitization effects on their HRM and recruitment efforts.

This book tackles the effects of digitization on the HR industry head-on. It emphasizes the need for HR professionals to start thinking about how digital transformation might change - or has changed - their current business practices and what they must do to adapt to that change.

To accomplish this, Trost analyzes what digital transformations may come and provides insights and guidance that balance stability and agility.

In particular, he focused on the effects of digitization on:

  • Recruitment
  • Learning
  • Talent Management
  • Compensation
  • Performance Management
  • Executive Development
  • Change Management

If digitization is a major concern for you this year, then we encourage you to read Human Resources Strategies.

Now that we've covered the best books for HR professionals to read let's look at resources for company culture, employee relations, and employee engagement.

Best books on company culture

The following two books are highlighted due to their focus on two major trends that will affect company culture this year and beyond.

The first is the ongoing introduction of Gen Y into the workforce. The second is the continuing emphasis on people-centric workforces that align with employees' senses of purpose, belonging, and values.

The following two books tackle these issues head-on.

6. Generation Z: A Century in the Making

Authors: Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace

Generation Z provides a deep analysis of the next generation of workers. It analyzes their motivations, goals, and habits with the goal of understanding what this generation wants and expects from their future employees.

To accomplish this, Seemiller and Grace analyze Gen Y from a variety of perspectives, including:

  • Their daily lives
  • Their career aspirations
  • Their money management habits
  • Their relationship values
  • Their educational preferences
  • Their consumer habits

In doing so, Generation Z aims to help HR teams understand the next generation of workers on a deeper level, helping them create environments that encourage them to thrive. It also provides a detailed roadmap for effectively managing Gen Y workers as they begin to enter the workforce.

Like with the Millennial generation, Gen Y is poised to cause disruptions in how organizations create and manage their company cultures. This book aims to help HR professionals manage that disruption in the most effective way possible.

7. Belonging at Work: Everyday Actions You Can Take to Cultivate an Inclusive Organization

Author: Rhodes Perry, MPA

Belonging at Work by Rhodes Perry, MPA tackles the issue of "belonging" and "purpose" at work and identifies the role HR professionals and directors play in creating a culture that addresses those requirements.

Perry explains that people need to feel a sense of belonging to an organization to succeed. He explains that a disconnect between employees and their company can make it difficult to establish a sense of comfort. This anxiety ultimately harms the employees' potential.

To address this concern, Belonging at Work explains the skills needed to empower business leaders, change managers, and visionaries at your organization to impact the company culture positively. It lays out concrete strategies for how HR professionals can become thought leaders on cultural change and ultimately be accounting for influencing that change.

Best employee relations books

The following two books provide resources on designing people-centric workplaces and how to nurture your top talent.

8. 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

Author: Eric Keswin

Bring Your Human to Work by Erica Keswin provides a list of ten ways HR professionals can transform their workplace into a high-performing, people-centric environment.

Keswin, a workplace strategist and business coach with more than 20 years of experience in the HR industry, argues that this can be accomplished by applying one single truth to all human resource efforts:

"Smart companies honor relationships."

This philosophy is at the core of each of Keswin's ten techniques and emphasizes the value of real, human connection at your organization.

On the whole, Keswin approaches employee relations to inspire HR professionals to build meaningful workplace relationships. This, he says, leads to happier and more productive workforces.

9. High Potential: How to Spot, Manage, and Develop Talented People at Work

Author: Ian MacRae, Adrian Furnham, and Martin Reed

High Potential by Ian MacRae, Adrian Furnham, and Martin Reed aims to help HR professionals understand and define employee potential in their organization.

They do this by providing insights on how to engage with your employees. Too often, they say, organizations will spend lots of time, money, and resources in capturing top talent, only to fail to nurture them correctly. This, ultimately, leads to their departure.

To protect against this, High Potential encourages HR professionals to take an active role in nurturing top talent by:

  • Explaining how to manage high-potential employees to ensure that they're happy
  • Encouraging career development as a way to boost employee retention
  • Identifying ongoing employee relations as the key to success for organizations

If retaining high-potential employees is an issue at your organization, we encourage you to read High Potential.

Best books for employee engagement

Lastly, two of the best books for employee engagement in 2021 provide insights into engaging and motivating your employees this year and beyond.

10. Talent Keepers: How Top Leaders Engage and Retain Their Best Performers

Authors: Christopher Mulligan and Craig Taylor

Talent Keepers by Christopher Mulligan and Craig Taylor provides a detailed overview of how organizations can develop, implement, and measure employee engagement plans.

The authors outline a systemic approach on how to implement new processes that boost employee engagement. These techniques start the second a new hire walks through the doors and continues through to the employee's departure.

To help you picture these techniques in practice, Talent Keepers outlines the employee engagement process in six real-world case studies.

11. Carrots and Sticks Don't Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement with the Principles of RESPECT

Author: Paul L. Marciano

Carrots and Sticks by Paul L. Marciano directly critique the value of common rewards and recognition programs (the "carrot and stick" style of motivation, as he calls it) to help organizations find a better solution.

A go-to guide on employee engagement for HR professionals worldwide, Carrots and Sticks argues that traditional rewards and recognition programs mostly appeal to employees who are already highly engaged and highly motivated. In other words, they don't do enough to generate engagement from those employees who need it most.

As an alternative, Marciano offers his RESPECT model. He frames this as a low-cost, turnkey solution and action plan that will allow HR professionals to troubleshoot and resolve employee engagement issues systematically.


As mentioned at the start of this article, there are many disruptions in the HR industry that are changing the game plan to tackle HRM, company culture, employee relations, and employee engagement.

We encourage you to stay up-to-date on these disruptions and actively seek out the best books for HR professionals that provide roadmaps for how to navigate these new trends.

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