How has management’s attitude toward human resources changed in the past couple of decades? What factors have influenced this change?
In past decades we used the term “Personnel” or “Personnel Management” instead of today’s designation of “Human Resources” (HR). In part, the evolution and changes in employee management are embodied in the distinctions that may be drawn between “Personnel Management” and “Human Resources”.
Personnel Management typically encompasses the most basic aspects of employee management, hiring and firing, payroll and compliance with the law.
Today, Human Resources embodies a whole host of activities that ensure that the right personnel are hired, all laws are obeyed, benefits are correctly administered, and a wide range of employee issues common to the modern workplace are optimally handled.
Whereas the Personnel department was focused and run independently, HR is an integral part of the organization in which all managers, to some extent, participate. There is the realization that the employees represent the key asset of the organization that allows it to thrive.
Issues that are the prevue of the modern HR department include such diverse areas as employment law, screening and evaluating applicants, sexual harassment, discrimination, workman’s compensation, employee counseling, administration of health plans and other benefits, and union relations. The activities of the HR department are varied, and are applied to such areas as job performance and evaluation, discipline, mentoring, motivation, safety, education and dealing with employee health and injuries.
In the past, Management relied on the Personnel department to merely hire and fire employees, and administer employee benefits according to the law.
Today, Management considers HR to be an integral and essential major department to be relied upon daily for the ongoing overall success of the enterprise. Part and parcel of this concept is the expansion of the modern HR department to include skilled professionals with formal HR training and experience, supervised by a management level HR Director who reports directly to the Chief Executive or Operations Officer.
With respect to Personnel Management over the past few decades, we have gone from one or two non-professional employees responsible for basic paper work, payroll and hiring and firing, to a major HR division headed by a key corporate officer and a trained, skilled and certified staff whose goal is to hire, retain, train, motivate, educate, and nurture the best possible staff in order to accomplish the organization’s mission.
The main change is reflected in the name “human resources.” Once called “personnel,” as in Personnel Department, the department’s name – Human Resources Department – by implication turns people into objects, as though there is a supply closet, with supplies in it, like a closet with “cleaning supplies,” or a warehouse with "resources" stored there. Secondly, statistics on unemployment and similar statistical measurements tend to quantify the workforce like a number in an economic equation, also dehumanizing. Next, "company loyalty" and "job security" are terms no longer valid in today’s economy. There is also the cost of now assumed “fringe benefits” – of which health insurance is the most problematic, because it brings an emplyee's daily habits -- smoking, overeating, etc.--into the mix; unions are weaker now, also, especially in pay-rate negotiations. Finally, Federal and state laws regarding employees’ rights – firing for cause, for example – have changed the employer-employee relationship. Add to all this the pervasive entrance of women in all levels of a company’s hierarchy, virtually doubling the hiring pool, and management’s attitude toward human resources is entirely changed from our parents’ generation.
The very name change, from "Personnel" to "Human Resources" reflects the change in business' attitude: the work force is treated as just another material asset, to be stored, used up, replaced, etc., just like raw masterials or office supplies. The change can be attributed to many factors: globalization of work force, weakening of unions, but mainly a free-enterprise flaw: the concentration on "the bottom line, a mentality that removes social and moral considerations from the decision-making process. The chief executive officer is graded only by the stock value, and, since much of his or her own personal wealth is based on stock options, etc., there is no incentive to insert social goods (insurance, retirements, etc.) into the equation. When the payroll is the biggest number on the balance sheet, no CEO can resist the pressure to get rid of personnel, and the CEO and the Human Resources Director quickly discover that giving one person two duties and firing one person works fine, because that person is only a "human resource."