Antecedent theoretical developments
The Human Resources field began to take shape 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 concluded 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" (sometimes referred to as "Taylorism"), striving to improve economic efficiency in manufacturing jobs. He eventually focused 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 the National Institute of Industrial Psychology (NIIP) in 1921. In doing so, he set seeds for the human relations movement. This movement, 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 other studies 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 Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller) and in public policy (à la Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal) had transformed the employer-employee relationship, and the discipline became formalized as "industrial and 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 Gulag system.
During the latter half of the 20th century, union membership declined significantly, while workforce management continued to expand its influence within organizations. In the US, 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. "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 human resource management in operation. 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 the 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. The main character in the BBC sitcom dinnerladies, Philippa, is an HR manager. The protagonist of the Mexican telenovela Mañana Es Para Siempre is a director of human resources.