Paternalism started with Mrs E.M. Wood, Rowntree’s first “welfare officer.” This P-wave is a way of managing and governing individuals in business rather like a father figure dealing with his children. At best, this means a benevolent authority imposing restriction on his subordinates “for their own good,” and at worst a harsh, punitive, and cruel disciplinarian flexing his will.
The emergence of the factory system in the late nineteenth century changed the world and drove unprecedented productivity through the application of scale. But many workers suffered in the “dark satanic mills” under terrible conditions. Workers were not seen as individual people with aspirations and abilities, but as expendable tools in the production process. Their suffering spawned the emergence of Paternalistic leaders and welfare officers, marking the start of what would later become HR.
This P-wave eventually collapsed, not least because workers discovered that if they joined together, there was strength in numbers. Riots and strikes broke out. This accumulating, collective unrest sent alarm bells ringing for mill owners and simultaneously emboldened the workforce. The stage was set for the age of “Power,” and the birth of a proper HR function as we would recognise it today.