Browse through business books and you’ll see that workers are somehow less and more productive than ever; that our labors are building resilience but also killing us; that work fills us with more stress and yet fulfills us.
Breathless cover blurbs declare it’s a brave new world of work. Spurred by emerging technology and a hypercharged business cycle, a cottage industry of thinkers, consultants and conferences have sprung up. Their aim? To “rethink” work for the new era. Some have original ideas, others simply put a new package on the same old product.
There’s no doubt we’re living through a period of change. But it’s always that way. Stability isn’t the status quo. Change is.
That’s not to say HR can just sit tight. HR will have to evolve alongside every other business function. But it always has. There’s no such thing as new work. It’s work. And it’s never the same.
—Mike Prokopeak, Editor in Chief
The workplace has changed a lot since 1922. That year The Journal of Personnel Research debuted, rebranded later as Personnel Journal and finally Workforce. Now in our 96th year, we take a look back at what was on the minds of past generations of people managers.
Rosie Returns Home, October 1945
World War II concluded just two months before the publication of the October 1945 Personnel Journal. Understandably, the issue was dominated with stories about returning war veterans.
Among stories titled “Veterans Placement” and “Veteran as Individual” was one simply titled after the iconic female factory worker. “Rosie the Riveter” was penned by the Staff of Women’s Personnel at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp. and assessed women’s role in the postwar workplace: “Will ‘Rosie the Riveter’ be content to return to the unsung tasks of the home, washing, mending, picking up toys and binding little Willie’s cuts? Or will she want to continue bringing home the bacon, leaving the frying of it to Grandma?” The piece was actually a survey of female workers, which made up one-fourth of the company’s personnel. The authors’ conclusion? “Rosie would prefer to go back to her traditional sphere; and should you throw ‘Cash, Careers, Clothes and Cavorting’ at her, you’re apt to hear a chorus from millions of feminine throats — ‘A fig for your fat paychecks, a pox on your independence and as for your so-called masculine prerogatives — now that we know what they cost — YOU CAN HAVE ‘EM BACK!’ ” (Their capitalization, not mine.)
HR and the Dot-Com Crash, May 2001
The phrase “dot-com company” is arguably dead in 2019. But in 2001, many companies were recovering from the dot-com crash of 2000. Dot-com companies at the time — with their lax policies, sex-discrimination issues and tendency to ignore HR — had left themselves open to countless sexual harassment charges.
Further, these companies had more HR problems, like “eschewing performance evaluations,” which left them unable to “document against employee lawsuits claiming they were underpaid and overworked, not promoted, or let go unfairly.”
According to one business columnist, “many dot-coms lack seasoned human-resources managers or even written human-resources policies.” The article continued that while there were other problems that led to the dot-com downfall, HR problems were a big one.
With similar complaints of rampant harassment and culture problems still relevant at today’s tech start-ups and more grounded tech companies alike, has the tech industry learned its lesson from the dot-com crash?
The issue also contained a Q&A in which employers asked such colorful questions as, “Can my employee be forced to have lunch with co-workers?” and, “If an employee is not intoxicated at work but has a distinctive odor of alcohol on her clothes, how can I legally address this smell issue?”
— Andie Burjek