Changing Job Roles

This paper is the result of research into and reflection on the roles carried out by those who are responsible for managing the \'people\' function within organisations. Whether these incumbents are called personnel or HR managers is not necessarily important; it is however critical to give recognition to the complexity of the task that faces those who have to take responsibility for this function. This paper raises two inter-related issues. First, in what sorts of activities do personnel managers decide to invest time and energy? Are the old reliables of recruitment, training and employee relations the key tasks of the 1990s or are other issues more important? Second, does the hard, often unseen, and usually unrecognised work that is put into personnel tasks necessarily result in an end product which is visible and attributable to the personnel manager?
The paper considers this issue by tracing the various roles that personnel managers have undertaken at the various stages of the development of the profession. The paper begins by considering the roots of personnel management and then moves on to discuss the various descriptions which have been proffered for what personnel managers do and what they should do. The paper then considers the nature of personnel activities before discussing areas which seem to offer the prospect of reward for the expenditure of time and energy.
The Development of Personnel Management in Ireland
1940s and 1950s: The Welfare Stage
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when personnel management first appeared in Ireland. Barrington (1980:90) indicates that a personnel function had been established in the civil service after the First World War, but its official recognition in the private sector is probably best dated from the setting up of an Irish branch of the Institute of Labour Management, the forerunner of the Institute of Personnel Management (IPM), in Dublin in 1937. The meetings of the Institute of Labour Management were held in the recreation hall attached to the Jacob\'s Biscuit Factory and were attended by a small group of individuals, mainly women, who acted as welfare supervisors in Dublin factories such as Wills, Maguire and Patersons, Williams and Woods and Jacob\'s. These companies had strong Quaker traditions and were concerned with the health and well-being of their employees.
The early history of these meetings of the Institute indicates some of the issues which concerned this small group of welfare workers. In Labour Management (May, 1940: 76-77), the publication of the Institute, it was reported that \'Mr. Julian Rowntree (of Associated Chocolate Company, Dublin) spoke on "co-operation in Industry" and recommended that employees should be given scope in running their own recreation sub-committees, and encouraged in the use of their leisure time\'. He also put forward proposals for a works council on which all levels of management and workers should be represented. Factory inspectors were highly prized as speakers in these meetings and health issues were of particular interest (IPM News, March 1987: 3).
Two issues are worth consideration from this brief description of the early years of the Institute of Labour Management. The first is the concern with employees\' welfare. To what extent has this concern diminished over the years and to what extent should it be considered a central part of the personnel manager\'s job? The old \'tea, towels and toilets stereotype\' (MacKay, 1987: 10) is one that most personnel managers are undoubtedly pleased has long since disappeared. But what has replaced this role of what could broadly be described as \'looking after\' employees? Certainly there is evidence of concern for employees in the proliferation of employee assistance and wellness programmes. These include health screening, stress counselling and in some cases a rehabilitation component for those with alcohol or drug-related dependency problems. However, the question must be asked whether such programmes are delivered simply because of their cost effectiveness - absenteeism and labour turnover are the expensive outcomes of sick or stressed individuals - or because there is a genuine concern for the quality of working life experienced by employees?
The second issue which emerges from an analysis of the foundations of personnel management is its dominance in the early years by women. A full analysis of the implications of this situation can be found in Legge