Human resources management is an essential part of any business, as it involves effectively managing employees. According to Armstrong (2006, p. 3), HRM can be defined as a strategic and coherent approach to managing the valuable assets of an organization – its employees – who contribute both individually and collectively towards achieving objectives. Furthermore, the HR department also provides administrative support for employment laws and regulations.
The HR function plays multiple roles in aiding the overall management of the business. These roles include active involvement in recruitment and selection, disciplinaries, absence monitoring, training and development, and keeping up with legislation changes. According to Thomson (2002, p. 11), the growth of Human Resources Management (HRM) within business industries has been noticeable since the 1980s, replacing the personnel management functions previously used by organizations to manage their businesses.
The perception of personnel management is that it involves administrative tasks like payroll and compliance with employment law. On the other hand, HR is seen as focusing on managing the workforce as a crucial resource for organizational success. In the modern business environment, HR handles not only these functions but also others. Therefore, it can be assumed that HR has replaced personnel management. Additionally, conflicts between HR and line managers are common in many organizations.
According to the HR Magazine (2010), line managers often feel that HR imposes restrictions on their management of the business and staff. Managers believe that HR adds additional time-consuming tasks to their workload. The HR Magazine cites data from Roffery Park, an education institute in West Sussex, which found that 45% of middle managers believed HR lacked credibility and only 24% thought HR provided value, based on a survey of 800 respondents to Roffey Park’s 2009 Management Agenda.
A third of individuals at this level believed that HR had no influence at all. However, HR’s interference in their business was so significant that middle managers rated their engagement at work lower than any other manager above or below them. This demonstrates that line managers and HR do not always have a positive working relationship in all businesses. The HR Magazine also stated that when asked about their view of the effectiveness of the HR function, HR practitioners had a different perspective compared to managers. Only 15% of HR professionals believed that HR failed to support managers, whereas 33% of managers felt unsupported by HR. None of the HR professionals believed they added value to the business, while 69% of middle managers thought they did. Additionally, 78% of HR practitioners considered HR to be credible, compared to 57% of middle management. Furthermore, 73% of HR practitioners disagreed with the notion that they create too many initiatives, and 69% of line managers also disagreed. These discrepancies in opinions between line managers and HR can lead to conflict between both management functions, ultimately harming employees and the business itself.
During research for this essay about the tensions between line managers and HR practitioners in modern organizations, it has become evident that there are specific aspects and tasks where HR and line managers clash. These areas, which commonly cause conflict, include recruitment, legislation changes, appraisals, dismissals, and disciplinaries. In addition, this essay will critically evaluate the effectiveness of HR practitioners in convincing organizations of the value of their role.
HR plays a crucial role in the recruitment process, specifically in sourcing new employees for company positions. HR is responsible for various administrative tasks associated with recruitment, such as organizing advertisements, creating job descriptions and specifications, and preparing contracts. According to the Personnel Today Website (2001), around 30% of respondents reported that HR always controlled temporary staff recruitment, while 36% stated that HR was mostly responsible, and 20% said HR was never responsible for such recruitment. The belief is that HR takes charge of the recruitment process to reduce costs and enhance efficiency.
After applicants have applied, it is up to HR to shortlist candidates for interviews. However, conflicts may arise when line managers feel they have limited control over the recruitment process and believe their requirements for potential employees are not being adequately met. This can ultimately result in a higher staff turnover rate, leading to significant financial consequences for the business in the long term.
However, if a line manager and HR collaborate effectively during the recruitment process, conflict can be minimized and the manager’s needs can be fulfilled. The Personnel Today Website (2001) emphasizes that it is not about eliminating intermediaries, but about effective communication between HR and line managers to convey requirements to each other. HR also stays updated with legislative changes and ensures their implementation in business operations.
The absence of HR keeping the organization up to date with current employment law and legislation changes could result in the organization being held accountable for cases such as unfair dismissal, which could be very costly. Ray Jones, a manager at American Express Corporate Travel Services in San Francisco, characterizes human resources as “out to lunch.” They are detached from the real world of frustrated customers and problematic employees, relying solely on following protocols to solve problems. It is evident that managers become frustrated when they are unable to address problems in their own preferred manner, which they may consider easier. However, it is crucial for HR to ensure that business issues are managed and resolved in compliance with employment laws. Caudron (1999, p. 3) further suggests that HR is often seen as a company’s enforcer who restricts the flexibility of line managers. Consequently, many managers grow weary of HR’s denial and resort to finding ways around HR instead of collaborating with them.
The appraisal process is typically conducted by the line manager and the employee with written guidance from HR. In my experience, appraisals consist of predetermined questions posed by the manager to the employee, which are formulated by the HR team. Some managers may believe that HR should handle appraisals, as they can be quite time-consuming, especially when managing a large team.
This can result in the appraisal process being less effective than desired by the organization, as managers may perceive it as a futile task imposed on them by HR. Upon researching the issues with appraisals, it became evident that in certain cases, managers do not even conduct appraisals with their employees. According to a survey conducted by Talent Q, a people assessment firm, of over 1,000 employees, 40% did not receive a formal appraisal (Personnel Today Website, 2008).
