The History of (Strategic) Human Resource Management

There is a broad confusion about the use of the terms ‘Personnel Management’ and ‘Human Resource Management’. Both refer to workforce management or people management which Ian Henderson (2011, p. 2) defined as “All the management decisions and actions that directly affect or influence people as members of the organisation rather than as job-holders”.

Flippo (1976) elaborated 40 years ago that personnel management is the planning, organizing, directing, and controlling of the procurement, development, compensation, integration and maintenance of people for the purpose of contributing to organizational, individual and societal goals while Bratton and Gold (2012, p. 7) explain that HRM “is a strategic approach to managing employment relations which emphasises that leveraging people’s capabilities is critical to achieving sustainable competitive advantage” this being achieved through “a distinctive set of integrated employment policies, programmes and practices embedded in an organisational and societal context”.

Of course there was people management before HRM and even before personnel management which was mostly the management, the administration of people as resources. Workers were mostly treated like machinery or any other – natural – resources though history showed that even employers in earlier centuries showed ethical and moral behaviour towards their people.

We will take a short excurse through the history of people management to then have a closer look at what HRM really is and what it distinguishes from traditional personnel management and how strategic human resource management came into being. Some lecturers and academics, to complete confusion, then even further talk of international strategic human resource management.

The 19th century

At the end of the 19th century, with welfare officers or welfare secretaries coming into being, the history of personnel management began. Mostly women at that time they were concerned with the protection of girls and women at work. Growing influence of trade unions, the labour movement, and the ‘industrial betterment’, a campaign by enlightened, mostly Quaker, employers required the creation of a new occupational profile as a personnel manager. The harshness of industrial conditions often created tensions between the moral commitment to protect women and children and the ever increasing need for higher outputs and increasing profits which again was dictated by increasing competition on growing international markets.

The early 20th century

Developments in Europe, mostly the First World War, accelerated the change in the development of personnel management. Men being drafted women being in large numbers had to fill the gaps on the labour market. The 1920s brought about job titles like ‘labour manager’ or ‘employment manager’ when mass production started. In all the sectors and industries large factories made it necessary that absence, recruitment, dismissal and queries over bonuses and so on needed to be handled. Industrial relations, as we call it today, developed. Employers’ federations, particularly in engineering and shipbuilding, and workers’ unions negotiated national pay rates, however always they left enough space for disputes.

The 1930s

In the 1930s, as the world economy began to recover, the new large corporations in the new mass production industries recognised the value and need to improve employee’s benefits as new means of recruitment, staff retention and employee motivation. The more traditional industries as farming, mining, shipbuilding, textiles, which had less difficulty recruiting employees did rarely adopt those new approaches.

... to be continued ...


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