Employee Relations

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Question : Trace the development of Personnel/Human Resource Management in Ireland.

The Development of Personnel/Human Resource Management in Ireland


Human resource management or HRM is essentially the management function of the people that work in organisations. HRM is perhaps the hardest of management functions within an organisation because of the human factor, the reason for this is that people are all different; some of these differences are physical, cultural, psychological, abilities, aptitudes, and temperaments. Effectively we all are different and this means we need to be managed differently, therefore making HRM a tough task. This essay will look at the historical background of this complex management function in Irish society. It will examine how personnel management or HRM has developed and evolved to what we now term HRM or Personnel Management.

The Birth of Personnel Management/HRM

18th century Brittan saw the start of the industrial revolution, Ireland was governed by the UK and most of the people were poor tenant farmers. The industrial revolution that took place in Brittan and later spread to Ireland causing the beginning of what we call HRM. At this time the factory system needed a new way of organising people. These factories used new machinery to produce goods and materials. These machines needed had to be installed, maintained and operated. This meant that people needed to be organised and managed in order for the owners of these factories to generate as much profit as possible. With many factories opening up this caused competition between the factory owners and to be competitive they subjected the workers or labour force to long working hours, low pay and dangerous working conditions.

We can point to two important developments in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century which critically impacted upon the development and evolution of HRM, particularly in regard to the emergence of the specific HR function. These were (i) the welfare tradition and (ii) scientific management (Niven 1967: Foley and Gunnigle 1994). As cited in Gunnigle, G., Heraty, N., Morley, M. (2006)

The Welfare Tradition

This refers to a series of ideas taken in some organisations to help improve working conditions, pay and hours; this task was undertaken by welfare officers, mainly from Quaker owned organisations. These employers often influenced by their cultural and religious backgrounds took action to improve conditions for its workforce. The early 1900s saw the appointments of welfare officers in Irish companies, such as Jacobs and Maguire & Paterson in Dublin (Byrne 1988) as cited in Gunnigle, G., Heraty, N., Morley, M. (2006) The welfare tradition of caring for the working people is still evident today in many organisations, some of these traditions or HR practices would be health and safety counseling services and employee assistance programmes. However these welfare officers were often viewed by senior management as middlemen representing employee interests rather than the employer’s interests. The modern HRM practices do not operate like this today but are more of an integral part of the senior management team representing employers rather than employees interests. This is why in the 1800s we saw the emergence of unions whose primary focus was on representing the employees.

Scientific Management, Behavioural Science & Post WWII

This is an important evolution on HRM practices or what became know as ‘Taylorism’ the main elements of his theory was to improve the labour force’s productivity by using systematic approaches to job design, employment and payment systems (Taylor 1947). By studying the approaches in different environments of the workforce and measuring productivity output. This meant that the HR function became more complex in recruitment, selection, remuneration, industrial relations, training and shifted more towards the ‘efficiency/profitability’ of management....
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