Antecedent theoretical developments
The Human Resources field evolved first in 18th century Europe. It built on a simple idea by
Robert Owen (1771-1858) and
Charles Babbage (1791-1871) during the
industrial revolution. These men knew that people were crucial to the success of an
organization. They expressed the thought that the well-being of employees led to perfect work. Without healthy workers, the organization would not survive.
HR emerged as a specific field in the early 20th century, influenced by
Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856–1915). Taylor explored what he termed "scientific management" (others later referred to "Taylorism"), striving to improve economic efficiency in manufacturing jobs. He eventually keyed in on one of the principal inputs into the manufacturing process—labor—sparking inquiry into workforce productivity.
Meanwhile, in England
C S Myers, inspired by unexpected problems among soldiers which had alarmed generals and politicians in the First World War of 1914-1918, co-founded in 1921 the
National Institute of Industrial Psychology
 (NIIP), setting seeds for the
human relations movement, which on both sides of the Atlantic built on the research of
Elton Mayo (1880-1949) and others to document through the
Hawthorne studies (1924–1932) and others how stimuli, unrelated to financial compensation and working conditions, could yield more productive workers.
 Work by
Abraham Maslow (1908–1970),
Kurt Lewin (1890–1947),
Max Weber (1864–1920),
Frederick Herzberg (1923–2000), and
David McClelland (1917–1998), forming the basis for studies in
industrial and organizational psychology,
organizational behavior and
organizational theory, was interpreted in such a way as to further claims of legitimacy for an applied discipline.
Birth and development of the discipline
By the time enough theoretical evidence existed to make a
business case for strategic workforce management, changes in the
business landscape (à la
John Rockefeller) and in public policy (à la
Franklin D. Roosevelt and the
New Deal) had transformed the employer-employee relationship, and the discipline became formalized as "
labor relations". In 1913 one of the oldest known
professional HR associations—the
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)—started in England as the Welfare Workers' Association; it changed its name a decade later to the Institute of Industrial Welfare Workers, and again the next decade to Institute of Labour Management before settling upon its current name in 2000.
 Likewise in the United States, the world's first institution of higher education dedicated to workplace studies—the
School of Industrial and Labor Relations—formed at
Cornell University in 1945.
 In 1948 what would later become the largest professional HR association—the
Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)—formed as the American Society for Personnel Administration (ASPA).
In the Soviet Union, meanwhile,
Stalin's use of patronage exercised through the "HR Department" equivalent in the
Bolshevik Party, its
Orgburo, demonstrated the effectiveness and influence of human-resource policies and practices,
 and Stalin himself acknowledged the importance of the human resource, such as in his mass deployment of it in the
During the latter half of the 20th century,
union membership declined significantly, while workforce management continued to expand its influence within organizations. In the USA, the phrase "industrial and labor relations" came into use to refer specifically to issues concerning
collective representation, and many companies began referring to the proto-HR profession as "personnel administration". Many current HR practices originated with the needs of companies in the 1950s to develop and retain talent.
In the late 20th century, advances in transportation and communications greatly facilitated workforce mobility and collaboration. Corporations began viewing employees as assets rather than as cogs in a machine. "Human resources management" consequently,
became the dominant term for the function—the ASPA even changing its name to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in 1998.
Human capital management" (HCM
) is sometimes used synonymously with "HR", although "human capital" typically refers to a more narrow view of human resources; i.e., the knowledge the individuals embody and can contribute to an organization. Likewise, other terms sometimes used to describe the field include "organizational management", "manpower management", "talent management", "personnel management", and simply "people management".
In popular media
Several popular media productions have depicted HR. On the U.S. television series of
The Office, HR representative
Toby Flenderson is sometimes seen as a nag because he constantly reminds coworkers of company policies and government regulations.
 Long-running American comic strip
Dilbert frequently portrays sadistic
HR policies through character
Catbert, the "evil director of human resources".
 An HR manager is the title character in the 2010 Israeli film
The Human Resources Manager, while an HR intern is the protagonist in 1999 French film
Ressources humaines. Additionally, the main character in the BBC sitcom
dinnerladies, Philippa, is an HR manager. The protagonist of the Mexican
Mañana Es Para Siempre is a Director of Human Resources.