Human Relations vs. Human Resources

For the fourth post, discuss the differences between the human relations and human resource approaches to management. Pay particular attention to how they approach the issue of worker participation. Remember to define your concepts and provide quotes to substantiate your argument. Concrete examples also help.

What is human relations? Human relations thinking emphasizes the interpersonal and social needs of individuals and marks a clean break from earlier points of view. Mary Parker Follett, Elton Mayo & Chester Barnard first founded it in the 1920’s & 30’s. They examined the employee-manager relationship in an entirely new way. Their work provided the foundation for the human relations approach and became the precursor of contemporary thinking about management and leadership.

Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933) believed that “genuine power can only be grown…for genuine power is not coercive control but coactive control” & that workers at all levels in any organization were sources of creativity whose loyalty “is awakened…by the very process that creates the group.” The democratic ideal, she believed, was achieved by integrating organizations, neighborhoods, & communities through teamwork and by encouraging individuals to live their lives fully.

Elton Mayo stressed the limits of individual rationality & the importance of interpersonal relations. Mayo held that
1. Society comprises groups, not isolated individuals
2. Individuals are swayed by group norms & do not act alone in accord with self-interests; and
3. Individual decisions are not entirely rational, but are also influenced by emotions.

Chester Barnard asserted the importance of cooperation in organizations: “Organizations by their very nature are cooperative systems & cannot fail to be so.” The key to cooperation, he argued, lay in persuading individuals to accept a common purpose, from which all else would follow.

Over time, Mayo & his colleagues realized that the productivity improvements they had measured had little to do with the degree of illumination or other physical conditions in the place. Instead, they found that the increased attention given to the workers by management & researchers was the key to increased productivity. This finding, that increased attention raised productivity, has come to be known as the Hawthorne effect. For the first time, it was shown that individual workers were complex beings, sensitive to group norms & possessing multiple motives, values, and emotions.

According to Chris Argyris (who wrote On Organizational Learning & Personality and Organization), the principles of formal organization, such as hierarchy & task specialization, are incongruent with the developmental needs of healthy adults. Research that applies human relations thinking to the relationship between management and organizational effectiveness has been inconclusive and disappointing. Its underlying ideology has been interpreted as an unacceptable willingness to trade profitability for employee well-being.

What is human resources? While, incorporating most of the assumptions of human relations, the human resources approach is concerned with the total organization climate as well as with how an organization can encourage employee participation and dialogue. According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, people’s basic needs for food, shelter, and belonging must be satisfied before they can move toward achieving their full human potential, which Maslow calls “self-actualiztion.”

Maslow poses the question, “What kinds of management and what kinds of reward or pay will help human nature to grow healthily into its fuller and fullest stature?” The problem of management is that of setting up social conditions in the organization so that the goals of the individual merge with those of the organization. Maslow’s ideas permeate contemporary management theory and practice. If designed correctly, the workplace becomes a site where individuals can realize their full potential and remain continually motivated to do so.

Douglas McGregor (1960) argued that classical approaches are based in part on an assumption that the average employee dislikes work and avoids responsibility in the absence of external control. He calls the control-oriented, bureaucratic style of management “Theory X
1. The average human being has an inherent dislike of work & will avoid it if he [or she] can
2. Because of [their]…dislike of work, most people must be coerced, controlled, directed, [or] threatened with punishment to get them to put forth adequate effort toward the achievement of organizational objectives
3. The average human being prefers to be directed, wishes to avoid responsibility, has relatively little ambition, & wants security above all

McGregor advances an alternative set of assumptions or principles in his “Theory Y
1. The expenditure of physical and mental effort in work is as natural as play or rest
2. External control and threat of punishment are not the only means for bringing about effort toward organizational objectives. [People] will exercise self-direction and self-control in the service of objectives to which [they are] committed.
3. Commitment to objectives is a function of the rewards associated with their achievement (including the reward of self-actualization)
4. The average human being learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept but [also] to seek responsibility
5. The capacity to exercise…relatively high degree[s] of imagination, ingenuity and creativity in the solution of organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population
6. Under the conditions of modern industrial life, the intellectual potential…of the average [person is] only partially utilized
Unlike the “Theory X” manager, the “Theory Y” manager has a more participative & facilitative management style that treats employees as valued human resources.

University of Michigan professor Rensis Likert has contributed to our understanding of high-involvement organizations. Likert’s principle of supportive relationships holds that all interactions within an organization should support individual self-worth and importance, with emphasis on the supportive relationships within work groups and open communication among them. Likert divides organizations into four types, or “systems,” based on degree of participation:
System I – explorative/authoritative
System II – benevolent/authoritative
System III – consultative
System IV – participative

The human resources approach continues the human relations tendency to treat all organizations as similar, which opponents in the institutional school and the cultural approach view as inappropriate. Moreover, while human resources emphasizes employee participation in organizational decision making, it does not explain the pragmatics or politics involved in establishing such a voice for employees.

As already stated, human relations consists of increased attention given to the workers by management, which was the key to increased productivity. Human resources, on the other hand, is concerned with the total organization climate as well as with how an organization can encourage employee participation and dialogue. Although very similar, each approach to management focuses on one certain ideal.

Human relations is that of increased productivity. Human resources is that of the organizational climate. Human relations is more focused on giving the employees just enough to keep them happy for the benefit of the company, for example see the Hawthorne Studies. Its major thrust is to improve the productivity of the individual for the benefit of the corporation rather than help the human being to grow
Human resources does just the opposite. They too want increased productivity, however the type of attention that they give to their workers is to first and foremost benefit the person and then the company, similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This can include, but is not limited to health benefits, vacations, retirement plans & better work atmospheres. The human resource management serves various functions – hiring, payroll, evaluation and performance management, promotions, public relations, compensation & planning.

Information was attained from “Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint” (5th. Edition) by Eric M. Eisenberg, H.L. Goodall Jr. & Angela Trethewey


veeberd said...

Excellent, particularly the closing sections where you really get the key points.

Spectacular job of incorporating multi-media resources here and throughout the blog.

veeberd said...


This is a great blog - a true expression of the craft ideal! I appreciate all the effort that you have put into it (I will have to steal you "page freshener for my own blog). Great use of color, layout, features etc. If I had to grade the blog and posts at this point I could only assign them an A+.

The site is only slightly marred by the references to Dave Matthews (har, har).