Academic journal article Management International Review

The Human Resources Function

Academic journal article Management International Review

The Human Resources Function

Article excerpt

If an 1860 Rip Van Winkle were to wake up today, he would hear managers using some strange words he couldn't understand: "human relations in industry," "human engineering," "personnel approach." He would soon learn that the words indicated an emphasis in management practice that was different than that he was familiar with when he rolled over and went to sleep a hundred years ago.

But he probably would be puzzled by the number of caustic and sarcastic criticisms of this emphasis, criticisms from labor leaders, managers, professors of administration, and a host of professional decriers of "carrying things too far." As one who was familiar with the fairly frequent disregard of human values by a large number of managers a hundred years ago, our Rip Van Winkle would be inclined, I suppose, to assume that any indication of increasing concern for people in the business and industrial world was a good thing, some advance at least toward a more civilized life. I certainly would make that assumption and am beginning to wonder if all the warnings against, and outright denunciations of, the human relations approach indicated by such titles as, The Elite and the Aborigines, Freud Go Home, Contented Cows' Management, Silk Gloved Power, Sophisticated Union Busting, etc., are not the result of a misunderstanding of what management which stresses human values is all about.

Almost from the very beginning, at least after there were labels like "human relations" and "the personnel approach" to take hold of, some folks have been having a field day as critics. I have the impression that it is becoming more popular nowadays to join the "they can't pull the wool over my eyes" school.

Some of the criticisms are understandable enough if one adopts the particular critic's major premises. Take the reactions of certain trade union leaders, for instance. What do they say? They say that in their experience management generally isn't interested in people but first of all concerned about production and profits. That's why unions are necessary to watch out for the interests of the people. Besides most managements would just as soon not have the unions around at best, and would like to bust the union at worst. Well, if you start off from that premise, and run across any managerial action which apparently does indicate a genuine interest by management in people beyond what they are forced to have because the union is around, there are only a couple of possible explanations. The union leaders say that either management has figured out a subtle way to make workers more willing to do what management wants them to do, or they are attempting to eliminate the union by indirect methods, by showing the workers they don't need a union. I don't see any reason to deny the possibility that such a sophisticated indirect approach to making unions less popular is used by some employers who accept unions as a penance for their own and other manager's sins, and accordingly would like to reduce the amount of irritating managerial practices that they believe led to unions in the first place and to their continued survival. If that is the real managerial objective, it helps to justify the Trade Union leaders' suspicions.

The managers who like to criticize the interest in "human relations" are in many cases folks who don't want to be considered "softies." They are not necessarily of the "hard-boiled--no fooling around--discipline is good for you--you've got the stripes, tell 'em' school, although some of them at times talk suspiciously like one would expect a fellow like that to talk. Their premises have something to do with "the necessity of sticking to essentials," "cutting out the frills," and "getting down to the brass tacks of running a business." The most conservative of these managerial critics are concerned about the fallacies of a "be good to the guy" approach. Their position is, "human relations is allright, BUT." On occasion one will run across the type of position revealed by the following comment, "I don't want to have anything to do with all this damned human relations nonsense. …

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