Technology

HR History: The Future of the Internet in the New Millennium

By Andie Burjek, Rick Bell

Jan. 20, 2020

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 98th year, we take a look back at what was on the minds of past generations of people managers.

Treating Employees as Humans, December 1956

“Is personnel’s power diminishing?” asked a 1956 issue of Personnel Journal. “Too many personnel officers have become yes men to executives who persist in putting human values at no better than second place,” wrote author Thomas G. Spates, professor emeritus of personnel administration at Yale.

From Personnel to Workforce, Workforce Magazine; HR HistorySpates argued that the U.S. needed to focus on one of its unique competitive advantages: the freedom, liberty and equality upon which the nation was founded; the personnel department could put the focus back on treating people as individual human beings.

This issue also included arguments for and against part-time work. On the “for” side, author Dorothy Bonnell argued that using students as part-time workers was a good recruiting tool and that part-time workers helped take care of seasonal workloads. On the “against” side, she argued that hiring part-time workers meant too much extra record-keeping, supervision and training.

One solution Bonnell suggested was keeping in contact with ex-employees, especially, “women who left good jobs to be married.” These women, she wrote, could “return again when the domestic situation permitted part-time work. — This is sooner than you think!” 1950s sexism aside, there’s something to be said about taking advantage of your potential backlog of qualified candidates/former employees who did not leave for contentious reasons.

— Andie Burjek

Back When the Internet Was Fresh Faced, December 1999

Remember back in the late ’90s when it seemed like all things were possible on the internet? The dot-com boom was in its heyday, and it was the go-go days of build a website with no viable business plan and watch the VC money pour in. Indeed, 1999 was brimming with a sort of innocent optimism before trolls and cyber-attacks and foreign bots jaded us all to the realities of “the new Wild West.”

In Workforce’s final issue of the millennium, readers got a glimpse of the internet’s future with the cover story “Employeechat.com — Bashing HR on the Web.”

As writer Shari Caudron noted, company message boards and sites changed the game. “Anybody who’s ever had a job has discussed it with others. The difference now is that people complain, seek help and gain support in a much more public manner.” The sites also gave rise to a new form of damage control: online corporate reputation management.

In a somewhat related story, the burgeoning dot-com companies loved to dole out stock options as a form of compensation. Despite the pending dot-com crash, which turned many stock options into worthless sheets of paper, one interesting note was, “There’s Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, whose wealth on paper is somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 billion — despite a 1998 salary of $81,840.”

— Rick Bell

Also in “From Personnel to Workforce”: 

HR and the Dot-Com Crash (May 2001)

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at Workforce.com.

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