History of HR

The History of HR

Tracing HR's 150-year journey from workplace enforcer to employee advocate.

Human resources has a history problem. Since the turn of the century, professionals in the field have been told they need to forget the past. The HR departments of yesteryear have been characterized as backward, stodgy, and glorified complaint departments. There’s a reason why organizers can sell out entire conferences about the need to “redefine HR.” 

To get where you’re going, you need to know where you come from. In HR’s case, that story is a surprisingly rich one, full of plot twists, memorable characters, and valuable lessons. It’s gone by many different names, but the profession has existed for nearly 150 years. HR teams have played both the roles of employee villain and hero, at times looking to curb employees rights and then rallying to protect them.

As you’ll learn, that progression wasn’t necessarily a linear one. Many of the employee-centric HR practices hailed today as cutting edge existed over a century ago. What’s more, today’s focus on data and analytics isn’t new, but a throwback to the turn of the century—last century.

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