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History Of Human Resource Management in the Public Sector
Before business was conducted in the ever-changing and highly competitive global landscape of commerce that exists today, large firms in the public domain were able to keep a much more direct eye on their employees. This historic reality involved much more personal and face-to-face interactions within much smaller operating environments. There were far less multibillion dollar corporations, and thus workforces were typically much less segmented and estranged . This made labor pools much easier to supervise and monitor. Consequently, periodic progress and performance reports were the primary human resource management tools utilized during much of the 20th Century . Recently, however, the globalization of public sector business has forced companies to restructure their human resource management systems. Being that performance-screening devices (that have been dated back to the Chinese Empire in 1115 B.C.) started to show their age, firms must now approach this increasingly vital aspect of business from a completely new angle. One such mandatory new approach involves the appropriation of a reliable ethical framework for human resources . With terms like toxic assets, fraud, Ponzi schemes and moral hazard quickly becoming regular parts of every shareholder's vocabulary, ongoing ethical discourse in public sector work environments has become absolutely essential. Furthermore, with the current exponential growth of technology and the computerization of business and learning, consumers have become much more connected to the businesses they patronize (Kurzweil, 2001). Accordingly, companies are now faced with the continuous task of finding new ways to understand and subsequently accommodate the needs of those customers, while simultaneously securing lucrative business models and job environments. This new reality has increased the importance of innovative business practices, which undoubtedly include human resource management.
With the original definition of human resource management revolving around the accurate screening and education of employees, the true roots of this practice go all the way back to prehistoric times. The apprentice approach to human resource management (recently popularized by Donald Trump) actually dates back to the Greek and Babylonian civilizations . In this system, the apprentice would work under the "master" until he or she was deemed ready to occupy the master's position with rectitude. This is somewhat similar to many public sector positions today, in that many employees work for the bulk of their careers in the lower ranks of their company (continually learning) and often by the end of their career they may find themselves members of the executive body. The Chinese were another ancient, yet highly sophisticated, civilization that integrated some aspects of human resource management into their culture. This group focused more upon the specialization of individuals, as a means of efficiently meeting societal needs . In doing so, the Chinese developed a complex screening process for all public employees, which helped to determine their natural tendencies and abilities . This process aided employment officials in areas like job assignments and task creations. And though the typical modern screening process of the public sector has certainly evolved over the years, with qualifications now consisting of degrees, certificates and previous experience, the fundamental features of this system have stood the test of time.
Moving further along the chronological timeline, human resource management truly came center stage during the Industrial Revolution. During this period, the United States was shifting away from an agriculturally-based economy and towards an industry-based economy. This shift involved massive amounts of relocations, mainly from rural areas to cities where factories and production facilities were located. As a result of this mighty influx of citizens to urban areas, large companies began to recruit people at a fervent pace. Being that there was a great need for workers, production companies needed to create a highly organized and effective system. And because many of these new employees were newcomers to city life (and even to the United States), human resource management techniques regularly went beyond the confines of the factory . Human resource managers were often responsible for assuring that workers had a consistent and reliable place to live, that they were well acquainted with the area surrounding the production facility and their new home and that they were able to adequately access medical care . Even though these facilities were almost all privately owned, these companies represented the largest employers in many urban areas. Therefore, they would certainly be equitable to the public sector corporations of today. Knowing this, it is easy to see how the all-encompassing approach to human resource management has evolved with time. While the public sector employers of today are usually responsible for providing healthcare coverage, retirement options and an array of other benefits, it seems like there is not as much concern for the employee's entire life outside of the office.
Aside from the initial phases of human resource management during and after its industrial induction, employees experienced much less personal engagement after securing their positions. In many cases, employees were only allowed to voice their concerns, feedback and potential frustrations during periodic performance evaluations with their superiors . These were highly irregular occurrences and exhibited great levels of inefficiency in the arena of human resource management. So much so that it eventually caused the creation of labor unions in the 1790's . With the inception of such employee coalitions, worker concerns were now dealt with in a mutual bartering environment with upper management. The human resource department in many firms now took on the role of mediator, attempting to find common ground between the two opposing parties. By persuading management bodies to view situations from the laborers' perspective, human resource departments were able to help workers secure many health, vacation and educational benefits. The vast success of this operational structure has caused unions to remain strong into modern times.
By the middle of the 20th Century, human resource management was universally recognized as a vital cornerstone of good business. This reality gained large amounts of governmental support with the passing of countless employee protection laws. Such legislation included the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (Bratton & Gold, 2000). This surge in human resource lawmaking forced public companies to invest heavily in the improvement and creation of functioning human resource departments. These expenditures were made in order to avoid potentially devastating lawsuits. And with the wide scope of employee-related protections covered in the aforementioned governmental acts, human resource professionals had to be highly qualified and knowledgeable about countless aspects of an employee's work life.
A more recent development in the public sector arena of human resource management involves ethical violations. The highly increased power given to individual public sector executives in today's modern global economy, presents a significant moral concern (Carroll & Buchholtz, 2008). And with the multitude of public market activity conducted around the world, these persons are now much better able to conceal their potentially dishonorable actions. The economic crisis of 2008 was a perfect example of the unencumbered potentiality this type of behavior can have. Executives were taking enormous risks using the money of their shareholders, and some even completely falsified information that was to be given to shareholders and potential investors. Such goings-on resulted from greed, lack of moral responsibility and uniformed human resource management . Therefore, in order to limit the potential for this kind of disreputable behavior in the future, human resource departments must be given greater power and more information regarding executive bodies. In fact, many experts recommend that human resource personnel should be privileged to all corporate data and be allowed to sit in on all board meetings. By not permitting public sector executives to operate privately from the office, the potential for unethical behavior greatly decreases.
Aside from the new protective roles of human resource departments, many directors in the public sector have taken advantage of the participative approach to human resource management. In taking on this role, human resource managers should have direct and continuous contact with members at all levels of the business process (Kapoor, 2001). By conducting and engaging in regular group meetings, members of the human resource department can monitor activity and acquire vital feedback from employees concerning the deficiencies, frustrations and even productive qualities present in each group area (Kapoor, 2001). The participative approach can also ease employees' apprehensions by creating a direct and open forum for discourse with their superiors capable of enacting corrective policies. Furthermore, by constructing a sense of communicational openness throughout multiple levels of the corporate ladder, this type of decentralized culture can discourage unethical behavior and other regrettable outcomes in group settings by opening secure and relaxed lines of communication (Rosanas & Velilla, 2005). Though it is important to note that the construction of truly reliable and secure communicative behavior ultimately depends on the perceived trustworthiness and dependability of the human resources department. By genuinely engaging in the ideas, opinions and trepidations of each employee, human resource department officials should…[continue]
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