What is Human Resources? : workipedia.co

What is Human Resources?

Human Resources Management (HRM) can best be defined as a system of activities and strategies that focus on successfully managing employees at all levels of an organization to achieve organizational goals (Byres, Rue, 2006).  The term HRM or Human Resources Development (HRD) can have many different titles (i.e. Human Capital Management, People Operations, Organizational Effectiveness),  but its essential function is to manage the employee lifecycle within an organization.

The employee lifecycle begins with recruiting an employee, retaining the employee, and retiring an employee. Within this simple lifecycle there are numerous complex activities and programs of Human Resources (HR) responsibility such as recruitment & selection, employee and labour relations, benefits and pension, pay and rewards, performance management, training & development, health & wellness and retention activities, all of which can vary in complexity dependent on size, sector and scope of responsibility. Organizational Development, Change Management and Conflict Management are also specialized fields within the domain of HRM.

Human Resources (HR) positions within organizations fall into one of two categories, i.e. generalist and specialist. Generalists support employees directly with their questions, grievances, and project’s. They may handle all aspects of human resources work, and thus require an extensive range of knowledge – specialists conversely work in a specific human resource function (Obedgiu 2016).

HRM is rooted in many disciplines. There exist five disciplines in the physical and social sciences (economics, psychology, sociology, psychology, industrial/organizational psychology) from where applied social science field such as HRD are derived (Kuchinke 2001). HRD is a recognized area of professional practice and emerging area of interdisciplinary academic study (Jacobs 1990).

Human Resources Roots

The Humanitarian, Cooperative and Marxist theories of the early 1900s highlighted the potential conflicts between employee and employer interests in modern industry-situations that lay the foundations for the growth of trade unionism and industrial relations which are important elements of contemporary HRM (Nankervis et al., 2011).  Two dominating management theories involving the way people worked evolved from this time period that would influence and shape HRM literature to come. Scientific Management(Taylor, 1911) and the Hawthorne’s Studies (Mayo, Elton 1933) are theories of management that analyzed the way people work in an attempt to understand factors that would lead to improved worker productivity.

During the 1940’s to 1960’s we see an emergence of “Motivational Theories” beginning with Maslow’s Needs (Maslow, 1943), Maslow proposed that human beings have five basic needs

(psychological,  safety, love, esteem and self-actualization) and theorized that these needs formed a hierarchy, with each need being met before moving to the next. Three more theories of motivation emerged during this time period. McGregor’s Theory (McGregor, 1957), or the theory of X&Y management was based on the idea that the way employees worked would determine if they should be managed by X managers (strict manager control) or Y managers (motivational).

The Herzberg Theory  (Herzberg 1959) in contrast focused only on factors that would cause job satisfaction or dissatisfaction to determine worker productivity, while the  McClelland Theory (McClelland 1961), argued that people have three basic motivators, a need for achievement, a need for affiliation, and a need for power.  It is also during this time period that we also see several key pieces of legislation emerge that enforces employee protection with Ontario’s first “Equal Pay Legislation” (1951), “Fair Accommodation Practices Act” (1954), the passage of the “Ontario Human Rights Code” (1962) and the “Occupational Health & Safety Act” (1964). (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Ontario_history).

HRM during this time period was labelled “Personnel Management” and its perceived value lay in its administration and its application to rules, and regulations.

The term “human resource” (HR) can be traced back to Peter F. Drucker (1954) in The Practice of Management. According to Drucker, all businesses depend on three factors of production; the human resource, the capital resource and the physical resource. This is perhaps one of the first linkages that ties the human resources function to organizational outcomes in literature.

The developing and mature phases of personnel management from the 1940s to the 1970s saw an increase in the status and professionalisation of the personnel function, particularly in relation to industrial relations (IR) matters (Armstrong 1997).

The 1980’s give way to 42 years of conservative government rule in Ontario that began in 1943 and ended 1985.(Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario ) This changing political landscape witnessed changes within Ontario such as the Free Trade Agreement (1987) and the recession of the 1990’s which enabled a low Canadian dollar as a driver for private sector manufacturing operations to leave Ontario. A new era emerges as Ontario begins to transition its economy to one that is knowledge based.

It is at this time that we see the formation of a governing body for the profession of Human Resources in Ontario and regulation of the HRM function ( Retrieved from: https://www.hrpa.ca/ about-hrpa/history). This time period also brings a boom of HRM research & literature growth as the HRM function begins to draw interdisciplinary connections to the practice of HRM.   The table below outlines a brief overview of HRM research helping to shape the profession

From this backdrop, a new title for the function of HRM emerges called “Strategic Human Resources Management” (SHRM) which can be defined as “the pattern of planned human resources deployments and activities intended to enable an organization to achieve its goals”(Wright, McMahan 1992).  While this new title has been around for 30 years, the concept of SHRM does not appear to be well understood, either by organizational leaders or human resources practitioners, which brings about the question of perceived relevance for this profession.

