History of Human Resource Management

History of Human Resource Management

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

  1. How long has the term HRM been used?
  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 taking care of HRM functions?

Definition of HRM

Let’s define HRM first. Basically HRM is concerned with the policies, practices and systems that influence employees’ workplace behaviour, attitudes and performance. HRM is a process of managing human talents/skills to achieve the organisation’s objectives. Central to HRM is the core aim of all management, to increase predictability and achieve better control of events related to people in the organisation.

Examples of processes typically handled by HRM are

  • Compensation and benefits
  • Industrial relations
  • Performance and appraisal
  • Safety, security and occupational health management
  • Staffing – Job analysis, recruitment, selection and retention

How long has the term HRM been used?

  • The term HRM evolved in USA out of the earlier Personnel Management or PM in the early 1960s.
  • Merriam-Webster dictionary claims that the first recorded use of the term Human Resource is from 1961.
  • By the mid 1980s the term HRM or Human Resource Management started appearing and quickly replaced Personnel Management.

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

The functions typically covered by HRM today, have a much longer history than is widely believed. Many writers claim that the term Performance Management or PM in organisations was created, first in the USA to deal with the paperwork needed to hire employees and handle the payroll.

Though 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 sets minimum wages, obligations for expert craftsmen to transfer their skills to apprentices, quality standards for builders, and healthcare obligations for owners of slaves.
  • The Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder in the first century AD, warned about the health hazards of handling zinc and sulphur and prescribed the use of protective masks made from animal bladder.
  • In 1556, the German scientist Georgious Agricola in his De Re Metallica describes occupational hazards and methods for improving occupational health.

But the modern usage comes from USA especially after WWII, when Personnel Management practitioners wanted to different PM from other managerial functions.

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

The first recorded modern dedication of a separate unit or department for HRM is from 1901 in USA. The National Cash Register Co. faced a disruptive strike yet won the battle with the unions. After this, the president of the company, John H. Patterson, organized a personnel department dedicated to improving worker relations by handling employee grievances, discharges, safety and other employee issues.

Though they were not called such, people dedicated to HRM functions started appearing in the USA in the 1920s when mass production started spreading. Personnel administrators were often called welfare secretaries in the 1920s. Much of the modern theoretical work on HRM began around this period. The studies conducted by George Elton Mayo (1880-1949), especially the Hawthorne Studies is credited as the foundation of the Human Relations Movement in management.

Only after WWII can we find specially designated units taking care of typical HRM functions. In many Western countries, collective bargaining defined industrial relations and HRM gained in importance.

From the 1960s, the rise of Japan as a commercial power also required efficient HR systems being adopted by the Japanese corporations.

Globally, the profile of HRM started becoming widely recognised by the 1980s. Universities and Business Schools started teaching 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 study in HRM.

In the first decade of 2000, there was a strong movement to see HR as a strategic partner to business rather than as a support function system. The most recent areas where HR has become involved are corporate social responsibility and sustainable growth as well as environmental concerns.