It may not always be the case that human resources is afforded an entire dedicated department in all businesses. For many smaller firms it would prove impossible to even have one dedicated employee for managing all recruitment, training, development and other staff related issues, and these duties have to be covered in a less formal way.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we must acknowledge that there will be employees and even whole departments tasked with managing human resources who have little understanding of the principles behind it. In any case, having a good grasp of why we have human resources specialists and the different ideas that feed into the whole concept is very important for anyone managing any number of employees.
The ideas behind human resources (and the first uses of the actual term) have been traced back to the mid-late 19th century. Following the Industrial Revolution and rapid advances in production technology, the relationship between employee and employer was much more formal for a large proportion of the population. Misunderstandings and disagreements at work became more widespread and the need for processes and policies started to become apparent. It also became clear that efficiency could be improved through developing employees’ skills, and behaviour at work could be better understood and managed through a greater understanding of the circumstances of the individual.
Following this period during which the origins of the concept began to develop, economics remained an increasingly popular discipline and many of the key theories we still observe in action today originated from around the beginning of the 20th century. Labour was increasingly seen as a commodity that could be rationalised by looking at certain factors which contributed to an individual’s decisions. For example, skill level, geographical location, generational differences and societal structure have long been identified as key factors in understanding human resources in an analytical sense.
In more recent decades we have gradually seen a shift from the early approaches to human resources, with more complex and holistic views being favoured. Viewing people as a commodity or asset has long been considered controversial as it fails to account for most social factors in relation to employee wellbeing. Now the focus of human resources is often more broad, dealing with productivity and efficiency alongside matters like occupational health, improving motivation, encouraging creativity and enterprise, and generally developing a healthy working environment.