Human resources management now is a different profession than it was in the past. "In the 1980s, HR managers were occupied mostly with compliance and legal issues – filling out paperwork, following anti-discrimination laws and generally avoiding being sued by employees and regulatory agencies," writes Lauren Weber, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal.

In contrast, the profession today draws much more heavily on other disciplines, such as psychology, sociology and economics, as longtime human resources professional Mark Schmit reports in an interview with Weber.

This broader focus allows human resources to be a profession of broad focus and many duties. A true understanding of why people behave in a certain way leads to the ability to influence that behavior toward better outcomes for both a company and its employees.

Liz Maw, CEO of the nonprofit Net Impact, believes that influence can expand to improving the world. "HR professionals can play a vital role in supporting a company's sustainability strategy," she says in an interview with Mother Nature Network. In this way, human resources professionals can use their knowledge not only in service of their company and the people who are part of it, but also in service of worthwhile causes with broad impact.

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