This paper is written from the perspective that Human Resource Management (HRM) practices are continually evolving to meet the changes of dynamic work environments. New technologies, increasingly rapid exchanges of information, social paradigm shifts and the restructuring of family systems contribute heavily to the need to find and apply methods of HRM that meet the needs of industry, workers and consumers. To do so effectively, vision and creativity are required in addition to on-going awareness of the bottom line.
At the opening of the 20th century, the majority of jobs in America were held in two areas, agriculture and industry. Population distribution tables for that time demonstrate that most of the nation inhabited rural areas rather than urban areas. This continued to be the trend up until WWII, when men left the country to fight and women left rural America to fill factory jobs as their contribution to the war effort. This movement was the beginning of nationwide workplace and societal changes that have accelerated during the last half of the 20th century.
The move from rural to suburban environments changed the way we did business as a nation. Where extended families resided in and supported each other in culturally defined rural settings, nuclear families found themselves alone in homogenous neighborhoods. (1) This created a demand for goods and services that were formerly provided by extended family and community members, opening up new markets and creating jobs. It also created the need to recognize the management of workers as a separate and formal discipline.
As we move into the 21st century we can trace our nations business growth over the last 100 years. We moved from an agrarian base to an industrial one. By the mid-50s the majority of jobs were found in factories. Manufacturing suffered heavy blows during the late 60s and early seventies and was displaced by the service industry. With the closing of the 20th century those services have become increasingly technological.
Surviving those changes requires adaptation, not only in the retooling of physical plants and the retraining workers, but also in the way we manage those workers. Some feel that there appears to be an underlying theme in books and papers on the subject of HRM, that there is only one correct way to manage people. (2) Maslow on Management offers a much different approach, demonstrating conclusively that one size does not fit all; i.e., that different people need to be managed differently.
HMR models operating on the assumption that there is a single right way to manage people are using workplace criteria that are quickly becoming a thing of the past. The one way model views people working for an organization as employees who work full time and are solely dependent on that organization for their livelihood and their careers. These employees generally were viewed as subordinates with limited or very narrow skill sets. (3)
These images of the worker may have been valid several decades ago. However, today every one of these images has become insupportable. While the majority of people working for an organization may be classified as employees, a very large and steadily growing minority – by working for the organization – no longer work as employees, but instead as outsource contractors.
The concept of subordinate positions is fading as well, even in those areas that are considered fairly low level. As technology becomes increasingly more complex special knowledge is required in all operations. Subordinates, increasing their skill sets, become associates. The secretary, with knowledge of specialized software, becomes the Administrative Assistant. In order for the organization to run smoothly, the individual who does his job well, often has more knowledge about his job than his boss. (4) For example, the vice president of marketing may know a great deal about selling, but nothing about market research, pricing, packaging, service, or sales forecasting. Workers in these positions may report to the vice president, but are often experts in their own areas.