The Historical Background of Human Resource Management

    September 6, 2006

Human resource management has changed in name various times throughout history.

The name change was mainly due to the change in social and economic activities throughout history.

Industrial Welfare

Industrial welfare was the first form of human resource management (HRM). In 1833 the factories act stated that there should be male factory inspectors. In 1878 legislation was passed to regulate the hours of work for children and women by having a 60 hour week.

During this time trade unions started to be formed. In 1868 the 1st trade union conference was held. This was the start of collective bargaining. In 1913 the number of industrial welfare workers had grown so a conference organized by Seebohm Rowntree was held.

The welfare workers association was formed later changed to Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Recruitment and Selection

It all started when Mary Wood was asked to start engaging girls during the 1st world war. In the 1st world war personnel development increased due to government initiatives to encourage the best use of people.

In 1916 it became compulsory to have a welfare worker in explosive factories and was encouraged in munitions factories. A lot of work was done in this field by the army forces.

The armed forces focused on how to test abilities and IQ along with other research in human factors at work.

In 1921 the national institute of psychologists established and published results of studies on selection tests, interviewing techniques and training methods.

Acquisition of other Personnel Activities

During the 2nd world war the focus was on recruitment and selection and later on training; improving morale and motivation; discipline; health and safety; joint consultation and wage policies.

This meant that a personnel department had to be established with trained staff.

Industrial Relations

Consultation between management and the workforce spread during the war. This meant that personnel departments became responsible for its organization and administration.

Health and safety and the need for specialists became the focus. The need for specialists to deal with industrial relations was recognized so that the personnel manager became as spokesman for the organization when discussions where held with trade unions/shop stewards.

In the 1970’s industrial relations was very important. The heated climate during this period reinforced the importance of a specialist role in industrial relations negotiation.

The personnel manager had the authority to negotiate deals about pay and other collective issues.


In the 1970’s employment legislation increased and the personnel function took the role of the specialist advisor ensuring that managers do not violate the law and that cases did not end up in industrial tribunals.

Flexibility and Diversity

In the 1990’s a major trend emerged where employers were seeking increasing flexible arrangements in the hours worked by employees due to an increase in number of part-time and temporary contracts and the invention of distance working.

The workforce and patterns of work are becoming diverse in which traditional recruitment practices are useless.

In the year 2000, growth in the use of internet meant a move to a 24/7 society. This created new jobs in e-commerce while jobs were lost in traditional areas like shops. This meant an increased potential for employees to work from home.

Organizations need to think strategically about the issues these developments raise. HRM managers role will change as changes occur.

Information Technology

Some systems where IT helps HRM are:

– Systems for e-recruitment;

– On-line short-listing of applicants;

– Developing training strategies on-line;

– Psychometric training;

– Payroll systems;

– Employment data;

– Recruitment administration;

– References;

– Pre-employment checks.

IT helps HR managers offload routine tasks which will give them more time in solving complex tasks. IT also ensures that a greater amount of information is available to make decisions.


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