Wednesday, January 20, 2010

From Personnel To HR. What has changed?

Written by Debbie Duran, MBA.

During the past twenty years, the word Personnel was synonymously used to refer to Human Resources management. But today, the term “Human Resources” has replaced the antiquated term, “Personnel”. The term, personnel, was not changed simply because it needed a facelift, but because the role of personnel has evolved and morphed into something of a much greater magnitude.

Over the years, personnel management or administration became extensively integrated to the point where it touches on the entire life conditions of employees or workforce. Personnel’s evolvement relates to an employee hiring, training, career development, retention, health, safety, retirement, social advancement, and even family well-being. In some instances, it even touches on employees’ character and the impact of such on the employer or the employee’s performance and credibility. This understanding, in part, generated the understanding that employers needed to deal with and manage employees as human beings and from a more human perspective. Hence, this has generated a newer understanding and meaning that one would refer to as human resources in the current dynamics of personnel management.

Human Resources Management (HRM) is defined from so many different perspectives; however, human resources can practically be defined as a process through which organizations assess their goals and objectives, find, and retain talent to achieve those specific goals and objectives.

There are several contributing factors that changed the use of the word personnel in modern day workforce management or administration. Key amongst those factors include: Technology, Legislation, Diversity, and Globalization.

Although technology has revolutionized many aspects of business and public service administration as well as public policy; it particularly impacts personnel management and has integrated many dimensions in the employer - employee relationships by not only transforming the way businesses and even government agencies conducted their affairs decades ago, but also changed the way people live their lives today.

As most businesses and agencies were faced with the above mentioned changes in order to have competitive advantage in their respective industries, most had to conform or watch their business fail because of nonconformity. The impact of technology on businesses helps to open up new markets which facilitate more competition, and that result in fewer profits for some businesses on one hand and higher profits for others on the other hand. This led to changes in many dimensions of personnel administration as well as in employer-employees’ relations and commitment. Employers could no longer guarantee employees continued employment and employees on the other hand could not retain or maintain one employment with certainty.

For example, employees at places like IBM were implicitly guaranteed a job for life decades ago. This was because IBM had owned a big market share years ago, but all of this has changed with competition from emerging competitors like Dell, Gateway, and Hewlett Packard. The monopoly system became weaken as this change evolved more aggressively. As such, companies including IBM, and other agencies had to find innovative ways to maintain their competitive edge or advantage. IBM had to find cost cutting measures, and that meant cutting the workforce, re-designing the organization and not guaranteeing lifetime employment or benefits.

Like IBM, organizations are always looking for ways to cut costs in this new competitive technological age. Some companies decided to open new business in different countries where labor is cheaper and laws are more lenient in order to increase profit. This has and continues to challenge and transform the management of workforce. What we have seen today is a workforce that has undergone a major facelift between the last twenty to thirty years.

The demographic makeup has significantly changed from white males primarily armed with a high school’s diplomas to people from all races with advance degrees. This radical change in the workforce demographic had to be regulated by new legislation, policies, regulation and work related cultures. These new processes and guidelines are many of those factors that have significantly impact in the concept of “personnel management,” as organizations had and continue to create new departments, approaches, and strategies to address different workplace issues.
Paramount amongst departments that have emerged in the new concept and experience of personnel management are: Employee Relations, Organizational Development, Recruitment and Selection, Compensation and Benefits.

For example, in the United States, there are federal employment laws that mandate employers with a certain number of employees to comply with certain legislations, policies, and regulations. Issues like Equal Employment Opportunity, the Disability Employment Act, Sexual Harassment, Family Medical Leave Act, and Equal Pay for Equal Work etc. When an employer violates these laws, they are fined by the government and in most cases, sued by the employee.

HR also has many professional organizations, the main one is called the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM); and there is certification for proficiency in the HR subject matters. The certifications are as follows; PHR (Professional in Human Resources, at least two years of exempt experience), SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources, at least five years of exempt experience) and then there is the GPHR (Global Professional in Human Resources, at least eight years of experience).

With all these changes, evolutions and radical formation of Human Resources organizations, one need not ask why the concept “Personnel Management” is a thing of the pass, and why Human Resources Management or administration has become the most suited and logical concept replacing the old reality. However, the truth remains that Personnel Management has not totally disappeared, but has actually morphed into what is current known as Human Resources Management.


  1. I have always wondered personnel was changed to HR, and i thought it was just in name only.How wrong i was.

  2. Technology has changed how the world functions, and Personnel had to evolve as well to meet the demanding world.