Managing the Human Factor

Managing the Human Factor: The Early Years of Human Resource Management in American Industry

Bruce E. Kaufman
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 392
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.ctt7zfmd
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    Managing the Human Factor
    Book Description:

    Human resource departments are key components in the people management system of nearly every medium-to-large organization in the industrial world. They provide a wide range of essential services relating to employees, including recruitment, compensation, benefits, training, and labor relations. A century ago, however, before the concept of human resource management had been invented, the supervision and care of employees at even the largest companies were conducted without written policies or formal planning, and often in harsh, arbitrary, and counterproductive ways.

    How did companies such as United States Steel manage a workforce of 160,000 employees at dozens of plants without a specialized personnel or industrial relations department? What led some of these organizations to introduce human resources practices at the end of the nineteenth century? How were the earliest personnel departments structured and what were their responsibilities? And how did the theory and implementation of human resources management evolve, both within industry and as an academic field of research and teaching?

    In Managing the Human Factor, Bruce E. Kaufman chronicles the origins and early development of human resource management (HRM) in the United States from the 1870s, when the Labor Problem emerged as the nation's primary domestic policy concern, to 1933 and the start of the New Deal. Through new archival research, an extensive review and synthesis of the historical and contemporary literatures, and case studies illustrating best (and worst) practices during this period, Kaufman identifies the fourteen ideas, events, and movements that led to the creation of specialized HRM departments in the late 1910s, as well as their further growth and development into strategic business units in the welfare capitalism period of the 1920s.

    The research presented in this book not only uncovers many new aspects of the early development of personnel and industrial relations but also challenges central parts of the contemporary interpretation of the concept and evolution of HRM. Rich with insights on both the present and past of human resource management, Managing the Human Factor will be widely regarded as the definitive account of the early history of employee management in American companies and a must-read for all those interested in the indispensable function of managing people in organizations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6166-8
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-35)

    This book chronicles the birth and early development of what was originally called personnel management (PM) and industrial relations (IR), but which today is widely known as human resource management (HRM). HRM and its predecessors have an intellectual and vocational side: in the former case they comprise an area of scientific research and university teaching, in the latter they represent an area of management practice and consulting in companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.

    Today human resource management is widespread, firmly established, and the subject of a voluminous academic and practitioner literature. Nearly every medium-to large-size organization in the United...

  2. (pp. 36-54)

    A brief review of the existing literature on the birth and early development of HRM helps put this study in context and highlights important issues and contributions. Well-regarded works by historians are considered first since they are the most substantive and in-depth on the subject. Following next are three synopses (“stories”) of the birth and early development of HRM, emanating respectively from scholars in human resource management, industrial relations, and the neo-Marxist labor process tradition.

    Writing in 1919, economist Sumner Slichter remarked, “The subject of handling men has been strangely neglected in works on management.”¹ Not much changed in the...

  3. (pp. 55-135)

    The birth, emergence, and early development of a formalized, autonomous human resource management function in American industry occurred over a roughly half-century period, beginning in the early to mid-1880s and extending through the mid to late 1920s. Since the story is complex and lengthy, I split it into three chapters. The first two cover the period through 1919 and are devoted to the “roots” of early HRM, meaning the various ideas and developments that contributed to the emergence of a self-consciously identified and formally organized labor management function. This new labor management function was given a variety of names, but...

  4. (pp. 136-198)

    Chapter 3 described the early roots of the HRM function, including the Labor Problem and ten other developments or movements emanating from it that in various ways sought to bring greater order, rationality, and fairness to the management of labor. This chapter resumes the story, starting in about 1912, and carries it forward to 1920. This span of eight years effectively marks the transition of HRM from a largely noninstitutionalized activity performed on a part-time basis by various levels of line managers to a newly recognized functional area of management practice assigned to deal with labor management and employer-employee relations...

  5. (pp. 199-279)

    From 1918 to 1920 several hundred American companies created a personnel/industrial relations department to administer and coordinate labor management. These departments were a new and untried innovation, born in the hot house political and economic conditions of World War I and its immediate aftermath. Would they prove to be another management fad of the day, or would they take root and spread to other companies and grow in influence and responsibility? Paradoxically, the answer seems to be “Yes” to both questions.

    This chapter carries the story of HRM forward from 1920 through 1932, spanning both the prosperity decade of the...

  6. (pp. 280-306)

    Having surveyed a half-century of development in early human resource management, it is now time to conclude with a brief summary of insights and implications. Many of these findings and implications are of interest to both academic and nonacademic readers; several, however, are specifically addressed to the former.

    The time and place of origin of human resource management depends on how the term is defined. Most broadly and generically defined, HRM occurs whenever one person controls, coordinates, and directs the work of another in the act of producing goods and services. HRM in this guise is “labor management” at its...