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Over the course of this paper I will be examining Human Resource Management (HRM) practices, comparing HRM with past practices such as Industrial Relations (IR) and Personnel Management (PM). I will examine the differences between HRM and these past practices, this paper will also explore the possibility that there are similarities between these practices. Throughout this paper I will look at the precursors to the development of HRM, in a further effort to look at the differences between the various practices, this will allow me to gain a better understanding about these management practices. Furthermore an understanding of why practices came about may help find a deeper disparity between the practices. Nonetheless I will explore how the management has introduced these newer practices to deal with new and emerging challenges facing organisations as business has become increasingly globalised and much more competitive. However I will also analyse the practices to see if there is a large variance between the different practices or are in fact just similar ideas moving with the times. Furthermore I will analyse the use of HRM which will decide whether or not it has evolved from these past practices or is it just used as a catch all term for the functions of the past practices?
Industrial relations were one of the first management practices in the area of employment relationships. The Industrial relations practice has its roots in the industrial revolution, this is because of the creation of free labour markets and large scale industrial organisations with many wage workers. Furthermore society struggled with these new and extensive economic and social changes, in which labour problems arose.
Human Resource Management developed as a response to global capitalism and increased competition around the 1980's. This was partly due to a perceived failure of industrial relations in this field. HRM is an integral part of a business strategy, this is unlike previous practices which have been seen as marginalised parts of businesses and different functions added when needed in an ad hoc manner. With HRM being integrated rather than marginalised it allows the business to be able to have clear strategies that are clearly defined and operated throughout the firm.
Traditional IR according to (Wajcman citied in Edward, 2003;28) has neglected certain issues within the workforce, these include the exclusion of women for certain jobs within the workforce despite the growing numbers within the working population. HRM has emerged playing a larger role in organisations, dealing more proactively with the change in the makeup of workers and organisations. The feminisation of work is partly down to the growing service sector and the decline of traditional industry. The changing workforce has meant that IR methods are viewed as out of touch which has led the way for HRM to acknowledge this and has created a more partisan system for all.
HRM unlike PM and IR, emphasises the role of the individual. This has created a focus on motivated and committed workers. Furthermore the sense of involvement and commitment to the organisation has been demanded through HRM. However this may have consequences for the workforce because conflict is not part of the HRM philosophy. The rejection of conflict within an organisation could leave individuals struggling to deal with a role within the firm which seems to have marginalised people. The workforce seems to have little power in business which is very different to past managerial practices, which have been favourable to the workforce in a way that they have not been marginalised because conflict is expected and needed. This is because they had some power through representation by the trade unions. On the other hand trade unions are seen as a distraction and not needed within the HRM model.
According to Edward, (2003) industrial relations, personnel management and HRM all simply represent the activity of managing people. They may have different methods but at the core are focused on the same principle of managing people which has developed throughout the years in order to help the workforce. Nevertheless Delbridge et al. (2011) argues that Personnel Management is too limited with a restricted focus on employees rather than strategic issues that concern business. It is HRM that has broadened the field of employee relations to develop a strategic model that deals with business issues.
Control of employees is a major part of industrial relations, this comes through in the power that management try to assert over employees. Nonetheless I believe that employees have power and there is a constant struggle of ideals. However I believe control is also an integral part in HRM, but this is covered up by a perceived ideal of a commitment to the company. HRM practices believe "employees are resources to controlled and deployed, not equal parties to a relationship" (Edwards, 2003;25). This is a problem with a Unitarist system as it gives little alternatives in the workplace for disgruntled employees to air their views and get support. Furthermore schuler (1989) argues that cost reduction strategies in HRM practices can focus on increased production however this can mean a reduction of employees. This would have been a lot harder to implement within a Pluralist system such as IR and PM with an emphasis on trade unions and collective deals.
The commitment that HR policy sets out is a form of control due to the lack of power that the employees have within the organisations. Power has been severely reduced within employees since the implementation of HR policies compared to industrial relations policies. Nevertheless "Managers are rarely able to control totally the activities of employees no matter how weak the workforce" (Kitay & Marchington,1996). This shows that there may not be a competitive advantage to the weakening of the labour force through the lack of unions and lack of collective bargaining.
HRM within an organisation "produce strategic integration, high commitment, high quality, and flexibility among employees" (Guest citied in storey, 1999;42) The ability to integrate HRM issues into organisations strategic plans ensures aspects of HRM cohere and line managers to incorporate an HRM perspective into decision making. This is in sharp contrast to industrial relations which according to kitay and Marchington (1996) fails to take into account the wider context within which workplace industrial relations are enacted. This maybe because it is a peripheral department that deals with issues as and when they arrive, this is in contrast to HRM.
