Human Resource Management

Do you agree with Boxall that the notion of Human Resource Management (HRM) represents the ‘beginnings of a new theoretical sophistication’ or is ‘the “new label” no more or less than a reflection of the “new right”‘ (Legge)? Is a shift to HRM occurring? “The question of whether the advent of human resource management (HRM) actually heralds a new theoretical sophistication or merely a passing fashion has rightly attracted significant attention – particularly in the United Kingdom where the emerging HRM literature contains a strong critical perspective.” (Boxall, 1992) Kessler & Bayliss (1998) identify three divisions of the opinions of the adoption of HRM:

1) It can be used as just another term for personnel management with nothing else changed 2) It can be used as another term for personnel management, but suggesting or providing much greater emphasis on certain aspects of personnel work, such as training, motivation and employee development, and a decreasing emphasis on some traditional areas, such as industrial relations 3) It can be used as implying a completely new concept whereby labour is regarded not so much as a cost but as an asset or resource, which needs to be developed to its maximum ability, so that emphasis is on the individual employee and on his or her motivation, training and development

The third opinion reflects the idea that HRM represents the ‘beginnings of a new theoretical sophistication’. The second opinion is compatible with Legge’s opinion, of the new terminology reflecting the actions of the Conservative Government. The first opinion is likely to be a na�ve, unrealistic viewpoint because as will be discussed there are at least some differences between personnel management and HRM. This essay will explore which of these theories is true. I will conclude that the introduction of a conservative government helped to shape HRM but that HRM is substantially different enough from Personnel Management to be considered a ‘new theoretical sophistication’. There is evidence of the adoption of HRM, but further development in the area needs to occur before it becomes a ‘silver bullet’.

HRM in a broad sense is seen as incorporating all the activities of management in respect of managing employees. (Dyer, 1985) It is the use of Human Resources to create competitive advantage. It involves managing culture, integrating action on selection, communication, training, reward and development of employees and also restructuring and job redesign to allow devolved responsibility and empowerment. (Storey,2001)

Has the shift in the use of the term HRM rather than personnel management reflected some changes in the practice of management? My opinion, based on the literature is ‘Yes’. “HRM… It’s a posh way of describing a personnel manager…but it goes a bit farther than that.” (Extract from Radio 4 show 15th October 1991) Purcell ; Ahlstrand identify the difference between the two expressions: “personnel management is commonly associated with traditional, non-strategic functions such as hiring, firing, and record maintenance, while human resource management is associated with the more sophisticated strategic management of employment relations….

Personnel is a rag-bag function concerned with perceived ‘low level’ activities like personnel records, welfare, training, and salary administration; human resource management is becoming the fashionable title for the executive who wishes to portray him or herself as the organisational polymath contributing to strategy by added-value people-centred policies.” HRM can be seen to have contributed to employment relations. Firstly the use of the term ‘Human Resource Management’ is more positive than ‘personnel management’. It is proactive, integrative and organic, rather than short-term and bureaucratic. (Edwards, 1995).

This language has helped managers to realise that they are able to take action to the firm’s advantage. HRM is a ‘more central strategic management task than personnel management’ (Legge, 1995) There is evidence of a growing relationship between HRM and the theory of strategic management – for example the emerging body of literature on Strategic HRM, which is described by Boxall as “analytically, the most distinctive real thing in the whole confused devate about HRM.” (Boxall) “Central to the very idea of HRM is the notion that it entails a more strategic approach to the management of people than do traditional personnel management or industrial relations models” (Storey & Sisson 1993)