Managers consider appraisal as a tedious task instead of a beneficial activity to manage employee performance. Nonetheless, this perspective can adversely affect the business as it may lead to overlooking training and development opportunities. Furthermore, employees may become discontented with their current position and role, which could be improved through job rotation or job enrichment. These aspects are typically addressed during appraisals.
By providing training and development opportunities, organizations can enhance employee motivation and foster greater commitment. According to Foot and Hook (2008, p. 248), appraisals offer a chance to assess work content, loads, and volumes, reflect on past achievements, and set objectives for the future. Through goal-setting and the establishment of individual development plans, employee commitment can be strengthened.
Line managers are now responsible for disciplinaries, including conducting investigation meetings and disciplinary meetings. They must determine the appropriate level of discipline for employees, ranging from verbal warnings to dismissal. It is essential for line managers to abide by the company’s disciplinary procedure and comply with employment law. Failure to do so may result in the case being escalated to an employment tribunal.
According to Redman and Wilkinson (2009, p. 232) and Rollinson et al. (1996), managers are often disheartened by the disciplinary procedure as they feel it restricts their autonomy and forces them to strictly follow predefined guidelines. Additionally, HR managers are increasingly involved in disciplinary meetings to oversee line management practices. This involvement can help prevent unfair dismissals by ensuring that line managers adhere to the correct procedure and comply with employment laws.
Human Resources (HR) plays a crucial role in saving time for managers in the long run. They handle administrative tasks for line managers and ensure compliance with current legislation in employment law to prevent costly cases of unfair dismissal or constructive dismissal that can negatively impact a business financially and its reputation. Furthermore, HR integrates the organization’s culture into its employees through their operational methods.
Outsourcing the HR function has become increasingly popular in many organizations as a way to obtain expertise and save money. According to a case study found in Thomson (2002, p. 14), Cable and Wireless is outsourcing the majority of its HR function to save an estimated ?13m by 2005, despite the fact that the subcontracted organization, epeopleserve, is partially owned by its main competitor, British Telecom. A survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, cited in the Growth Business Website (2009), reveals that organizations expect to outsource even more in the future. Currently, 69 percent of UK-based respondents handle administrative HR functions entirely in-house, but this number is expected to decrease to 42 percent by 2010. However, most of those planning to move away from an in-house model will still retain some processes within the organization rather than outsourcing everything. It is important to note that outsourcing carries risks for the business. The organization taking over the HR function may not share the same values and culture as the existing business, potentially damaging working methods and reputation. This can lead to conflict and tension between managers and HR. Therefore, it has become apparent that many organizations are currently outsourcing HR while also centralizing the HR function.
Centralizing HR eliminates the need for HR teams in every location of a business, requiring line managers to take on some of the responsibilities of HR practitioners. This is particularly true in the retail and hospitality sectors, including supermarkets, clothing and home ware stores, pubs, and restaurants, where a dedicated HR practitioner may not be present for day-to-day tasks.
However, this is now becoming more prevalent across all sectors. Managers may perceive this as increasing their workload, as they are required to handle administrative tasks such as addressing sickness absence, conducting return to work interviews, and planning holiday leave. An organization that the author is familiar with, the Valuation Office Agency, is currently planning to centralize its HR function in order to streamline the process and enhance the agency’s cost-effectiveness under its restructuring plan.
The organization has been divided into five separate business streams, replacing the previous 72 office groups in England and Wales. Each business stream region now has its own HR department, rather than each office having its own HR practitioners. This change means that managers no longer handle their own case work and instead focus solely on managing their teams. However, this decision has caused frustration and anger among managers in the group as they believe their workload is being altered and that they are being compelled to take on HR responsibilities while losing aspects of their job that they enjoy. According to Hutchinson and Purcell (2003), as cited in Armstrong (2006, p. 3), a line manager is defined as an individual who is responsible for a work group within a higher level of management hierarchy. They are typically positioned at the first level of the management structure and accountable for the day-to-day operations of the business.
The responsibilities of managers include people management, managing operational costs, providing technical expertise, organizing and planning work allocation, checking quality, and managing operational performance. Fayol’s five elements of management align with Hutchinson and Purcell’s view of a manager’s role, which is similar to Mintzberg’s findings.
Thomson (2002, p. ) states that Fayol observed that every managerial job consists of five elements: forecasting and planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, and controlling.
One of the daily tasks that a manager must perform is people management. This is an important aspect of being a line manager because the team the manager is responsible for plays a crucial role in the success of any business.
In many modern organizations, line managers also take on HR roles in addition to their traditional management responsibilities.
According to Mullins (2006, p. 83), the line manager needs to balance their attention between concern for people and concern for results. To assess this balance, the Blake and Moulton Managerial Grid is used. The grid rates managers on a scale from 1, 1 (impoverished manager) to 9, 9 (team manager), based on their level of concern for production and concern for people. Various theorists, including Harvard and Michigan Universities, have extensively studied HR practices. Both Harvard and Michigan classify HR as either soft or hard HR.
