According to the Society for Human Resources Management, "The first seeds of the human resource (HR) profession were sown in the early 20th century, when ‘employment clerks’ emerged to select daily help, primarily in factories." 

Human resources (HR) has evolved significantly since the early 1900s. The role of HR professionals has shifted from transactional tasks like paperwork and policy development to a more strategic focus on people.

7 Key trends and developments that have shaped the HR Profession over the Years:

    1. The rise of labor unions

      As labor unions grew more common, HR's role transformed from being merely administrative to being a critical player in maintaining harmonious employee relations. The necessity to negotiate and navigate labor contracts and manage disputes led to the establishment of HR as the bridge between management and workers. Moreover, unions fueled the push for better working conditions, benefits, and compensation, all elements that HR departments today actively manage and strategize around.

    2. focus on Employee benefits and compensation

      As unions and other groups raised the bar on wages and working conditions, employers had to be more strategic about benefits and compensation. This shift led to HR teams being responsible for formulating effective incentive plans in order to attract top talent.

    3. emergence of technology in the workplace

      In recent years, technology has been a major driver in HR transformation. Technology solutions empower HR teams to be more data-driven and efficient, while also fostering better communication with employees.

    4. analytics in hr departments

      With the advent of technology came the ability for HR teams to leverage Big Data to make smarter talent decisions. Analytics can reveal valuable insights into an organization’s workforce, from employee satisfaction and retention to performance trends and succession planning.

    5. focus on employee engagement and retention

      As the job market becomes more competitive, employers are looking to HR to develop strategies that will attract and retain top talent. This has resulted in a shift from traditional HR programs to ones that actively foster employee engagement and provide meaningful experiences.

    6. legal compliance

      HR teams must have an intimate knowledge of labor laws, local regulations, and safety standards in order to ensure compliance and protect employers from costly litigation. This includes staying abreast of changes in the law and ensuring that policies are up to date.

    7. employee assistance program

      Since the first Employee Assistance Programs began in the 1940s, EAPs have become an important partner for HR departments. They can provide support for employees with personal and/or work-related problems, attract and retain talent, provide employee training, and comply with employment laws, among many other things.

How HR Evolved to Meet Changing Demands

The evolution of HR is a testament to its adaptability, resilience, and commitment to fostering a harmonious and productive workplace environment. This journey from transactional to strategic, from paperwork to people-work, encapsulates the sweeping changes HR has embraced to meet the changing demands of the workforce and the workplace.

early 20th century

The early 20th century saw the rise of employment clerks, who were responsible for recruiting, selecting, and hiring workers for factories. This was the beginning of the HR profession, although it was not yet known as such.

During this time, the focus of HR was primarily on recruitment and selection. Companies were looking for workers to fill their factories, and they needed a way to screen and hire the best candidates. Employment clerks developed early personnel management practices, such as job postings, interviews, and reference checks.

mid-20th century

The mid-20th century saw the rise of labor unions and the importance of labor relations. As unions became more powerful, companies needed to find ways to negotiate with them and manage their workforce more effectively.

HR professionals began to focus on developing employee benefits and compensation programs to attract and retain top talent. They also began to develop training and development programs to help employees grow their skills and knowledge.

According to SHRM, while only 5% of large companies had so-called personnel departments in 1915, within five years that figure had increased by 15 percentage points.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, research like the Hawthorne Experiments “gave rise to the modern application of social science to organization life and lay the foundation for the human relations movement and the field of organizational behavior.” This sowed the seeds for treating employees as humans, and concepts such as work-life balance were born.

late 20th century

In the late 20th century, HR began to take a more strategic approach. HR professionals began to focus on aligning the workforce with the company's overall goals and objectives. They also began to focus on diversity and inclusion, as companies realized the importance of having a diverse workforce.

Technology began to play an increasingly significant role in HR during this time. HR professionals began to use computers to automate tasks such as payroll and benefits administration. They also began to use technology to recruit and hire employees.

21st century

In the 21st century, data and analytics have become increasingly important in HR decision-making. HR professionals are using data to understand their workforce, identify trends, and make better decisions about recruitment, training and development, and succession planning.

HR is also focusing on employee engagement and retention. HR professionals are looking for ways to create a positive work environment where employees feel valued and supported. They are also looking for ways to help employees develop their careers and reach their full potential.

New HR technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, are also emerging. These technologies are automating tasks, providing insights, and helping HR professionals to make better decisions.

2023 Top HR   trends Guide CTA

Challenges and Opportunities for HR

Just as HR has evolved significantly over the past 100+ years, the industry will continue to adapt to changes in the world and the industry.

5 critical challenges and opportunities that are shaping the future of hr:

    1. changing nature of work

      The nature of work is changing rapidly. The rise of the gig economy, remote work, automation, and globalization mean that HR professionals need to think differently about how they manage their workforce. They need to be prepared for a future where roles are more fluid and flexible, and employees are spread around the globe.

    2. new employee expectations

      Employees today have different expectations than in past decades. They expect more from their employers, such as career development opportunities, flexible working arrangements, and a positive workplace culture. HR professionals need to be prepared to meet these changing expectations.

    3. technolgy

      Technology will continue to play a key role in HR. New technologies are automating tasks and providing insights that can help HR make better decisions. HR professionals need to be aware of the latest developments and be ready to use them for the benefit of their company and employees.

    4. globalization

      HR is becoming more globalized as companies expand into new markets. This presents both challenges and opportunities for HR professionals. They need to understand different cultures, laws, and regulations in order to operate effectively in a global environment.

    5. changing skillset

      The changing nature of work and technology means that HR professionals need to develop new skills. They need to be able to use data and analytics, understand technology trends, and think critically about how their decisions will impact the workforce. They must also stay up to date with the latest developments in the HR profession.  

Human Resources - Always Evolving

The HR profession has come a long way since its early days, and it continues to evolve in response to changing demands. As companies become more globalized and technology advances, HR professionals need to stay up to date on the latest trends and be ready to embrace new challenges.

Human Resources, often called People Operations or Human Capital, has become a crucial bridge between employees and management. There is now a growing recognition for HR to take on a strategic role in organizations, serving as thought leaders. Companies of all sizes have come to understand that a strong people strategy is not just a feel-good initiative, but it can also have a positive impact on the bottom line.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for HR managers will continue to rise as businesses expand their workforce. With increasing operational and benefits costs, businesses can benefit from the expertise and strategic insights provided by HR consultants and transactional partners.

But one thing remains constant - where there are people there will be HR and it's important role in helping organizations reach their goals.

When you partner with Ulliance, our Life Advisor Consultants are always just a phone call away to teach ways to enhance your work/life balance and increase your happiness. The Ulliance Life Advisor Employee Assistance Program can help employees and employers come closer to a state of total well-being.

Investing in the right EAP or Wellness Program to support your employees will help them and help you.  Visit or call 866-648-8326.

The Ulliance Employee Assistance Program can address the
following issues:

• Stress about work or job performance
• Crisis in the workplace
• Conflict resolution at work or in one’s personal life
• Marital or relationship problems
• Child or elder care concerns
• Financial worries
• Mental health problems
• Alcohol/substance abuse
• Grief
• Interpersonal conflicts

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Exploring the Evolution of HR, JIA Nomads

How We Got Here: The 75-Year Evolution of SHRM and HR, Society for Human Resources Management

The Evolution of HR, Chron

The Evolution of HR: Where It’s Been and Where It’s Going, Westford University College

The “Hawthorne Effect”, Harvard Business School