Human Resources has come a long way from the old days of hiring, firing, and payroll. Early on, many of the essential functions we see as synonymous with HR were wrapped up into the wider job functions of management.
But, with time and the expansion of industrial relations throughout the 20th century, Personnel Management slowly emerged as a discrete function which ultimately morphed into today’s Human Resources.
HR – So what has changed?
Quite a lot is wrapped up in the modern title ‘Human Resources’. Today the perception is that HR is about recognizing that employees are assets that, ideally, need to be nurtured and developed to bring maximum value to the organization and its strategic goals.
Karen E. May argues that there was a move to recognize the vital role that personnel management should play in the wider objectives of the organization and to, ”contribute to significant business decisions, advise on critical transitions, and develop the value of the employees – in short, to have a seat at the table.”
This didn’t happen overnight of course and, throughout the 20th century, many thinkers on the subject of industrial organization developed the discipline to the point where today we see it as an intrinsic and vital aspect of a successful company. Gone are the days when we simply see HR as the people that make sure you get hired, paid and fired.
Beyond recruitment, let’s look at what Human Resources does for employees.
Resolving conflict in the workplace may be one of the single most important activities an HR department can undertake. It’s the act of ensuring the quick resolution of disputes, whether between individual employees or staff and management, which will maximize human capital being utilized to focus on core organizational objectives.
Typically HR should consider stepping in to resolve workplace conflict when:
- There are warning signs that staff may resign over an issue. Remember that hiring and training replacement staff takes both time and money. It is almost always better to address the source of negative conflict as the first best solution.
- Workplace disputes are getting personal and staff trust and respect for each other is being eroded.
- Disagreements are having a knock-on effect on staff morale and affecting performance.
There was a time when the greater mass of people were hired to turn up, do their job and collect a pay packet at the end of the week. By and large, in the western world, the dynamic has become considerably more complex and HR thinking has come to see people as the single most valuable resource to company success.
As this transition in perspective came to the fore, so too did the recognition that retaining good staff meant re-skilling and adding value to their repertoire of abilities over time, such that they could enhance their contribution to the business. This is why training isn’t just something that ought to happen when new employees join a firm but throughout a person’s tenure. It should be throughout the organization and available to all levels of staff.
Where training leads, so career development follows. This aspect, in the growing arsenal of resources HR, can bring to bear, is arguably invaluable in saving the organization the expense of re-hiring to replace valuable staff lost to the marketplace for lack of career opportunities within their current job.
Talent is valuable and replacing it will take time, resources and money. If HR develops coherent career path development options for staff who would otherwise be hard to replace in the market, it reduces the chances of employees walking off into the arms of a competitor.
Having valuable staff who are underperforming due to health or personal problems is clearly an area where HR can have a positive effect. Staff needs to know that HR is there to help its staff if and when issues arise.
Engaging with staff health and wellbeing issues could ultimately save the organization in lost man-hours due to underperformance and absence from work. Latterly, the issue of mental well-being has been encompassed by companies who recognize that health is more than whether someone has a cold that takes them off work for a few days.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, performance appraisals are one of a wide array of management measures which seek to ensure that employees’ performance “contributes to business objectives, and should be used as part of a holistic approach to managing performance.”
In many workplaces, it has become common practice for line managers to give performance appraisals over the staff who fall within their department. However, issues inevitably arise when it comes to ensuring that one line manager is applying the same methodology and approach as his or her peers.
Especially where performance appraisals have implications on people’s future promotional and remuneration prospects, HR can play a vital role in ensuring that managers are being given guidance on how to apply appraisal criteria equitably. This, in turn, will minimize potential negative conflict in the workplace and reassure staff that they are not being treated unfairly by their bosses.
Advice on managing staff
Not all people are equally comfortable with handling the dynamics of a work environment and managing teams. In recent years the move to ever-more knowledge-based economies means that managers need to constructively intervene in the workplace to create the right conditions to get the most from staff whose most valuable asset is what’s between their ears, and not their ability to work on a production line — sometimes termed their ‘intellectual capital’.
This is a natural place where Human Resources should seek to provide advice and support to management at all levels to ensure that the necessary people skills are imbued into the workplace culture. In doing so HR can help facilitate the success of the wider business in ensuring management recognizes the most effective methods for maximizing the intellectual capital of their team.
The bright future for HR in the organization
We have touched on a number of areas where contemporary HR engages with the needs of employees at the individual level and in facilitating effective management practices. However, it would be equally valid to turn the question on its head and ask, what doesn’t HR do for employees?
In the early part of the 21st century, HR has become a central support pillar of modern organizations. Effectively implemented, Human Resources should touch on most aspects of employee and organizational life. As author and Futurist Jacob Morgan see it, “What used to be viewed by many as one of the least exciting areas of an organization is now one of the most dynamic places to work. Human resources are evolving into more than just hiring and firing and having a huge impact on the employee experience and the future of work.”