Modern day organizations believe that HR is a combination of both hard and soft models. The soft HR model, also known as the Harvard model, emphasizes the importance of human relations in managing people. According to this model, employees should be seen as stakeholders, and managers and employees should align their views on business success and the methods to achieve it. On the other hand, the hard HR model, referred to as the Michigan model or the matching model, adopts a best fit approach to HR. It stresses the need for HR strategies to closely align with the overall strategies of the business.
The current view of HR limits its role to a reactive, organizational function and does not give enough importance to external factors. It is difficult to see how the current focus on work-life balance can be incorporated into this model. HR should be applied to a business using a strategic approach, as it is centered around people and looks outward. As stated before, the role of HR is to embed the organization’s culture into its employees through working and management practices, aiming to gain employee commitment and establish a psychological contract between the business and the employees (Brewster et al., 2008, p. ). This psychological contract is dynamic, voluntary, subjective, and informal, and serves two purposes: defining the employment relationships and managing mutual expectations. Gaining employee commitment is essential for business success, and HR plays an active role in achieving this. David Guest, an influential expert, identifies four main principles of HRM when applied to a business: strategic integration, high commitment, flexibility, and high quality. The CIPD website (nd) states that Guest’s theory encompasses the concept of the psychological contract as a means to create a high-quality workplace.
Over several years, research funded by CIPD has utilized a psychological contract model to examine the relationship between employers and employees. This model focuses on fairness, trust, and the fulfillment of agreements between the two parties. Guest argues that organizations should go beyond employees simply following company rules and establish a psychological contract with them, as it is in their best interest. The author believes that HR has demonstrated its crucial role within businesses and is essential for organizational success.
The HR function is a commonly used tool in modern organizations. It serves as a business partner, providing advice on various matters such as business decisions and employee relations. Armstrong (2006. p. 209) explains that HR practitioners can have multiple roles in management, including supporter, interpreter, champion, monitor, resourcer, and anticipator of potential problems.
HR integrates current legislation into business working practices. HR is successful in persuading organizations of its value and importance. According to Thomson (2002, p. 15), there is growing evidence supporting a positive correlation between “good” HR practices and organizational outcomes. HR can be seen as a safety measure for a business, ensuring that managers receive the proper guidance to effectively manage the business and its employees.
Managers may perceive that HR is purposely making their daily work more challenging by adding administrative tasks to their workload in order to validate their role within the company. However, HR does play a crucial role in monitoring and regulating the activities of the company, prioritizing the interests of both the business and its employees. Although tensions might arise between HR and line managers, it is recommended that enhancing communication and understanding each other’s requirements from both parties is essential for improving the work relationships between these two business functions.
Armstrong, M. (2006). Human Resources Management Practice 10th Edition. Kogan Page Limited. London.
The book titled Contemporary issues in Human Resources Management Gaining a Competitive Advantage, 3rd Edition, was written by Brewster, C., Carey., Grobler, P., Holland, P. and Warnich, S. It was published by Oxford University in Cape Town in 2008.
Caudron, S. (1999). HR vs. Managers. Workforce, Vol. 78, Issue 8, pp. 32 – 38.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Website (nd) provides information about the Foresight mental capital and well-being project. The project can be accessed at http://www.cipd.co.uk/publicpolicy/_mntlcptl.htm. Access to the project was obtained on 13 January 2012.
Foot, M., and Hook, C. authored the book “Introducing Human Resources Management 5th Edition”, which was published by Prentice Hall in London.
On the 12th of August 2009, Growth Business Website published an article titled “HR Outsourcing: The Basics” which can be found at http://www.growthbusiness.co.uk/channels/growth-strategies/human-resources/1065407/hr-outsourcing-the-basics.thtml. The article was accessed on the 10th of January 2012.
HR Magazine Website (23rd February 2010). HR and line manager relations showing signs of improvement. Available at http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hr/features/1015098/hr-line-manager-relations-signs-improvement [Accessed 28th December 2011]
Mullins, L.R. (2006) Essentials of Organisational Behaviour. Prentice Hall. Essex
Personnel Today Website (27th March 2001). Line managers are encouraged to assist HR in filling job vacancies. The article can be found at http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2001/03/27/5319/line-managers-should-help-hr-fill-vacancies.html [Accessed 28th December 2011]
According to an article on the Personnel Today website (15th February 2008), the poor adoption of appraisals in the UK can be explained by a tick-box mentality. The article can be accessed at http://www.personneltoday.com/articles/2008/02/15/44438/tick-box-mentality-explains-poor-take-up-of-appraisals-in.html (Accessed 10th January 2012).
Redman, T., and Wilkinson, A.’s (2009) book, Contemporary Human Resources Management Text and Cases, is a 3rd Edition published by Prentice Hall in London.
Thomson, R. (2002). Managing People Third Edition. Elsevier Butterworth Heinemann. Oxford.