Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Environmental Change and the Personnel Function: A Review of the Research

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Environmental Change and the Personnel Function: A Review of the Research

Article excerpt

Environmental Change and the Personnel Function: A Review of the Research

This article examines the changes and adjustments that have occurred within public personnel management in response to the vast environmental transformation that has transpired during the past three decades. After reviewing the environmental variables that are identified in the literature as being relevant to the personnel function, the empirical research that assesses their impact is surveyed. Emphasis is given to both the internal organizational role of personnel management and the reforms that have been implemented in merit systems at all levels of government.

Among the many thoughtful observations contained in Cecil Goode's classic report on "research frontiers" in personnel administration, forecasts concerning the types of environmental changes that could be expected to shape the personnel function were especially insightful. Goode predicted that population shifts, technological advances, and increased professionalism would generate major challenges for personnelists in both government and industry (Goode, 1958: 115-116).

The prescience of these observations is accentuated by Chester Newland's 1984 essay on "Crucial Issues for Public Personnel Professionals." Using the experiences of the past few decades, Newland identifies several critical factors that appeared during the "stressful years" between 1958 and the present (Newland, 1984: 26). The trends that Goode had predicted are confirmed, as evidenced by such developments as enormous government growth, the appearance of Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity (AA/EEO) concerns, the massive influx of women into the workplace, and the automation of work.

In addition, however, Newland points to a number of related developments that have appeared more recently and which probably could not have been anticipated by Goode. These include the emergence of productivity as a major societal concern, the loss of public confidence in government, political fragmentation, and the advent of increased federal involvement in the personnel function. Other researchers have fine-tuned and lengthened the list of crucial environmental variables, adding such topics as Sunbelt migration, the aging of the workforce, and dramatic changes in social values and motivational traits (McEnery and Lifter, 1987).

Thanks largely to the supposed influence of these transformations in the social and political setting, the personnel function is widely thought to have been dramatically altered over the past few decades. The contrast is readily apparent in such characterizations as those of Dalton McFarland, who referred to personnel as "the trash can function...the personnel department is viewed as the dumping ground for unwanted tasks" (McFarland, 1962: 48). In little over a decade, this widely held view had been replaced with assertions that the personnel office is the "nerve center of bureaucracy" (Seidman, 1975) and the "linking pin" among other management functions (Staats, 1976: 438). As Alan Campbell summarized the situation, "major problems of recent years...have beamed a powerful spotlight into that erstwhile backwater, the personnel office" (1977: 1).

The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of research efforts that examine public personnel management's adjustments to environmental change and the challenges that have resulted. Given the obvious linkages between environmental influences and the practice of personnel administration, studies which describe and assess the environment/personnel function interface represent a major thread in the research fabric of the field.

This article is divided into three broad topical sections. First, the vast literature which describes and assesses the various environmental challenges is briefly summarized. Next, the empirical research aimed at assessing the personnel function's response to its new setting is surveyed. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.