12 must-read HR books for business leaders and HR professionals
No matter how long you’ve been working in the HR industry, there’s always something new to learn — from classic HR strategies you haven’t heard of to brand-new labor laws and workforce trends. If you want to achieve thought leader status in human resource management, then continuing your education is a must, and there’s no better way than reading the best HR books — both old and new.
There’s no shortage of human resources books available on the market, but they’re by no means of equal quality. As such, you may not know where to start when building your HR library.
That’s why I’ve compiled this list of top-tier HR books that cover essential areas like performance management, talent management, employee engagement, onboarding, retention, and workplace culture. This list includes timeless classics as well as the latest and greatest books covering modern HR best practices.
For instance, artificial intelligence is now revolutionizing HR, but none of the classic HR books effectively cover it due to their age. That’s why I included some very recent books that cover breaking topics like AI and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion).
Catching up on your HR reading will have plenty of positive effects on your career, as you’ll learn plenty of exciting data-driven HR strategies and techniques to try out. You may wind up completely altering your approach to HR management, which is why these books are worth your time.
Here are my picks for the most essential HR books for business leaders, recruiters, and HR professionals.
Sharon Armstrong and Barbara Mitchell
Aptly titled, this book is an essential guide for old and new human resources professionals. It also happens to be one of the best-selling HR strategy books on the market and for lots of good reasons. If you’re looking for a book that covers every core aspect of HR, this is it.
Each chapter covers a different HR function, including the following:
Strategic planning and developing mission statements
Training and development
A concise and wisdom-packed ‘Main Message for Managers’ section caps each chapter with a quick summary of the most important points.
On the legal side, the book helps new HR managers avoid common pitfalls that often lead to litigation. There’s also plenty of great advice on how to streamline onboarding, recruit top talent using modern methods, and train diverse workforces.
Both authors are seasoned HR leaders with decades of success on the job, so they write from their personal experience — lending a real sense of authenticity to the book.
AI is rapidly changing the way people approach HR practices, affecting everything from recruiting to employee engagement. As such, it’s crucial for HR professionals to familiarize themselves with AI sooner rather than later. That way, you’ll be ready to adapt to using AI at your organization, which, while it may be a bit cumbersome at first, will provide some impressive benefits.
AI systems will save you a ton of time, boost your efficiency, and improve retention through superior HR analytics. This offering from Ben Eubanks takes a truly deep dive into AI’s role in HR, covering subjects like using natural language processing to autogenerate job listings that are free of unconscious human bias.
The book contains plenty of practical advice for readers, including how to successfully leverage AI technology for things like recruiting, employee engagement, and virtual work environments. If your organization has been hinting at adopting AI for a while now, reading this book will get rid of any butterflies fluttering around in your stomach about it.
Barbara Mitchell and Cornelia Gamlem
Another offering from Barbara Mitchell, The Big Book of HR, is a gigantic practical guide covering everything HR. The 10th-anniversary edition contains updates that include modern concerns like DEI and changing technologies (AI).
In particular, the book takes an in-depth look at workplace harassment, managing remote workers, ensuring pay equity, and using gamification in employee training. It’s an excellent go-to guide that HR managers should keep on their desks at all times. In fact, it works very well as a sister piece to The Essential HR Handbook — as it covers areas that the other book does not.
The Essential HR Handbook is great for HR staples like onboarding and developing competitive compensation packages. However, The Big Book of HR contains more modern sensibilities, like accommodating a remote workforce post-pandemic.
It’s your guide for navigating current and emerging workforce trends like hybrid work schedules, diversity training, and adjusting to new technologies like AI-powered recruiting systems, video interview software, and more.
Monica Frede & Keri Ohlrich, PhD
If HR teams want to find success and make a meaningful impact on their organization, they need to take CHARGE. That’s the central idea behind The Way of the HR Warrior, and it’s one of the most motivating books on the market.
The authors introduce readers to their CHARGE model, which stands for Courage, Humility, Accuracy, Resiliency, Goal-Oriented, and Exemplary. These are the key traits that an HR warrior must possess to bring about true change in their organization.
It’s a way of unlocking your true inner potential as an HR leader.
Instead of being a timid HR professional who stands by the sidelines, this book will help you transform into a fierce HR warrior who solves problems, mediates conflicts, and always finds new ways to improve the employee experience.
The authors take a bit of a tough-love approach here, but it works. If you want to motivate yourself to take your career to the next level, this book is for you.
The book also outlines how you can positively impact your organization, align your efforts with key business goals, and use personal assessment tools to uncover areas for personal and professional growth.
If there’s anything the past few years have shown us, it’s that remote/hybrid working is here to stay. If you haven’t adapted your HR practices to include accommodating remote workers, this book will help get you up to speed.
The primary challenges facing remote workers are A) a lack of engagement and B) a lack of team communication and collaboration. Remote Not Distant reminds readers that your company culture was never tied to your physical office, so there’s no reason why your culture can’t also include your remote team members.
The book also provides a roadmap for staying connected with remote employees, as well as how to effectively monitor their performance and ensure their mental well-being. It’s increasingly common for remote workers to feel disconnected and lonely, and this book provides a number of ways to keep them feeling engaged, appreciated, and productive.
Notable features of the book include:
Examples of successful remote leaders
Six modes of collaboration for hybrid teams
5 key Mindset Shifts to reset your workplace culture
Tips for developing your company culture in a remote setting
As the book points out, the pandemic taught the world that companies who fail to adapt will get left behind – and the prevalence and demand for remote work is perhaps the greatest example of that.
Michael Armstrong with Stephen Taylor
Michael Armstrong is one of the most prominent authors in the HR space, as he’s written numerous HR books that have been translated into over 20 languages. His books are coveted resources for HR students and professionals alike, and this book is perhaps the cream of the crop.
