What is human resource management?


 — June 8th, 2021

What is human resource management?

Back in the day, when our hunter-gathering ancestors were scraping together a subsistence-based existence on the plains of Africa, the notion of division of labor and task specialization were not high on the list of priorities.

This all began to change as soon as we discovered the ability to create a surplus. It’s difficult to pin down exactly when this became a thing but best estimates are that when agriculture took hold in the fertile crescent, a region covering eastern Turkey, Iraq, and southwestern Iran some 10,000 years ago, in fairly short order the division of roles and the emergence of specialist workers began to occur. We know this thanks to tablets left behind from ancient Mesopotamia which give us accounts of how the world of work was changing... forever.

The ultimate guide to HR employee communications strategy

Job specialization

The development of specific jobs in ancient Mesopotamia led to increasing trade and economic growth. This allowed people to hone their time and energies on one set of tasks and not have to understand how to do all the jobs needed for civilization to blossom. This specialization created the first hierarchies in early society, as some jobs were deemed more important than others; this led to some people “having more authority and power over others, eventually forming a social class in Mesopotamia.”

You could argue that the long, often slow, yet steady emergence of ever-increasing specialization in the workplace continued at a snail’s pace until the start of the industrial revolution in western Europe from around 1760. That’s when the pace of job specialization went into relative overdrive as new roles popped up everywhere.

This is also when the notion of having to organize groups of people for optimum performance came onto the agenda. Initially, management was tasked with overseeing staff and ensuring targets were being met, yet the act of carrying this out quickly developed into a recognized, if somewhat simplistic, discipline called ‘personnel management. However, the shot in the arm for the discipline was unquestionably the first world war.

The emergence of early HRM

Suddenly much of the male workforce was being recruited for the battlefront, and swathes of the manufacturing industry, now on a war footing, needed to be re-staffed. En masse, women joined the vacated roles and it quickly became apparent that the old-style apprenticeship approach was no longer fit for purpose. Human resources had finally been recognized as crucial to helping the war effort. Its moment had arrived.

At its most basic, early HR (then known as personnel management) was about sourcing, hiring, and firing staff, and the focus was solely on people as a resource to be exploited to maximum corporate benefit. Yet increasing industrialization was continuing to drive the growth in ever greater numbers of discrete specialist roles within the organizational hierarchy of businesses.

Modern HR has been built upon this foundational bedrock, accumulating recognition as a discipline and developing in expertise over time.

Human Resources takes center-stage

Around the turn of the 1980s “human resources” began to be better understood. Where “personnel” more or less describes workers, acknowledgment of the “human” and “resource” monikers illustrated the acceptance of people in all things work-related and the value of employees per se. “It was as though a lightbulb had been switched on: these workers are actually valuable assets that can be nurtured, developed and encouraged to be loyal, bringing untold benefits to employer and employee alike.”

The modern view of HRM is one focused on recognizing the value of the human resource strategy to an organization’s competitive success; its ‘human capital’. It is also diverse, encompassing a range of skills and practices surrounding the development and management of employees in an organization.

HRM’s expanding role

Thus, contemporary views of Human Resource Management are very much focused on areas affecting a company’s human capital, including:

  • Recruitment and staff acquisition/retention
  • Financial compensation and work benefits
  • Training and development
  • Labor and employee relations
  • Organizational development
  • In part, due to this specialization, new categories of HR practitioners have emerged focusing on specific aspects of the practice. A sample of these new verticals includes:
  • Benefits specialist
  • Human resources practitioner
  • Employment services manager
  • Employment analyst
  • Training and development manager
  • Recruitment manager
  • Benefits counselor
  • Staff counselor

The degree of specialization occurring within an HR department will be dictated by the size of the company and the industry sector, amongst other internal and external factors. But the key takeaway is to recognize the changing face of HRM.

It has evolved to reflect new working practices and business demands and, according to experts in the field, this will continue as the drive to an ever more employee-centric employment culture develops.

So, whilst it is true to say that HRM was, and remains, about hiring and firing, today it is also so much more. Human Resource Management has become the science of all things relating to effective employment, before, during, and after an employee joins an organization.

What are the core functions of human resource management?

