My first job in HR occurred long before I consciously selected HR as a career. Way back in the early 1990's, I was a college student home for summer when I stumbled my way into a temporary job in the personnel department of the local hospital. For those of you who weren’t alive or out of diapers at this time, HR used to be called personnel. (In the south we said it using sing-song drawl splitting the two ns, like "per-suhn-nhell." Personnel departments generally weren’t considered strategic partners to the business at that time and because computers and software programs were relatively new, there was a very heavy administrative component.
At 20 years old, I was thrilled to be working in an actual office environment; the prior summer, I was dishing out popcorn at the mall movie theater, clad in my plaid shirt, navy polyester pants, and bow tie uniform. Compared to that, personnel was a sweet gig! As I look back at that time, some twenty years ago, I’m amazed at both the similarities and differences between Personnel and HR. Here’s a look at a handful of things that have (and haven’t) changed:
Most of us are still laden with paper files, including the nasty paper cuts that come from stuffing too much into them. In personnel, we kept the old ones on microfische. Click here if you don’t know what that is. Employment verification request comes in? It's back to the dark room for the headache inducing film search
Still around for many of us, along with the lanyards. Every employee had a badge and as the least paid member of the team, I had the honor of making the hospital’s name badges using a Polaroid camera, label maker, and the laminator. Now that’s high security right there. If an employee didn’t like their photo or the way I’d scrunched their name and title onto it…well, that was just unfortunate for them; believe me, the label maker didn’t leave me with many font options.I'd like to think they looked like this:
In reality, they looked more like this:
Employee Health was important to us. That's why we only allowed smoking in a designated area in the cafeteria - you know, the tables that don't have a "no smoking" sign on them.
At that time, we still had excellent health insurance which covered everything but cost employees almost nothing. We all Once a week I’d type the DOS code for a report into my giant IBM computer, then sit back to monitor the event of 1500+ employee names printing screechingly off the dot matrix printer. If you’ve never heard that sound, just think about nails on a chalkboard and it will induce a similar response. The CFO would like an additional copy with the perforated sides torn off? I’ll get right on it – it will only take about 40 minutes, 50 if I have to reload the paper mid-way through.
When I finished the laborious work cutting, uncurling, and sorting the incoming faxes, I’d stop by the cafeteria and pay cash for a Styrofoam cup of scalding coffee, right off the burner, which I could then enhance with heavily processed non-dairy powdered creamer, sugar, Sweet and Low, or Equal. The vendor coffee cart came by only 2 times per week and the Keurig was only someone’s dream.
The way we work now is vastly different than 20 years ago. As I sit back and reflect on these changes from my rocking ergonomically adjustable office chair I can’t help but feel nostalgic about the one thing I took for granted all those years ago – the ability to go home after work to eat dinner with my family and watch Mad About You or Seinfeld without a computer on my lap or cell phone by my side. No 24/7 access to calendars, to-do lists, texts, perpetually regenerating email, social media, group text messages pinging, notifications, and incessant news. Now those were the good old days!