It’s a must-read for new HR managers, and it contains some helpful learning materials. For example, there are supplementary online material readers can access to further their education on HRM (human resource management).
These online resources include the following:
HR handbooks for students and lecturers
All the figures and tables from the book
HRM toolkits for things like workforce planning, organization design, human capital management, and many others
An extensive glossary and bibliography
As you can see, the book contains an absurd amount of learning materials. It’s an especially useful book if you’re more of a hands-on or visual learner. The fully updated 16th version includes modern HRM concerns, such as information on new employment laws and the challenges of international HRM.
#7: The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth
Amy C. Edmondson
This book explores the concept of psychological safety in the workplace.
It’s the idea that employees require a certain amount of freedom at work in order to thrive. They need the psychological confidence and security to say what they really think, try new things that challenge the status quo, and, most importantly, enjoy the freedom to fail and learn from their mistakes.
In the book, Edmondson clarifies that an employee’s business performance and psychological safety go hand-in-hand. If your employees are too frightened to speak up or experiment with new ways of doing things, you’ll completely stifle their creativity and potential.
The idea is to create a work environment where your employees can voice their thoughts and brainstorm out loud without any fear of ridicule or repercussions. The Fearless Organization makes psychological safety very easy to implement, thanks to its fantastic step-by-step format that’s easy to digest.
#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
A bonafide HR classic, this book is all about forming meaningful, long-lasting relationships with your employees. After all, that’s the best way to foster a positive, energized company culture that’s inclusive, fun, and enormously productive.
Author Erica Keswin is a renowned workplace strategist and business coach with over 20 years of experience working with top business leaders from giants like Starbucks, Lyft, and Mogul.
During her tenure, she uncovered the main elements that comprise a ‘human workplace,’ which include things like:
Prioritizing face-to-face interactions, even in today’s remote/digital age
Ensuring every meeting has a clear purpose (nobody likes time wasters)
Defining your company’s role in the world (beyond making a profit)
Expressing gratitude to your employees (thank you goes a long way)
Providing a desirable work-life balance for employees and encouraging positive mental health practices
If you want to sharpen your relationship-building skills, this Wall Street Journal best-seller deserves a spot on your bookshelf.
It’s long been known that Google has a superb company culture (heck, they even made a movie about it with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn). In Work Rules, Google’s former VP of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, breaks down exactly why Google’s culture rocks so hard. He provides plenty of practical advice backed up by real-life examples during his tenure at Google.
He stresses the importance of establishing a bold company culture, in addition to doing things like:
Selecting high performers consistently
Why unfair compensation is the way to go (different work deserves different pay)
The best way to deal with HR mistakes
The importance of people analytics in HR
If you want to further your HR knowledge but don’t want to spend three months tackling a mammoth book – you’ll love Work Rules due to its short length. While you can finish it in a single afternoon, it’s the kind of book that contains enough actionable advice to transform how you approach your job.
Most organizations view their HR departments as a necessity that only has a marginal effect on their bottom line. Steve Browne throws this concept out the window with HR Rising!!
In it, he argues that the HR department is one of the most important for implementing change, boosting productivity, and generating more revenue.
Why is that?
It’s because HR is the only department that has the opportunity to connect, interact, and engage with every employee at the organization. Not only that, but HR is in charge of talent acquisition, which is the lifeblood of every department.
Even if you pump loads of money into your sales department, you won’t see more revenue unless your HR department is hiring the right people. Browne encourages HR leaders to speak up and become vocal leaders instead of fading into the background.
To the author, if you focus on your people first, they’ll provide the results you want to see for your customers.
Dave Ulrich, Jon Younger, Wayne Brockbank, Mike Ulrich
As an HR professional, there are certain competencies that you should possess, just as there are for any position. That’s what HR From the Outside In is all about, as it defines the six most important competencies every HR professional should have. It’s one of the most coveted books in the HRM space, as Dave Ulrich is a passionate author who takes research incredibly seriously.
Here’s a quick preview of the core competencies the book dives into:
Being a technology proponent
A change champion
An HR integrator and innovator
A strategic positioner
Being a strategic positioner is the sixth and final competency, as it helps even out the other 5, which can be a bit contradictory at times. It’s all about knowing when to employ which competency, which is what being a strategic positioner means.
Shonna D. Waters Ph.D., Valerie Streets, Lindsay A. McFarlane, Rachel Johnson-Murray
Any HR department that wants to find success must pay attention to its analytics, especially in today’s age. People data holds all sorts of interesting insights that will help you improve employee retention, boost employee engagement levels, and recruit better talent.
This book is your ultimate guide for learning how to make sense of your data. Don’t worry; there’s no confusing mathematical jargon here whatsoever. The book uses a highly readable and digestible format for breaking down HR analytics. It also clues you in on the most common problems that you can solve using data.
The authors also break things down into four layers of data complexity that you can use to solve problems. This is especially helpful because it’ll let you know if there’s a simpler solution to a problem instead of opting for the fourth level of complexity.
The book is also highly visual and uses a combination of storytelling and high-resolution images to make sense of complex ideas, which is certainly a plus.
Even if you don’t deal with analytics on a day-to-day basis, this book is still worth your time. After all, you never know when a job opportunity that requires analytical knowledge may come along – in which case, you’ll be glad you read this gem.
Concluding thoughts: The best HR books
The HR books on this list are by no means all that you should read, but they are some of the most relevant, highest-rated publications in the field.
HR is always changing and evolving, so keeping up with the latest developments is crucial for any HR professional. Beyond that, continuing your education is always a plus, as expanding your skill set opens up new career opportunities.