HRM issues are integrated into decision making which allows the business to be proactive in the way that it deals with employee's problems. With HRM issues being an integral part of a organisation it has created "the need for specialist[s] [which] is not only obvious but imperative" (Leap & Olivia 1983;638). This is in contrast to previous managerial practices such as IR, which didn't require specialist due to its marginalised role, because it was not considered a key role in the running of the business at that time.
A fundamental difference between HRM and past managerial practices is a focus on different types of employee relationships. HRM focuses on a Unitarist relationship whereas IR and PM focus on a Pluralist outlook in their application of strategy. The Unitarists belief is that there is no need for trade unions or collective bargaining, this is because it is believed that this would lead to conflict within the workplace, this is a view that is supposed to be shared by organisational management and employees. This is argued by Provis (1996) that employees may be able to hide their individual interests to achieve what they jointly value. The Pluralist outlook sees conflict as inevitable. This is because organization is perceived as being made up of various sub-groups, each has its own loyalties and with their own set of objectives and leaders.
We can see that key differences seem to be because of a change in the business environment. This has come from increased globalisation of businesses and a need to maintain a competitive advantage. In the past employees had greater protection in jobs under the PM and IR with collective bargaining and high influence of trade unions. However business wouldn't have been able to compete against lower cost labour from abroad if this had been maintained. HRM has created a more 'dynamic' workforce in a way that employees are in a weaker position. Furthermore the need for "successfully achieving significant change has becoming a matter of survival." (Dobson, 2000) Employees are in a weaker position because of a move towards individual contracts rather than collective. Employee's positions are further weakened due to the marginalisation of shop stewards and the trade unions, in the past trade unions have been able to fight redundancies dues to a volume of members from the workplace. However this has now declined and is marginalised making it easier for management to make redundancies. It is only the effort and skill of employees keeping them in their jobs so they need to work harder and longer in order to try and keep their job. They will find it increasingly difficult in this Unitarist environment where with HRM has made it easier to make redundancies leaving employees in a precarious position. Additionally the "Decline of IR may be due to Americanization which embraces the continuing decline of unions and the assertion of a market driven model" (Edward, 2003;7)
It is seen by many academics and businesses that it is no longer sufficient to use Taylorised methods in the workplace to motivate. Furthermore Ulrich (1997) argues that hiring, training and the rewarding of individuals must now be undertaken through the creation of a set of organisational capabilities. This may integrate practices into the business however these practices have been around long before within the personnel management model. However within HRM are more proactive in their outlook compared to past IR and PM practices due to a transformation within businesses that focuses on a need to deal with issues before they happen rather than react to these situations when they arise. Furthermore this transformation within business outlook has allowed greater support to employees, but this has also had negative effects which seek to make it easier for the firm to replace each employee.
It can be argued that "the term 'resource' in HRM implies that people should be managed, monitored and controlled like other resources and appears to disregard their human and social qualities" (Isaac & Lansbury, 2005;145). This is in contrast to IR and PM in the way that employees are dealt with which may come down to a difference between the Unitarist and Pluralist point of views that each of the management practices applies. The view by HRM strategists is that the workforce is a happy family and that they are all moving in the same direction in terms of company goals and doesn't take into account conflicts because of this view point. This has left the employees at a disadvantage to past practices because of a lack of communication and acknowledgement about potential conflicts which neglects workers own interests which may also need to also be satisfied. Furthermore the HRM perspective of "maximizing the contributions of employees to organizations while respecting human rights" (Leap & olive, 1983) may serve to back up the view that HRM disregards human and social qualities.
Taken as a whole I believe that HRM, IR and PM are all similar in the way they have dealt with the problems posed to each preceding theory, to develop an alternative. However the view that it is an alternative may be strange because each of the theories relies in part to the preceding practice. This is to implement existing functions of past models into the set up of the new practice. HRM combines both aspects of PM like staffing in placing the right person in the right position in the company and IR with embedded labour relations this time internal rather than external through trade unions. These are set within a different viewpoint on how to control the workforce. However due to these different viewpoints it sets HRM apart, whilst being integrated unlike the other practices which were marginalised functions. This allows HRM greater control which allows a greater convergence about the strategic direction of the firm, which allows the firm to be managed more efficiently. Furthermore this allows the whole firm to be working to the same strategy unlike in past managerial practices. Nonetheless this doesn't take away from HRM being similar to other practices, because it has incorporated the functions of these practices in a small part within the HRM model. Furthermore HRM has followed a natural development of managerial practices which have tried to nullify external and internal threats.