Can you imagine a life without Human Resources? I was asked to think about that recently and I realized that, oddly enough, it wasn’t too long ago that we had a world without HR.

The Stone-Age HR World

A world without HR looks something like the television series “Madmen,” starring John Hamm. It’s set in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, pre-human resources as we know it today. It’s centered around an advertising agency in New York run by a bunch of…well, men. Whenever I watch the show I am baffled at the things they were able to do in the workplace, like drink whiskey, scotch, and bourbon, and smoke cigarettes.

Women in the boardroom were unheard of unless they were taking notes or serving food and drinks. Instead of an HR Department, there was a Personnel Department and they pretty much just made sure you got your paycheck.

Imagine a situation where you were harassed or discriminated against based on your race, age, religion, or sex, and there was no one to help you with those HR legal compliance issues. And no one to the administrator a performance review or performance improvement plan…wait, that might be a positive.

The Recent-Past HR World

It started in 1999 when the world fell in love with the Internet and a bunch of online businesses began popping up all over the place. This was known as the “Dot Com” era, and during this time every new company that got a web address seemed to launch an IPO on the stock market. Billions were made, but with the rise of the dot coms, other organizations suffered.

Shortly after the “dot com boom” there was the “dot com bust”–all those Internet companies began to fail and the big companies that had transitioned online were suffering too. Lots of jobs were lost and companies had to downsize, and the first things to go were employees and benefits.

The Contemporary HR World

In the early 2000s, many companies decided to start outsourcing everything as a cost-saving move. They outsourced customer service, production, and just about everything else; but most of all, they outsourced jobs. Entire departments were outsourced overseas or eliminated entirely–even HR.

The problem is, when you outsource human resources, you outsource recruiting and you miss out on building critical relationships like those with brand ambassadors, and key processes like onboarding, which are vital to your overall success. Also, when you outsource training and development, new employees aren’t shown the proper way to work and they miss out on their employee development goals.

Back then, workers were being unemployed in massive numbers, and people were losing their jobs, their homes, and their cars. No one wanted to buy a house or even new clothes for fear of losing everything.

And those who kept their jobs were over-worked because companies had adopted a philosophy of “do more with less.” Everyone had to take on additional duties in order to stay employed.

HR professionals became school teachers or managers at the local Gap store, and it was worse for recruiters: they had to work at Barnes and Noble (remember that?) or as baristas. It was ugly.

Luckily for us, there was a major backlash from the American consumer regarding outsourcing. The auto industry got back to making great vehicles on home turf and hiring Americans again. Companies started taking pride in making products in the U.S., and consumers began purchasing homemade goods instead of cheaper outsourced goods. Lots of previously outsourced customer service/support jobs returned because the level of customer service was just not acceptable.

So as jobs came back, companies needed someone to take care of human resource issues, therefore HR came back and with it so did recruiting, hiring, training, and onboarding. Smart companies like Ford, Starbucks, and Zappos notoriously used HR as a strategic partner to turn things around and to help motivate, engage, and retain employees.

With HR back in the fold the recruiting industry made a comeback too. The unemployment rate began to slowly decline and things began to stabilize and get back to what I know and love–a world with HR.

So, if you ask me can I imagine living in a world without HR? Yes, I can, and that’s a world that I can do without.

Chris Fields

Chris Fields is an HR professional and expert resume writer with more than 13 years of experience as a former practitioner and current HR consultant. He is the curator of two websites: CostofWork.com and ResumeCrusade.com , and contributes HR-focused content to many others, including PerformanceICreate.com and SmartRecruiters.com . He has been listed by the Huffington Post as one of the “Top 100 Most Social Human Resources Experts to Follow on Twitter”, one of the “Top 40 under 40” by the HR Blogger Network, one of the “25 Must-Read HR Blogs in 2013”, and also featured on Oprah.com. He is very active with the Society of Human Resource Management, working closely with conference directors, communication chairs, and social media teams from Illinois, Oklahoma, and Tennessee to develop social strategies to engage attendees and enhance their conference experience. Chris earned his master’s degree in Labor and Human Resources from Ohio State University. In 2005, he moved back to his hometown of Memphis, TN, where he has developed a reputation for helping his clients create HR strategies, and individuals master the tough economic challenges of the South.

3 Comments

  • Avatar Albertyne S. says:

    I watched the television series mentioned in the article and many other movies that pictured the work environment in different eras. Those aren’t times I would like to live in.

  • Avatar Holly says:

    We still have problems when it comes to discrimination, but we’ve come so far in reducing differences between humans. We know that what we see in movies was our reality at some point, but I am sure I do not want to live that way. 

  • Avatar Ursula B says:

    Life is definitely better when HR keeps a watchful eye on the workforce and makes sure all regulations apply to protect both employees and companies. We ran after money, we ran after equality and freedom, and we now have an almost-right world to thrive in. 

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