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History of Human Resource Management

How long has Human Resource Management or HRM been around? Should we be specific about which of these three aspects of the question we want to know?

  1. How long has the term HRM been in use?
  2. How long have functions typically covered by HRM today been studied and managed?
  3. How long has there been a dedicated unit, department or system that takes care of HRM functions?

Definition of HRM

Let us first define HRM. Basically HRM is concerned with the policies, practices and systems that influence the behavior, attitudes and performance of employees in the workplace. HRM is a process of managing human talent/skills to achieve organizational goals. Central to HRM is the basic goal of all management, increasing predictability and achieving better control of events related to the people of the organization.

Examples of processes commonly handled by HRM are

  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Industrial relations
  • Performance and evaluation
  • Management of safety, security and health at work
  • Staffing – Job analysis, recruitment, selection and retention

How long has the term HRM been in use?

  • The term HRM was developed in the US from the earlier personnel management or PM in the early 1960s.
  • The Merriam-Webster dictionary claims that the first recorded use of the term Human Resources is from 1961.
  • In the mid-1980s the term HRM or Human Resource Management began to appear and quickly replaced Personnel Management.

How long have functions typically covered by HRM today been studied and managed?

The functions commonly covered by HRM today have a much longer history than is widely believed. Many authors claim that the term Performance Management or PM in organizations was created, originally in the USA to deal with the bureaucracy required to hire employees and manage payroll.

Although they did not use modern terms, there are many recorded instances of current HRM functions being named in ancient texts.

  • The ancient Code of Hammurabi from Babylon in 1750 BC. set minimum wages, obligations for skilled craftsmen to pass on their skills to apprentices, quality standards for builders, and health care obligations for slave owners.
  • The Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder in the first century AD warned of the health hazards of handling zinc and sulfur and prescribed the use of animal bladder masks.
  • In 1556, the German scientist Georgious Agricola in De Re Metallica describes occupational hazards and methods for improving occupational health.

But modern usage comes from the US, especially after World War II, when Personnel Management professionals wanted to differentiate PM from other managerial functions.

How long has there been a dedicated unit, department or system that takes care of HRM functions?

The first recorded modern dedication of a separate unit or department to HRM is from 1901 in the USA. The National Treasury Company faced a disruptive strike but won the battle with the unions. After that, the company’s president, John H. Patterson, organized a personnel department dedicated to improving employee relations by handling employee grievances, layoffs, safety, and other issues.

Although not called that, people dedicated to HRM functions began to appear in the US in the 1920s when mass production began to spread. Personnel managers were often called welfare secretaries in the 1920s. Much of the modern theoretical work on human resources began around this time. The studies conducted by George Elton Mayo (1880-1949), especially the Hawthorne Studies are credited as the foundation of the Human Relations Movement in management.

It is only after World War II that we can find specially designated units that take care of standard HRM functions. In many Western countries, collective bargaining has defined labor relations and human resources have gained importance.

Since the 1960s, Japan’s rise as a trading power also required effective human resource systems adopted by Japanese companies.

Globally, the profile of HRM began to be widely recognized from the 1980s. Universities and business schools began to teach different aspects of HRM in the 1990s. Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations was the first business school in the world for college-level studies in human resources.

In the early 2000s, there was a strong move to view HR as a strategic partner to the business rather than a support operations system. The most recent areas in which HR has become involved are corporate social responsibility and sustainable development as well as environmental concerns.

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