Competition in todays corporate world has lead organizations to become agile, accommodating and customer- focused in their operation. The success of organizations depends on its ability to 'manage a diverse body of talent that can bring innovative ideas, perspectives and their views to work.' All this has lead to the development of Human Resource Management. It 'is a distinctive approach to employment management which seeks to achieve competitive advantage through the strategic deployment of a highly committed and capable workforce, using an integrated array of cultural, structural and personnel technique (Storey, 1995, p.5)
Although there has recently been a rise in HRM activities within organizations, there have been many instances when the function has been critiqued. Many have argued that Human Resource Management is rhetoric. Wilmott (1993) asserts that "HRM rhetoric turns employees into 'willing slaves' who negate their own interest because they believe the organization will take care of them." At the same time, Storey (1995) argues that 'HRM is an elegant theory with no basis in reality and that it is a symbolic label for managerial opportunism.' According to Armstrong (1987), " it is a 'wolf in sheep's clothing' that uses soft rhetoric to disguise the hard reality of workplace change that shifts power from the employee to the employer."
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However, if we step away from all the criticism and look deeper we can see how vital the Human Resource Department is to an organization. Although the department's major focus has been recruitment and strategic personnel development, they are also responsible towards the maintenance of ethics and values within the business. Therefore, there are several challenges that HR Professionals have to face while maintaining their workforce.
The first and foremost is managing workplace diversity. According to Thomas (1992), 'dimensions of workplace diversity include, but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, ancestry, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, religious beliefs, parental status, and work experience.'
Any company or organization's success generally depends on its workforce. Employing people from varying cultural backgrounds, genders, ages and lifestyles gives the company the edge in capitalizing on skills and knowledge of these people in different perspectives. One downside of employing diverse workers is the danger of personalities clashing which can actually arise in any environment although the probability is higher in a workplace made up of culturally diverse people.
Singapore's Small and Medium (SME's) are faced with the workplace diversity dilemma. Given the nations population of four million people and its rapid movement towards a knowledge-based society, there is a high demand for temporary foreign workers. As a result, HR has to undertake culturally based management and training. This is to make the imported human capital feel rooted to the company and its employees amidst all their differences. It is also important that HR keep its local employees in mind and gives it assurance about its career advancements.
However, the diversity challenge can actually be turned into an advantage for the company with proper human resource management. With the mixture of talents of diverse cultural backgrounds, genders, ages and lifestyles, an organization can respond to business opportunities more rapidly and creatively, especially in the global arena (Cox, 1993), which is actually one of the most significant goals any company would want to attain. One way for the human resource professional to effectively manage diversity in the workplace is to have a culturally relative perspective which works by taking the best way out a variety of ways instead of the ethnocentric view of there is only one best way to deal about things.
Another constant dilemma faced by the human resource is recruitment. As mentioned earlier, the global market is constantly on the rise and the competition becomes stiffer as days go by. In any field of business, there are continuous developments, upgrades in technology and every day changes in customer requirements. Therefore it is essential for the human resource management to willingly and proactively modify 'the job structure, job classification and the organizational structure as often and as quickly as necessary.' It is also vital that they are able to recruit the right people which would fill in the company needs in successfully competing in the global market. It is always important for the human resource professionals to hire the people who not only have the ardent desire to contribute to the success of the company but who also have the right qualifications that would match the need and requirements of the company. It is not enough that a person graduated from a respective university, got straight A's and has years of experiencing working. The question should always be about relevance and how suitable the qualifications of a potential employee are to the needs of an institution.
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Apart from the above, HR professional are always met with the typical workplace problems. They usually device a course of action in cases of employee conflicts, workplace violence, email abuse, sexual harassment to name a few. Managers are expected to resolve conflicts, and conduct regular performance evaluation and enforce disciplinary actions in events of company policy violation. Implementing rules and policies is definitely no easy task and this is where Human Resource Management comes in use. More often than not, it comes as a surprise to people when they find out that human resource management covers more ground than they usually imagine. It is true that human resource management covers the relationship between an institution and its employee from the onset of their contract; however, it in fact 'begins even before that, with the policies that are created by the institution, and the laws that govern workplace relations.' The following are examples of good and bad HR Management.
A branch of a London-based marketing firm has been operating for almost three years already. Composed of mostly Link Developers and SEO specialists, the management team which is composed of a Corporate Manager, three Administrative Personnel and a part-time accountant decided to hire a full time Human Resource Manager to oversee the growing number of employees. The company which started with just ten employees has now more than a hundred employees who have been with the company since it started almost three years ago, they treat each other like family. The newly hired HR Manager who was used to strict corporate environments struggle to penetrate the tight-knit group of employees. On her sixth month of working for the marketing firm, the HR Manager is faced with a difficult task-informing some of the probationary employees about their non-regularization and extension of probationary contract.
What transpired that day was like a scene from the fifth season of the U.S television series Grey's Anatomy where the chief was slapped by a lawsuit when he fired several hospital staff and doctors through emails. The HR Manager for whatever reason she only knows failed to inform the employees of their extended probationary status personally on the same day their contract ends. In a desperate move to make her job done on time; she sent them emails informing them of their non-regularization after office hours. Since employees of the company are not required to check their mails at home, she called them on the phone, informed them of the email she just sent and required them to respond before the end of the day.
What she did appalled the employees and earned the ire of the management. An HR Manager is expected to bridge the gap between the management and the employees and not cause miscommunication between the two parties. A human resource professional should show a high level of commitment and be able to resolve issues in the workplace in an ethical and responsible manner.
Although it helps for human resource professionals to create good relationships with employees, it is also significant to establish their authority in effectively implementing rules and policies of the company. According to Gubman (1996), 'the important task of human resource professionals are first, to recruit the right talent to the organization and second is to make sure that the workforce is aligned with the business.' This alignment demands that the company offer its workforce an employment relationship that motivates them to take ownership of the business plan and informing them of their non-regularization is definitely not a way to motivate employees.
In summary, the Human Resource Departments must understand the core business of the organization to be able to manage employees effectively through planning, organizing, leading and being knowledgeable of emerging trends in training and employee development.