When the “H” leaves “HR”


Was HR to blame?

In the early 1900s, classical management theories ruled organizational communications. In the mid 1920s, the Hawthorne studies prompted a new train of organizational thought, the human relations movement, that allowed managers to “shift from a belief that ‘workers work’ to a belief that ‘workers feel’” (Miller, 2009, p. 41). But employers found it frustrating to capture the human relations theories and put them into practice, and the human resources theories began to form suggesting that workers would be happier and more productive if allowed to take a more active role in their organization (Miller, 2009).

Today, most medium to large size organizations have a separate HR department and most small businesses have someone who handles HR responsibilities on a part-time basis. Ideally, an HR department acts as the conduit between management and employees and ensures that the two entities understand and tend to each other’s needs for the benefit of the organization. Unfortunately, in my experience, many modern HR departments have become bureaucracy laden compliance centers making sure that the organization complies with the myriad of laws and regulations placed on them by the local, state and federal governments. In some companies the entire HR department may find itself outsourced meaning there is no department in the organization dedicated to keeping the “human” in “human resources”.

Examples abound of business fails that possibly could have been prevented if the HR department had been able to do its job properly. The Enron and Bear Stearns debacles, for example, were at least partially a result of “reward systems that incented dangerous behaviors that easily overpowered the effect of control systems designed to prevent fraud and ethical breaches” (Sullivan, 2010). Sullivan goes on to make the case that Toyota’s massive recall problems resulted from a “failure by employees to make good decisions, confront negative news, and make a convincing business case for immediate action” (Sullivan, 2010). A healthy HR department could have foreseen these problems and helped defuse them before they happened or at least could have prevented additional damage in the aftermath. I wonder if they were too busy comparing insurance quotes for the coming year to notice?


Miller, K. (2009). Organizational Communication: Approaches and Processes. (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Sullivan, J. (2010, Feb 15). A Think Piece: How HR Caused Toyota to Crash. ERE. Retrieved from http://www.eremedia.com/ere/a-think-piece-how-hr-caused-toyota-to-crash/

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