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Employee relations as an activity

Based on Chapter 23 of Human Resource Management in a Business Context (2nd Edition) by Alan Price - published by Thomson Learning

In many developed countries the industrial relations of the 1950s to the 1970s depended on the existence of company rules and regulations which served the purpose of clarifying what was expected of both employees and employers. Since then, the move towards flexibility and empowerment of staff has resulted in 'fuzzier' boundaries between required behaviour and that which is regarded as inappropriate. Employees - particularly managers - have been given greater discretion on decision making in free market economies. This has been encouraged by 'neoliberal' governments throughout the world. Within the European Union, however, there has been a countervailing emphasis on formal rules because of the predominance of social market economies at the heart of the community. Typically, most large organizations continue to have formal rules on:

  • Timekeeping
  • Absence
  • Health and safety
  • Gross misconduct
  • Use of company facilities
  • Discrimination

The enforcement of such rules is a sensitive issue, requiring some form of formal or informal disciplinary system.

Discipline is not only negative, in the sense of being punitive or preventative, it also makes a positive contribution to organizational performance. An effective organization cannot survive if its members behave in an anarchic way. Order within an organization depends on an appropriate mixture of each of these forms of discipline. Within the context of HRM, however, the emphasis has moved away from managerial discipline towards self and, especially, team discipline. Nevertheless, most organizations continue to have institutionalized disciplinary procedures, largely determined by management.

Dismissal is the ultimate expression of such procedures and also one of the most unpleasant aspects of human resource management. It may arise because of disciplinary issues such as persistent absenteeism, failure of an employee to perform adequately despite support and training, or as a strategic requirement arising from a change in direction by the organization. Most managers regard the 'exiting' process with distaste - often it is more stressful for the sacking manager than the victims.

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