On the face of it, the original concept of HRM had much to offer, at least to management. But the following reservations have been expressed about it:
- Even if HRM does exist as a distinct process, which many doubt, it is full of contradictions (Blyton and Turnbull, 1992).
- HRM is simplistic – as Fowler (1987: 3) wrote: ‘The HRM message to top management tends to be beguilingly simple. Don’t bother too much about the content or techniques of personnel management, it says. Just manage the context. Get out from behind your desk, bypass the hierarchy, and go and talk to people. That way you will unlock an enormous potential for improved performance.
- The HRM rhetoric presents it as an all or nothing process that is ideal for any organization, despite the evidence that different business environments require different approaches.
- The unitarist/managerialist approach to industrial relations implicit in HRM prompted Fowler (1987: 3) to write: ‘At the heart of the
concept is the complete identification of employees with the aims and values of the business – employee involvement but on the company’s terms. Power in the HRM system remains very firmly in the hands of the employer. Is it really possible to claim full mutuality when at the end of the day the employer can decide unilaterally to close the company or sell it to someone else?’
- HRM appears torn between preaching the virtues of individualism (concentration on the individual) and collectivism in the shape of teamwork (Legge, 1989).
- There is a potential tension between the development of a strong corporate culture and employees’ ability to respond flexibly and adaptively (Legge, 1989).
- HRM is ‘macho-management dressed up as benevolent paternalism’ (Legge, 2005: 48). HRM is manipulative. The forces of internal persuasion and propaganda may be deployed to get people to accept values with which they may not be in accord and that in any case may be against their interests. Willmott (1993: 534) asserted that: ‘any (corporate) practice/value is as good as any other so long as it secures the compliance of employees’.
- ‘The more we study HRMism, the more we find out about it and the more we elaborate it, the more elusive and obscure it becomes.’ (Keenoy, 1997: 825).
- Guest (1991: 149) referred to the ‘optimistic but ambiguous label of human resource management’.
There may be something in these criticisms but the fact remains that as a description of people management activities in organizations, HRM is here to stay, even if it is applied diversely or only used as a label to describe traditional personnel management practices. There is much talk now about such things as HR strategy, human capital management, engagement, talent management and partnership, as well as plenty of developments in people management practices such as competency-based HRM, e-HRM, high performance work systems, performance management and reward management. But with the possible exception of HR strategy, these have not been introduced under the banner of the HRM concept as originally defined.
In the words of John Storey (2001: 5), HRM has to a degree become ‘a generic term simply denoting any approach to employment management’. The ways in which it is delivered as described below take place irrespective of the degree to which what is done corresponds with the conceptual HRM model.