Does HR have a knowledge / practice gap?

In a study titled “HR Professional’s beliefs about effective human resources practice” (Rynes, Colbert, & Brown 2002), surveyed five thousand human resources professionals regarding the extent to which they agreed to various research findings”. Their results suggest that “there are in fact very large differences across companies in what their HR leaders know about best practices in HR and furthermore that the average level of knowledge does not appear to be very impressive” (Rynes, Colbert, Brown 2002). Most insights from HR research do not reach the practitioner – despite the existence of evidence-based guides written with practice in mind (Latham, Locke 2009).  

Perceptions of the effectiveness of HRM from a line managers or senior executives outline the gap in how the HR function views itself in comparison to its stakeholder’s with studies showing HR practitioners consistently rating themselves higher on effectiveness of practice. A study conducted in China by (Mitsushashi et al., 2000) concluded that “Line Executives perceived HR performance effectiveness as significantly lower in functional areas than HR Executives. Therefore, they concluded that HR departments were not meeting the performance expectations of line executives (Yusoff, Abdullah, Ramayag 2009). In the article “Executive Perceptions about the Effectiveness of HR” (Daniels 2013), surveyed 18 corporate executives across North America to rate the overall effectiveness of their  HR using a Likert scale, with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best.  The results landed at 3.66 –“roughly translating into perhaps a grade of C+ at best” (Daniel, 2013).

It would seem that the evidence does exist for knowledge – practice gap in the profession of HR through the literature on Private sector manufacturing. Yet similar research-practice gaps do not exist in other professional fields such as dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, law, and engineering, where much of the research carried out in universities relating to these particular professions is done in collaboration with organizations and professional bodies and is perceived by practitioners as having direct relevance and utility for informing and shaping professional practice  (Hamlin 2006).

Is HR more advanced in the private sector versus the public sector?

Research on sectoral comparison of the HRM function indicates that HRM is more advanced in private companies than in public sector companies (Vanhala, Stavrou 2013).  This is concerning given the knowledge – practice gap uncovered through the literature review on the perceptions of line managers versus HRM practitioners in the private sector which suggests a lower maturity level for the profession within the public sector.

While the literature on HRM has focused on private sector organizations within the context of linking HRM practices to manufacturing output. There has been very limited research on public sector organizations in relation to HRM outcomes.

 A study of the Health STAR data base, which contains most of the healthcare management and administration journals for the years 1990 – 2005, provides insight into HRM research in the health care. Using 4 keywords: personnel management, HR management, nurse turnover, and strategic HR management the results returned the following hits. Personnel management received 252 hits, HR

management 10, nurse turnover 122, and strategic HR management 1 (Khatri 2006).  It is interesting to note that the term SHRM received 0 hits.

With the thrust of HR research arising from private sector where production output and employee productivity draws causal links, how then do we define HRM in the public sector space, specifically in hospitals, where concepts of “production” and “employee productivity” are not perceived as being conducive to quality patient care, and where the linkage of HRM practices to patient outcomes cannot be so easily traced to the services provided by HR practitioners? 

Similar to other organizations, hospitals are concerned with maximizing effectiveness through the adoption of appropriate management policies and practices. Unlike most other organizations, however, “effectiveness” in hospitals can be measured partly by their success in treating illness and avoiding deaths. Also unlike many other sectors, little research has examined and identified the management policies and practices that promote effectiveness in hospital settings (West et al. 2006). Despite the substantial differences between public and private organizations, there is no clear distinction in HR literature addressing how those differences may impact the practice of HRM in these different work environments (Vanhala, Stavrou, 2013).

Health care organizations are highly service orientated and knowledge intensive, and HR’s role is crucial in such a business context (Khatri 2006).  The centrality of human capital to professional service organisations would suggest that professional (Human Resources Management) HRM should play a pivotal co-ordinating role in such organisations. However, to date this has not been evident (Forstenlechner et al., 2007).

A study linking HRM to patient mortality titled ‘Reducing patient mortality in hospitals: The role of human resource management (West et al. 2006), studied HRM practices in 81 acute care hospitals which revealed a “number of important and intriguing theoretical questions.”  Their results “suggest that HR systems are related to the quality of healthcare and specifically patient mortality in hospitals and that “people management systems that emphasize a set of complimentary “high involvement” policies and practices (i.e., an emphasis on training, performance management, participation, decentralization decision making, involvement teams and employment security) may be successful in contributing to high quality healthcare (West et al. 2006).