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Malcolm Rowlings

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The Definitive History of HR


Human resources is an integral part of any business, which ensures that employee issues can be resolved quickly and easily. This department is a relatively new department which has evolved within the last century to reach its present state. By understanding how HR has changed over the years, it is easy to see where the future of the industry is heading.


Ancient Predecessors of Modern HR

The first nation to develop concepts and practices which would later become HR was ancient China. The Chinese had an extremely detailed and thorough government system that focused on following rules and procedures. Before ancient Rome even existed, China already had a department of employees that focused on hiring other employees and ensuring that they maintained the standards of the government. The other founders of HR techniques were the medieval Italians and 16th century British, who both used HR techniques to organize and control their large armies.


Early Beginnings in the Industrial Revolution

When the Industrial Revolution began in the 18th century, factories became the keystone of European and American economies. Vast quantities of people were hired to work in factories for up to 16 hours of each day. There was a great deal of unrest, because employers could mistreat their workers, fire them randomly, pay them almost nothing, dock their pay for ridiculous reasons, and keep them for joining unions. After many strikes and demonstrations in the late 1800s and early 1900s, employers began to realize that safe and happy employees were more productive. Personnel departments began to appear that focused on maintaining health and safety requirements, fair recruitment processes, meeting union standards, and resolving issues between employees, other employees, and the management department.


HR After the Fair Labor Standards Act

Once the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was created, HR began to change rapidly. This act mandated a minimum wage and ensured that employees had basic rights. Many businesses set up teams that worked with the personnel department to ensure that employees health and safety concerns were resolved and the business complied to federal regulations. During this time, trade unions had an enormous amount of power, and HR began to work with them to meet the demands and needs of employees. HR departments also began to work on managing performance, succession, and employee training for the first time.


Post World War II HR

In the economic boom of the 1950s, HR took on more and more duties. The staff started influencing business decisions, and the HR department began working with the management more and more. HR staff continued to help resolve employee disputes and ensuring compliance with federal laws, but they also started advising management about downsizing, employee training, recruiting, and outsourcing. Employee benefits, including pensions and health insurance, became more common, and managing these benefits also became a task for HR.


HR in the Information Age

With new technology, HR evolved faster than it ever had before. Businesses are often global now, instead of remaining local, so HR departments must be able to keep track of a variety of different regulations across international boundaries. In the modern multicultural environment, HR departments also focus on encouraging diversity in the workplace and accommodating different cultural beliefs. Though the information age has created new challenges for HR departments, it has also made some aspects easier. HR software companies create programs that make many of the tasks of HR departments easier to manage. As the department continues to evolve, HR seems likely to have a stronger influence on leadership. With technology taking over the basic day to day management of the HR department, more member of HR have time to focus on customizing the employee experience and increasing innovation to create a workplace that is both happy and productive.


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