  • Human resource planning
  • Recruitment and selection
  • Performance management
  • Learning and development
  • Career planning
  • Function evaluation
  • Rewards
  • Industrial relations
  • Employee participation and communication
  • Health and safety
  • Personal wellbeing
  • Administrative responsibilities

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Why is HR so important?

It saves on costs

Saving on employee costs is important to every business. The HR department is essential when it comes to doing so, as it is their job to develop methods that reduce company spending on new hires.

One way the HR team achieves this is by staying up to date on workforce trends and understanding what salaries, incentives, and benefits other businesses in the market are offering potential recruits. This way, the HR department can offer employees they are looking to recruit a competitive salary without offering them more money than necessary.

It increases employee satisfaction

Another responsibility of the HR team is to ensure that employees throughout the organization maintain a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in their roles. Levels of employee satisfaction can be measured through the use of surveys that ask workers important questions about their employee experience.

The results of these surveys will determine if workers feel encouraged, motivated, and satisfied in their positions, or if changes need to be made.

The HR team can also work to understand the employee experience by carrying out exit interviews, in which they ask departing employees questions about their decision to leave the company and anything they feel can be improved upon for current employees.

It oversees training and development

HRM also incorporates overseeing the training and development of new, and current, employees. The HR department determines the skills and abilities workers must possess in order to be capable of carrying out their duties effectively.

Often, employees will be required to possess many of these skills in advance of being hired. However, in other cases training is provided by the organization to prepare employees for new roles. This is a great way for organizations to save money, as it can be less expensive to train employees themselves than to hire employees who already possess the necessary skills and who will most likely request a salary that reflects this.

It resolves conflict

Instances of conflict and dispute in the workplace are inevitable whether employees are satisfied in their roles or not. These disagreements can arise for a multitude of reasons including disputes on team projects, conflicting personalities, clashing work styles, or simple miscommunications. Such conflicts can occur between two employees or between a manager and their employee.

The HR team must be equipped to deal with both types of conflict and use the appropriate means to see positive working relationships restored. When conflict is dealt with, and not ignored, it will lead to employees who feel valued, respected, and more engaged in their roles.

It improves performance

The HR team works to develop performance management systems that allow them to effectively manage employee performance. The main purpose of these systems is to make certain that workers don’t end up in unsuitable roles that fail to align with their skills and experience.

Not only would ending up in such a position lead to unengaged and dissatisfied employees, but it would be bad for business, costing organizations money on employee salaries, without producing any useful employee contributions In return.

HR internal communications strategy: 3 steps to increasing employee engagement

How do you manage human resources?

Stay organized

Organization is key to the management of an efficient and capable HR department. With the numerous obligations of the department, it’s important that members of the team are capable of managing numerous tasks simultaneously without losing focus.

Have consistent communication

Due to the variety of people and departments HR professionals interact with and work alongside on a daily basis, it is vital that all members of the HR team are strong and capable communicators.

No matter what group or organization member the HR department is in contact with, it's crucial that clear and effective communication is maintained so that everyone involved is kept up to date and on the same page.

Make clarity a priority

The HR department must obtain as much clarity and detail as possible when it comes to making important decisions. For example, if an employee claims they have been discriminated against by their manager or co-worker, HR will require as much information as they can gather in order to determine what exactly has occurred and who, if anyone, is at fault.

Many times, HR teams will encounter situations that are vague, and they must understand how to utilize problem-solving skills and mediation to draw a fair and reasonable conclusion that will allow for those involved to overcome the issue and move on.

Maintain balance

It is the role of HR professionals to offer support and guidance to employees, but it is also their responsibility to ensure employees are carrying out their roles in line with company policy. The key is to allow employees to feel safe to share their opinions and concerns while making sure they understand that they too have a duty and responsibility to their employer.

Key Takeaway

HRM is an extremely important organizational function that takes responsibility for employees before, during, and after their employment with a company. Though HRM is multifaceted and constantly evolving, its main components include employee recruitment, hiring and firing, performance management, conflict resolution, training, and organizational development.

In addition, the HRM department enables employees to carry out their work effectively by providing an adequate working environment, creating a positive company culture, and making sure workers are equipped with the tools and skills they require to perform their duties. HRM is extremely beneficial to businesses as, among other things, it reduces spending, lowers retention, and leads to a workforce of satisfied and high-performing employees.

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