For most people, ‘Human Resources‘ is either a shadowy unknown entity that has an office in their building somewhere, or is defined by the very limited scope that their direct contact with it offers. Our beginner’s guides offer some insight into the actual processes involved with what is a very wide-ranging and varied sector, but what about the basics and origins of ‘Human Resources’?
Technically, human resources refers to the actual people who make up the workforce of a company, but is often used to describe the department or individuals that deal with managing this resource. Another word that is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘Human Resources’ to refer to the management of people, and one which was more popular in the last century is ‘personnel’, however similarly to the term human resources this technically refers to the individuals involved and not their management, and even in this case there is a slightly different meaning.
‘Human Resource Management’, which is what we are typically talking about when we refer to human resources is in simple terms made up of the attraction, selection, training, assessment, and rewarding of employees, and in many cases looking after a company’s compliance with employment and labour legislation. Employees at larger or complex firms will be most aware of these functions when it comes to things like recruitment, appraisals and assessments, or in more unfortunate circumstances disciplinary meetings.
The practice, or rather the awareness of such a function, developed during the early 20th century when business leaders, along with professionals like psychologists and sociologists realised that improvements in things like working conditions – as opposed to just pay – yielded increases in productivity in the workplace.
Today much of these working conditions are enshrined in law and seen as rights rather than privileges. Again larger firms will have a department entirely dedicated to human resources management, whilst others will have just one employee or even outsource much of the responsibilities, with the added advantage of objectivity.