Tracing the Origins of HR

Did you know that the origins of workforce management started in the Middle Ages to accommodate putting-out, a system of domestic manufacturing? This was later modified during the Industrial Revolution when factories replaced putting-out. It was much needed at the time as labourers worked for long hours in unhygienic and dangerous environments, causing labour riots across Western Europe. As a result, governments provided basic rights and protections for workers which all factories had to comply with. This led to the emergence of personnel management as a distinct profession that helped businesses abide by the rights and protections laws of the workers.

Workers in the fuse factory, Woolwich Arsenal

Dominated by an administrative nature, the personnel management approach attempted to mediate between the workers and factories, balancing the interests of each side. In addition, this role became responsible for handling issues like grievances, safety, dismissals, court cases, as well as record keeping and wage management. It has been reported that the National Cash Register Company (NCR) established the first personnel management department and other factories followed thereafter.

In the 1930’s, personnel management gained a more professional role. This era saw different labour demands as World War I and the Great Depression led to the enactment of certain provisions to ensure that issues relevant to wages and working conditions did not hinder production. After the famous Hawthorne Studies by Elton Mayo indicated that monetary rewards and physical safety was not the most important factor in motivating employees, personnel programmes evolved further to include sick benefits, vaccinations, holidays, and housing allowances.

The Hawthorne Studies

Historical events continued to shape the profession. For instance, gender and ethnic diversity was introduced to the workforce when large numbers of women and Native Americans who entered the workforce to replace the workers who went to war; later, educated baby boomers who believed in more creative, abstract ideas such as human rights and self-actualisation brought their own influence onto the profession of human resources.

1970's Hippies

Today, as we all live in the shadows of globalisation and the digital revolution, what do you expect the next big change in this sector will be?

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