Human Resource Management

Workplace problems are constantly changing, as is the workplace itself, and change is perhaps faster today than ever before. Thus employer-employee relationships, whether individual or collective, are in perpetual evolution.

Human Resource Management

Workplace problems are constantly changing, as is the workplace itself, and change is perhaps faster today than ever before. Thus employer-employee relationships, whether individual or collective, are in perpetual evolution. Even the language commonly used to express such relationships and the corresponding field of study has evolved over time. Fifty years ago INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS was the commonly used phrase; it called to mind masses of blue-collar workers, many of them organized in large unions, labouring away in mining pits or in enormous machine-filled shops. Hard work implied physical work undertaken in carefully supervised operations and regulated through extensive collective agreements, often obtained after hard negotiations, if not STRIKES AND LOCKOUTS.

Today the workplace is typically an office where services of all types - monetary, health-related, educational and others - are rendered. Employees, whether professional or service, usually work with computers and related equipment and are likely to be referred to as human resources (HR). HR management (HRM) is a phrase more commonly used nowadays than industrial relations. In a sense, the two phrases can be considered synonymous. Both relate to collective or individual work, as the case may be, and the ensuing employer-employee relationships.

HRM has many facets. Basically it includes all relationships between each employer - through various delegates or representatives - and each employee, either as an individual or as a union member, depending on circumstances and the problem at hand. HRM includes planning and staffing, selection and placement, by maintaining appropriate lists of candidates and hiring employees on the basis of tests and interviews. After selection, new employees must be integrated in the organization, their training upgraded if necessary and promotions eventually considered. Basic information on each employee must be kept up to date: residence, telephone, appropriate ID numbers, dependants (for welfare programs and income tax purposes), disciplinary notes and appraisal, grievance and absence records, compensation payments and checkoff, accidents and health conditions, plus all other needed information.

Many laws have a bearing on HRM, especially those establishing minimum labour standards: minimum wage, maximum hours of work, holidays and annual vacations, age requirement, just cause for dismissal, and the necessary follow-up if any. Most of these points are every employer's responsibility. In case of unsolvable conflict, a binding decision may result from a court procedure or an arbitration system. Hence the necessity of a department of HR and some employees exclusively devoted to implementing these norms and solving norms-related problems.

Should employees form a union - especially if they obtain certification and exercise their rights under labour relations law - an important part of HRM is transferred to the application of this well-organized system and the meticulous regulations established by the collective agreement. The HR department becomes the employer's agent and representative for that purpose, particularly to negotiate and make tactical decisions, such as whether to use lockouts and other forms of pressure. In regular (non-bargaining) periods, the HR department manages the application of the collective agreement, dealing with all grievances for unionized employees, up to and including arbitration. In a sense this is part of the HR department's responsibility regarding disciplinary action for all employees. For non-union employees, all previous legal decisions, forming part of the common law, serve as reference and basis, especially decisions rendered on similar cases of wrongful dismissals, by arbitrators acting under labour standards statutes.

All the different aspects of HR administration show the importance of HR representatives being properly trained in business administration and also in labour law. Thus all commerce departments and business schools have courses, if not a section, on personnel and HR administration. But so many other disciplines contribute to the body of knowledge on HR that the subject is also taught in many other departments - hence the problems evolving from multiple jurisdictions and the ensuing difficulties. There is presently controversy over whether personnel and industrial relations is better taught in a separate department or section, or under a number of appropriate and separate disciplines; or whether it should be taught in individual courses in appropriate faculties such as law, economics, sociology, administration, psychology, and perhaps a few others. This controversy is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.


Further Reading

  • Shimon Dolan and Randall Schuler, Personnel and Human Resource Management in Canada (1987); Bryan Downie and Mary Lou Coates, The Changing Face of Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management (1993).