The role of Human Resources

Some people are under the illusion that the role of Human Resources (HR) is to ensure fairness in work or to speak up for staff members when business decisions are being made. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The role of HR—in many ways explained in the title itself—is to manage the human resources that are applied in the production process to reproduce capital. It is to support the business in maximising the efficiency of labour in the production process.

Modern HR techniques, including the application of new technologies to the management of staff, are developing apace. On-line tools decide on annual leave and create rotas. In big companies, updates from HR come via intranet links. The language of “open doors,” “direct engagement” and “transparency” is repeatedly used to hide the lack of transparency and lack of engagement.

Scientific management of the division of labour is nothing new; indeed many of the most ground-breaking developments occurred a century ago. But new technology is now bringing this process, once again, to new levels. Every aspect of work, and the working day, is now recorded, tracked, measured, and used to rate workers and to pit them against each other. Tasks completed, length of time for each task, toilet breaks and starting and finishing times are all routinely recorded and used to rate workers and drive efficiencies: how many phone calls you’ve answered, hamburgers you’ve made, cheques you’ve processed, sales you’ve made, etc. Championed in call centres, these are now being introduced in a wide variety of industries.

Smartphones with GPS add a new opportunity: location-tracking. Under the guise of maximising service to customers, the GPS tracking of workers is on the up, bringing with it a host of privacy issues. But, as we know, people’s right to privacy will be trumped with ease by work-place efficiency and management. The real reason for the increasing use of GPS tracking is control. Knowing the location of workers facilitates further control of those workers by the business; and HR facilitate this technology and reports on it.

All these productivity and tracking measurements are used to control and rate. Rating workers—not just in the jobs they’ve done but directly against each other—is now standard. And this system is then used to “manage out” (as HR practitioners call it) the worst-performing workers (usually fixed at 10% each year). They are managed out not on the grounds of the job they’ve done, good or bad, but how they have compared against their employees and, more often than not, how they “fit in.”

Firstly through some kind of performance improvement plan (PIP), and then disciplinary action, they can legally sack people on the grounds of poor performance; and that is a central function of HR these days. This culture creates submission and fear in the work force, which increase the management’s control and its ability to reproduce capital.

This is the role HR plays and this is why workers need to organise their power collectively to challenge this.