Human relations, or HR, has challenges and tasks that have radically changed since the end of the 1980s in response to the changes in markets and how organizations do business. Gone are the days when HR was a department that was necessary but not taken very seriously; a department of “paper-pushers” whose primary job was to hire, fire and manage employee documentation benefits. Today’s HR departments are a vital part of the compliance, planning and future success of any organization.
Greater Focus on Morale
It used to be that companies believed that if a person had a job, received a paycheck and had the potential to eventually move up and retire after working for them for 40 years, he would stay. Keeping employees happy was never a part of the equation. After the first major rounds of recession-era downsizing occurred in the late 1980s, people realized that they could no longer count on retiring from their job and began asking why they were putting up with unsatisfying job conditions when there was no guarantee of a future or a benefit. College students of that period realized that they had to create their own advancement opportunities, often with a new company. Retaining quality employees who could easily get a job elsewhere by keeping them happy became a priority for companies. The wave of studies that showed that better employee morale led to higher productivity sealed this realization. Today, HR departments spend a great deal of resources determining the best and most cost-effective ways to create and enhance employee morale.
Actively Promote Diversity and Workplace Tolerance
Anti-discrimination laws and social changes during the 1990s and 2000s, particularly regarding homosexual rights and sexual harassment, created a need on the part of HR to educate employees on tolerance of other ethnic groups, genders, races and disabilities. HR also had to train employees on respect the boundaries between genders so that innocent behaviors did not veer into the territory of offensive behaviors. Tolerance and respect of gender-related boundaries had been actively promoted and become a factor in hiring and promotion practices. Any vestiges of an open or assumed “good old boy’s” network had to be eliminated or companies ran the risk of a potential discrimination lawsuit.
Development of Measurement and Monitoring
Prior to the 1990s, pay raises and career advancement was either haphazard or based on a subjective judgment by a supervisor or superior. The legal environment of the 1990s meant that the playing field had to remain level and that companies used objective rather than subjective criteria to monitor and rate employee performance. This led to the prominence of the annual employee review. HR departments became responsible for organizing, scheduling and administering these reviews, then making recommendations on pay, benefits and promotions based on review findings. In addition to giving an objective source for basing decisions, these findings also served to document any and all potential causes for termination, therefore protecting against lawsuits. Clear, concise job descriptions arose along with these reviews to create standards by which to judge an employee’s job performance.