What is HR?

What is HR?  What is the definition of Human Resource Management?  The birth of human resource management practices can probably be traced back to the industrial revolution.  Prior to that people had worked at home-based crafts, or as travelling craftsmen, or in agriculture.  The creation of work in factories meant that the relationship between management and employee needed to be managed, time-keeping records kept, and large payrolls had to be processed.  Various titles have been used, such as: labour management, personnel management, employment relations, and many other variations, but the terms personnel management and personnel administration predominated for some time.  

Before the first world war there was a massive increase in the number of people employed in factories.  In order to organise their work and improve productivity, Frederick Taylor developed the use of "scientific" management processes.  This is probably also the source of the "right" person for the job. 

Psychological knowledge and tests that had been developed for the American army formed the basis for early psychological tests of potential factory recruits, and industrial psychology was established as the foundation for the management of people at work, including for training, performance management, and employee motivation.

During the 1920s and '30s, the well known Hawthorne research was conducted by Elton Mayo and colleagues at Harvard University.  The research demonstrated the relationship between individual performance and external factors such as lighting levels, how rest breaks were taken and the setting of work and productivity standards.  The emphasis was on employees as individuals and the social factors of work.  This clearly differentiated the management of people from the other factors of capital and resources.

Personnel management evolved into human relations management and human resource management over the next few decades.  The former continued the focus on the employee as a social being responding well to the softer and more considerate forms of management - arising from the work of Maslow, Argyris and Herzberg amongst others.  Herzberg is known specifically for his work on what motivates employees and his identification of "hygiene factors" such as good pay levels and work relationships.  The human resource title as it implies focuses on the employee as a resource - comparable with other resources.  Taking this concept further leads to human capital management - following Becker and later Likert who introduced the measurement of human resource factors.

Debates continue about the difference between personnel and HR management.  One fairly widely held view is that personnel deals with the transactional aspects of day to day management of people at work, where human resource management has a more strategic focus, and is integrated into the overall business strategy.