Human Resources Approach

Managers get things done by working with people, which explains why some writers and researchers have chosen to look at management by focusing on the organization’s human resources. Much of what currently makes up the field of personnel or human resources management, as well as contemporary views on motivation and leadership, has come out of the work of theorists we have categorized as part of the human resources approach to management.

Who were some early advocates of the human resources approach?

Undoubtedly, many people in the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries recognized the importance of the human factor to an organization’s success, but five individuals stand out as early advocates of the human resources approach. They are Robert Owen, Hugo Munsterberg, Mary Paraker Follett, Chester Barnard, and Elton Mayo.

What claim to fame does Robert Owen hold? Robert Owen was a successful Scottish businessman who bought his first factory in 1789 when he was just 18 years old. Repulsed by the harsh practices he saw in factories across Scotland such as the employment of young children (many under the age of 10), 13 hour work days, and miserable working conditions – Owen became a reformer. He chided factory owners for treating their equipment better than their employees. He said that they would buy the best machines but then buy the cheapest labor to run them. Owen argued that money spent on improving labor conditions was one of the best investments that business executive could make. He claimed that a concern for employees was highly profitable for management and would relieve human misery.

Owen proposed a utopian workplace; he is not remembered in management history for his successes but rather for his courage and commitment to reducing the suffering of the working class. He was more than a hundred years ahead of his time when he argued, ,in 1825 for regulated hours of work for all, child labor laws, public education, company furnished tools and equipment and business involvement in community projects.

For what is Hugo Munsterberg best known? Hugo Munsterberg created he field of industrial psychology – the scientific study of individuals at work to maximize their productivity and adjustment. In his next Psychology and Industrial Efficiency (1913), he argued for the scientific study of human behavior to identify general patterns and to explain individual differences. Munsterberg suggested the use of psychological tests to improve employee selection, the value of learning theory in the development of training methods, and the study of human behavior to determine what techniques are most effective for motivating workers. Interestingly he saw a link between scientific management and industrial psychology: Both sought increased efficiency through scientific work analyses and through scientific work analyses and through better alignment of individuals skills and abilities with the demands of various jobs. Much of our current knowledge of selection techniques, employee training, job design and motivation is built on the work of Munsterberg.

What contributions did Mary Parker Follett make to management?
One of the earliest writers to recognize that organizations could be viewed from the perspective of individual and group behavior was Mary Parker Follett. A transitional figure who wrote during the time of scientific management but proposed more people oriented ideas, Follett was a social philosopher whose ideas had clear implications for management practice. She thought that organizations should be based on a group ethic rather than on individualism. Individual potential, she argued, remained as potential until released through group association. The manager’s job was to harmonize and coordinate group efforts – the notion of “power with” rather than “power over” employees. Managers and workers should view themselves as partners as part of a common group. As such managers should rely more on their expertise and knowledge to lead employees than on the formal authority of their position. Follett’s humanistic ideas influenced the way we look at motivation leadership, power, and authority.

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