Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Earliest History of Human Resources

It occurs to me that we have never discussed the early history of Human Resources before.  Human
Resources is a resource for humans, but how did it get that way?  Holistically speaking, HR is the person, group, or team within an organization responsible for the management of people at a company.  The HR function has sometimes gone by other names such as Personnel or Industrial Relations.  As the HR function has expanded in larger organizations, it has transformed into departments specializing in areas such as Benefits, Payroll, Sourcing, Recruiting, HRIS Tech, or Public Affairs.  The most basic role filled by someone in HR is usually that of a Generalist.  Let’s talk about where HR came from?

The Earliest History of Human Resources

To see where Human Resources came from, we only need to go back about 100 years.  This is where we will find the seeds of the current HR career practitioner.  There are many great educational resources that you ought to check out to learn all of the details.  However, here’s the short version:

- In the latter part of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution led to large-scale production with large-scale employment.  As organizations grew, so did abuse of many of the employees under the management styles of the day.  To help battle this, the first trade and labor unions were formed during this period to push for standard working hours and higher pay.  The American Federation of Labor (AFL) was formed during this timeframe under leader Samuel Gompers.  Also, the first major labor regulations were passed by the Government including the Erdman Act which made it illegal to discriminate on employees for union membership.

Early 1900s
- At the dawn of the 20th century, a need for a manager devoted to human resources became clearer.  Urban worker conditions appeared to be declining.  Upton Sinclair’s book “The Jungle” was released in 1906, revealing deleterious worker conditions in the meatpacking industry.  Public awareness was raised.  Some companies took steps to improve relations with their workers.  B.F. Goodrich and National Cash Resister formed the earliest corporate HR departments; tracking records, wages, and grievances for the employees.

- Engineer F.W. Taylor releases his time-motion study “Principles in Scientific Management” in 1911; a historic work about boosting productivity among skilled and unskilled workers.  Henry Ford eventually utilized Taylor’s ideas in using the assembly line to manufacture cars.  In the UK, Seebohm Rowntree releases studies titled “The Land” about increasing productivity in agricultural workforces, and also “How the Labourer Lives” which studied poverty among agricultural workers.  Rowntree also organizes the inaugural meeting of the Welfare Workers Association, the first professional group devoted to Human Resources and employees.  Back in the US, the Department of Labor was formed in 1913 under the Taft administration to “foster, promote and develop the welfare of working people, to improve their working conditions, and to enhance their opportunities for profitable employment.

The changing developments in labor and employment resulting a growing number of companies to devote resources to forming HR departments.  These were professionals that could bridge the gap between management and labor; to help companies work with their employees as valued members of the team.  That is how HR began.

And remember all of you Human Resources professionals:  Be Human... Be a Resource...  Be a Resource for Humans.

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