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Defining Human Resource Management

Based on Human Resource Management, 4th edition, by Alan Price

Many people find HRM to be a vague and elusive concept - not least because it seems to have a variety of meanings. Pinning down an acceptable definition can seem like trying to hit a moving target in a fog. This confusion reflects the different interpretations found in articles and books about human resource management. HRM is an elastic term (...). It covers a range of applications that vary from book to book and organization to organization. (...)

In Managing Human Resources: Personnel Management in Transition, Stephen Bach (2005:3) argues that, compared to a decade ago, much of the controversy about the definition of HRM has dissipated. He considers that, in part, this may be due to the use of a broader and more encompassing definition of HRM. However, Bach (p.4) shows that the debate has not vanished by disagreeing with Boxall and Purcell's (2003:1) statement that HRM refers to:

"... all those activities associated with the management of the employment relationship in the firm. The term 'employee relations' will be used as an equivalent term as will the term 'labour management'."

Bach argues that this definition is 'a little too broad', stating that such a broad definition makes it difficult to:

  • Highlight any distinctive features or values that underpin HRM
  • Chart changes in the practice of HRM
  • Understand the controversy surrounding HRM

In Bach's opinion, HRM differs from employee relations in its focus on management practices and tendency to ignore the interests of employees. In fact, he holds quite 'hard' views on the nature of HRM:

  • HRM is unitarist (employer and employee interests should coincide) with an emphasis on organizational effectiveness
  • The interests of other stakeholders such as employees are marginalized
  • There is a predominant interest on the individual firm - specifically, within the firm - focused on individual employee motivation and aspiration
  • There is a consequent playing down of external and collective (unionization) issues.

Human Resource Management, 4th edition discusses the use and meaning of the term 'human resource management', presents a number of textbook definitions and provide a working definition for the book:

'A philosophy of people management based on the belief that human resources are uniquely important in sustained business success. An organization gains competitive advantage by using its people effectively, drawing on their expertise and ingenuity to meet clearly defined objectives. HRM is aimed at recruiting capable, flexible and committed people, managing and rewarding their performance and developing key competencies.'

Points to consider

*Look at textbook definitions of HRM. You should think about the purposes of the definitions and the different aims of academics and practitioners. Academics are interested in the theoretical basis and intellectual validity of the concept. Practitioners have a job to get on with and are likely to be more interested in a practical description of the management discipline for which they are responsible.

More articles in this section

HRM Textbooks

Human Resource Management

Human Resource Management, 4th edition
by Alan Price
 Covers all the key aspects of HRM. Available from:
Amazon.co.uk - UK pounds
Amazon.de - Euros
Amazon.fr - Euros
Amazon.it - Euros
Amazon.com - US dollars
Amazon.ca - Can dollars

Fundamentals of Human Resource Management

Fundamentals of Human Resource Management
 Shortened version of Human Resource Management - concise analysis for non-specialists and one-semester courses.
More information and prices from:
Amazon.co.uk - UK pounds
Amazon.de - Euros
Amazon.fr - Euros
Amazon.it - Euros
Amazon.com - US dollars
Amazon.ca - Can dollars

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