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International Human Resources Management

Introduction

Unitarist Perspective

General philosophy is that every workplace is an integrated and harmonious entity that exists for a common purpose. The role of management is to provide strong leadership and good communication. Employees should be loyal to the organization and its management in recognition of their common objective. Unions are seen to compete for the loyalty and commitment of employees (therefore disliked). Unitarism suggests conflict is not inherent in the workplace; it is the result of faulty communications, the work of agitators or the failure of employees to grasps the commonality of interests.

Pluralist Perspective

The General philosophy is that an enterprise contains people with a variety of different interest’s aims and aspirations. Power is diffused among the main bargaining groups in such a way that no party dominates others. Pluralism suggests the employment relationship is open-ended, and indeterminate, creating an underlying structural antagonism that has the potential to produce conflict in both the lab our market and workplace. It sees the role of state as to guard public interest, protect weak, and restrain power of the strong.

Management should not expect blind obedience of suppress any ideas or aims that conflict with its own. The aim is to reconcile conflicting opinions and keep the conflict within acceptable bounds so that the conflict does not destroy the enterprise. Unions are viewed as the legitimate representatives of employee interests at work with the right to challenge the right to manage, but also with the responsibility to seek compromise. Pluralism sees conflict as inevitable and a legitimate consequence of the variety of interests in the workplace.

Definition Of Employee Relation

Employee Relations involves the body of work concerned with maintaining employer-employee relationships that contribute to satisfactory productivity, motivation, and morale.   Essentially, Employee Relations is concerned with preventing and resolving problems involving individuals which arise out of or affect work situations. Advice is provided to supervisors on how to correct poor performance and employee misconduct.   In such instances, progressive discipline and regulatory and other requirements must be considered in effecting disciplinary actions and in resolving employee grievances and appeals.   Information is provided to employees to promote a better understanding of management's goals and policies.  Information is also provided to employees to assist them in correcting poor performance, on or off duty misconduct, and/or to address personal issues that affect them in the workplace.   Employees are advised about applicable regulations, legislation, and bargaining agreements.   Employees are also advised about their grievance and appeal rights and discrimination and whistleblower protections.  

Some broad conclusions emerging from research are:

Employee relations can be seen primarily as a skill-set or a philosophy, rather than as a management function or well-defined area of activity.

Despite well-publicized instances of industrial action, the emphasis of employee relations continues to shift from 'collective' institutions, such as trade unions and collective bargaining, to the relationship with individual employees.

The ideas of 'employee voice' and the 'psychological contract' have been accepted by employers and reflected in their employee relations policies and aspirations

Employee relations skills and competencies are still seen by employers as critical to achieving performance benefits through a focus on employee involvement, commitment and engagement. 

Employee relations is seen as strategic in terms of managing business risk: both the downside risk of non-compliance with an expanded body of employment law, and the upside risk of failing to deliver maximum business performance.

Nearly two-thirds of unionized employers regard the relationship between management and unions as either positive or very positive.

Public sector managers are more likely than those in the private sector to see union influence as strong, with almost three-quarters reporting union influence as significant or very significant. 

Unitarist perspectives as effective frames of reference in understanding employee relationships

To talk of a unitary frame of reference is to refer to a way of thinking: a mind-set of assumptions, attitudes, values and practices relating to management and organizational membership. A core assumption of many (unitary) managerial approaches is that management and staffs, indeed all members of the organization, share the same objectives, interests and purposes. Thus we naturally and "should" work together, hand-in-hand, as one - striving towards shared, mutual goals.

In an organization that "culturally" and through the language used to influence and bind people together as a family, community or unit we assume:

Acceptance and co-operative attitudes and values

Those who disagree are outsiders, unreasonable and recalcitrant.

In our language we use key words and phases - signs and signifiers - that emphasize “working together here as a team. We all want the business to achieve its purpose." There is a consensus of understanding, purposes and values.

Thus disagreement and overt conflict, obstructive behavior and even strike action, is - to those who subscribe to the "unitary" frame of reference - unnecessary, deviant and damaging to the organization. If only staff could see that obstruction and stoppages are pointless. The benefits of pulling together far outweigh - momentary disagreements and upsets.... after all there is little to disagree about. Passions and misunderstandings that breed conflict are indeed stoked by unhealthy, marginal factions - agent’s provocateurs.

