The field of P/HRM as it currently exists represents a crystallization of variety of historical and contemporary factors:
The Industrial revolution: During this period machines were brought in; technology made rapid progress; jobs were more fragmented where the worker did only a small portion of the total job and specialization increased speed and efficiency but left workers with dull, boring and monotonous jobs. Workers were treated like glorified machine tools. Employers were keen to meet production targets rather than satisfy workers’ demands. Government did very little to protect the interests of workers.
To improve efficiency and speed F W Taylor advocated scientific management. Scientific management is nothing but a systematic analysis and breakdown of work into its smallest mechanical elements and rearranging them into their most efficient combination. In addition to the scientific study of the task itself, Taylor argued that individuals selected to perform the tasks should be as perfectly matched, physically and mentally to the requirements of the task as possible and that overqualified individuals should be excluded. Employees should also be trained carefully by supervisors to ensure that they performed the task exactly as specified by prior scientific analysis. A differential piece rate system was also advocated by Taylor to provide an incentive for employees to follow the detailed procedures specified by supervisors.
Trade unionism: Workers joined hands to protect against the exploitative tendencies of employees and the prohibitive unfair labor practices through unions. Unions tried to improve the lot of workers through collective bargaining resolving the grievances of workers relating to working conditions pay and benefits disciplinary actions etc.
Human relations movement: The famous Hawthorne experiments conducted by Elton Mayo and his Harvard colleagues during 1930s and 1940s demonstrated that employees productivity was affected not only by the way the job was designed and the manner in which employees were rewarded economically but by certain social and psychological factors as well. The human relations movement led to the wide scale implementation of behavioral science techniques in the industry for the first time which included supervisory training programs emphasizing support and concern for workers programs to strengthen the bonds between labor and management and counseling programs whereby employees were encouraged to discuss both work and personal problems with trained counselors. The movement was also influenced by the growing strength of unions during the late 1930s and 1940s. The rise of unionism during this period was due to the passage of the Wagner Act which gave workers the legal right to bargain collectively with employers over matters concerning wages job security benefits and many other conditions of work.
Human resources approach: However, during early 60s the pet milk theory (advocating that happy workers are productive workers or happy cows give more milk) of human relations had been largely rejected. Recognizing that fact that workers are unique in their own way – having individual needs. It was recognized that each employee is a unique and highly complex individual with different wants, needs and values. What motivates an employee may not motivate anther and being happy or feeling good have little or no impact on the productivity of certain employees. Slowly but steadily, the trend towards treating employees as resources or assets emerged.
The Human Resource Approach assumes that the job or the task itself is the primary source of satisfaction and motivation to employees. The emphasis in the human resource approach is on individual involvement in the decisions made in the organization.