Over the past century, the world has changed almost beyond recognition. For example, if you started working in an office in the 1970s, it was unlikely that you’d have had access to a PC. But by the 2000s, it became more unlikely that you could do your job without one!
All this change can be hard on everyone in the workplace. At the forefront of managing the well-being of both employees and the company is the human resources (HR) department. In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of HR to gain a better understanding of how modern HR departments can face the various challenges of the 21st-century.
The First Century of Human Relations
The industrial revolution transformed the way we work. As factories sprung up, thousands of people found themselves just another cog in the machine. Without HR as we know it today, working conditions were awful.
Early 20th Century: Employees Demand Better
At the close of WW1 people began to revolt against terrible working conditions. The 1920s saw the first glimmer of HRM (human resources management) as companies ahead of the curve set about introducing benefits and job security schemes.
The 1930s: The Hawthorne Experiments
In the 1930s, the Hawthorne Experiments recognized that a positive work environment can improve both productivity and employee well-being. This sowed the seeds for treating employees as humans and concepts such as work-life balance were born.
The 1940s: War Effort Leads to Employee Management
WW2 saw a momentous effort that required proper employee management and welfare to succeed. Employment policies put in place during the war effort proved that productivity could be improved by looking after staff, and the term ‘personnel management’ became integrated within the workplace.
The 1960s: Civil Rights
The cultural and political shift that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement saw groundbreaking legislation put into practice; The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While discrimination was banned on paper, it was up to HR departments to enforce it in the office.
The 1970s: Generation Clash
As baby boomers entered the workforce, tension arose between older and younger workers. It was down to HR to bridge the communication gap and create what we know as the modern workplace. Social science techniques were introduced and younger employees were given more say in terms of making decisions.
The 1980s to 2000: The Arrival of Human Resources Management
As globalization and improved communications technology changed the workplace once more, the competition got hotter and the stakes got higher. The challenge was to remain competitive on a global stage while motivating a workforce that didn’t have the job security that their parents had. The term ‘Human Resources Management (HRM)’ entered the mainstream, suggesting that employees were a valuable resource that needed to be treated well to function at their best and keep the business viable.
HR in the New Millennium (the 2000s/2010s)
Throughout the 20th-century, HR had developed into a considerable force, one that had helped create safer, more productive workplaces. At the dawn of the new millennium, more change was afoot with HR taking on ever-more roles:
- Managing employee rewards,
- employee relations,
- organization development and design,
- employee learning and development,
- correcting systems, policies & procedures
HR Takes on Social Issues: 2000–2010
The early 2000s saw gender initiatives put in place to create a fairer, more welcoming work environment for everyone. As with the civil rights movement before, while this was all well and good on paper, it was down to HR to reduce the gender inequalities that had dominated the workplace for so long.
As the 2010s approached, these efforts were bolstered as new employment laws that focused on diversity and inclusion were put into action. HR departments were now also responsible for creating inclusive, welcoming environments and dealing with any issues that arose along the way. The workplace was becoming more and more welcoming by the day.
Creating Desirable Workplaces
With opportunities for more people than ever, HR now had to concentrate on creating a workplace that employees would want to be a part of. The tech boom saw tens of thousands of new jobs created for highly trained people. Getting, and retaining talented workers became a priority.
In 2014, remote work emerged as a viable option. Pioneered by Google, the ability to work from home became an increasingly popular benefit throughout the latter half of the twenty-teens. However, it was largely confined to a small percentage of highly specialized workers. For the average worker, five days a week in the office was still the norm, and working from home remained a daydream.
But once again, things were about to change.
Global Pandemic Changes the Workplace Forever
With the COVID pandemic, HR departments around the world faced the momentous task of transforming millions of employees into remote workers, almost overnight. At the same time, they had to get used to working from home themselves.
However, some businesses were able to thrive during the pandemic. There’s no doubt that the efforts of HR ensured their success as they took care of turning millions of regular employees into remote workers and equipping them for success.
The pandemic changed things irrevocably and as we enter a new era it’s clear to see that remote work and work from anywhere (WFA) are here to stay. Nowadays, 21% of companies subsidize remote work arrangements, an incredible increase compared to pre-pandemic figures.
Post-Pandemic: What Are the Challenges Faced by HR Right Now?
As we return to a ‘new normal’, HR is being pushed to find ways of creating more flexible working practices. Having had a taste of remote work during the pandemic, millions of employees now know they can do their job from anywhere. They want to live better lives and enjoy greater freedom, and instead of work holding them back, they feel it should be propelling them forward.
For many businesses, however, allowing employees to work from anywhere isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Issues such as taxes and team communication can be a concern and tricky to overcome.
But by all accounts, WFA subsidies will soon become the norm and an essential benefit to adopt, in order to hold onto and attract top talent. Post pandemic human resources departments now have another new focus; making WFA work for both businesses and employees.
Summing Up: WFA and the Future of HR
Having looked over the history of HR, we know that the COVID pandemic isn’t the first major crisis to shake up the world of work. Once more, HR departments around the world will need to step up to the plate and manage the relationship between employee and employer.
One thing is for sure. The most pressing issue for HR at the moment is to implement more flexible working practices to keep talent loyal and engaged. Remote work and subsidized WFA benefits are here to stay and are two important tools they can use to this end.
Fortunately, your HR department isn’t alone in this task. At JIA, we offer a customizable employee reward and mobility solution and work-from-anywhere benefits program to help your business thrive in the new world of work. Contact us today to find out more.