The unitary frame of reference depicts management as having the best interests of all staff at heart when decisions are made.... Well if not everyone then certainly the "greatest happiness of the greatest number". Of course misunderstandings and anomalies arise from time to time but these are not helped by malcontents who distort what management are trying to do.

Advantages and Problems

Consensus and harmony is emphasized

Individuals are socialized into a team culture

Respect for the employee - their integrity and dignity - is emphasized

It is management's job to integrate hard and soft, technical and social decisions/activities within the firm.

The unitary approach however cannot easily accommodate non-conforming individuals (people who want a life outside of work) and who do not see themselves as being in the same boat with everyone in the organizational team (which indeed may be 15000 people). There are both locals and cosmopolitans in the firm with varying degrees of loyalty, commitment, willingness to give their all or withhold some of them from absorption into the "unitary culture". The unitary team approach is a small group approach - warm, cuddly and friendly. It does not readily accept

Differing viewpoints;

Pluralist perspectives as effective frames of reference in understanding employee relationships

This approach sees conflicts of interest and disagreements between managers and workers over the distribution of profits as normal and inescapable. Realistic managers should

Accept conflict will occur. There is a greater propensity for conflict rather than harmony (unitary perspective).

Anticipate and resolve this by securing agreed procedures for settling disputes.

By Pluralist Approach we assume:

Organizations characterised by competing interests.

Conflict inevitable and legitimate and structured into employment relationship

For pluralists conflict is manageable and resolvable.

Focus on resolution of conflict – order, stability – rather than how generated.

Tends to assume balance of power between parties with different interests.

Legitimacy of trade unions as representing employee interests and countervailing power to management.

Pluralism assumes that achievement of consensus and long-term stability in Employment/worker relations is the best way to balance the demands of competing groups. Mechanisms and channels must be designed and introduced so that the frustration and anger associated with conflict can be vented and given relief rather than harmfully repressed. Management should thus adopt policies and agree to procedures and codes which recognize that conflicting interests exist. They should be willing to negotiate compromises. In the mid-1960s the recommended procedures to channel conflict and reduce its harmful potential included eg:

Union recognition agreements.

Joint-consultation and negotiation committees.

Collective agreements reached at the most appropriate level for workers interests - this is likely to be a "shop" level.

Discipline and grievance procedures.

Arrangements for arbitration, mediation and settlement etc.

Problems With Pluralist Approach

Compromise between all the parties in a dispute may stabilize the local situation - but company performance is evaluated in a global international way. The compromise may be a lowest common denominator, too safe and incremental, insufficiently radical. Stakeholder theory does not adequately deal with fast moving situations in which radical change is often needed.

Bureaucratic procedures for formal consultations and meetings with elected representatives stifle the scope for local initiatives. Stakeholder meetings can reflect resistant rather than willingness to change. The committees, roles and channels become a self-maintaining system used to legitimize existing employee relations practices. These may be outmoded given the turbulent situation in the business environment

Employee loyalty to the firm, self-interest as an individual and loyalty as a union member involve dilemmas. Goals associated with may not be reconcilable.

Conclusion

A unitary frame of reference is not just about unions and employee relations. It is a term which reflects the projection and maintenance of a "togetherness" or understandings and essential values accepted by members of organizations. Thus it is typically a managerial frame of reference which does not easily reconcile itself with organizations or societal positions, which are distinctly more political and "pluralistic" frames of reference.

The pluralist perspective is that of an organization that is more diverse with clear differences of values and interpretations existing between interest groups. In this organization, the propensity for competition and conflict between individuals and groups at many levels is more endemic than harmony and consensus. Those who compete, the powerful and powerless, the haves and have-nots, the owners and servants - pull in different directions. Institutional mechanisms and basic agreement on rights and obligations are needed to stabilize and minimize the friction between diverse elements in the organizational society. Conflict reduction procedures and devices and other checks and balances are needed to hold the organization things together. Yet the recent redundancy due to economic recession has once again increased the importance of collective bargaining to look after the interests of employees as a whole. 

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