Human Resources Management

Human resources management is a business department and function that has the strategic approach to the management of the company’s employees. Armstrong (2006, p. 3) defines HRM as ‘a strategic and coherent approach to the management of an organisation’s most valuable assets – the people working there who individually and collectively contribute to the achievement of it objectives. ’ The HR business function provides an organisation with administrative support regarding the laws and legislation of employment.

The HR function take on many roles and aid the overall management of the business, such as playing an active part in recruitment and selection, disciplinaries, absence monitoring, training and development and legislation changes to name just a few. According to Thomson (2002, p. 11) ‘since the 1980’s it has been the growth of Human Resources Management within many business industries’ it is believed that the HRM function has taken over from the personnel management functions that organisations used to manage their businesses.

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Personnel management is perceived to be more administrative, dealing with payroll, complying with employment law, and handling related tasks. HR is perceived to be focused on managing a workforce as one of the primary resources that contributes to the success of an organisation. HR in the modern business environment manages all the above functions and more. It is a fair assumption to make that Human resources management has now superseded personnel management. It is apparent that in many organisations conflict can arise between HR and line managers.

Line managers may often feel that HR are adding restrictions to how they manage the business and also the staff, it is believed that managers feel that HR add extra time wasting duties to their work. According the HR Magazine (2010), using data gather from Roffery Park an education institute based in West Sussex ‘low middle managers’ relationship with the HR department had become, when, of the 800 respondents to Roffey Park’s 2009 Management Agenda, 45% of middle managers believed HR lacked credibility and less than a quarter (24%) thought HR actually added value.

A third at this level thought HR had no influence at all, but such was HR’s meddling in their business that middle managers rated their engagement at work far lower than any other grade of manager above or below them’. From this it is clear to see that line managers and HR do not necessarily have a positive working relationship within all businesses. The HR Magazine go on to add that the HR practitioners that they asked how they viewed the HR function had a different view of the effectiveness of their role adding that ‘Only 15% of HR professionals thought HR failed to support managers, whereas 33% of managers thought HR didn’t support them. 0% of HR professionals thought they added value to the business; 69% of middle managers thought this. 78% of HR practitioners thought HR was credible; 57% of middle management thought this. 73% of HR practitioners disagreed that they produce too many initiatives; 69% of line managers disagreed with this. ’ It is clear to see that there is a difference of opinion between line managers and HR and this can cause conflict between both management functions ultimately having a detrimental affect on the employees and the business itself.

Whilst conducting necessary research for this essay to explain the tensions which may exist between line managers and HR practitioners in modern organisations, and also to critically evaluate how effective HR practitioners are in convincing organisations of the value of their role it has been clear to see that there are certain aspects and task conducted by a business where HR and line managers clash. The area’s, which cause most conflict, are recruitment, legislation changes, appraisals, dismissals and disciplinaries.

With recruitment HR play a very active part in recruiting a new employee for a position within the company. It is the responsibility of HR to carry out the administration for this. HR will organise adverting the position, they will, prepare the job description and specification and contracts for the position, according to Personnel Today Website (2001) ‘A total of 30 per cent of respondents said their HR departments always controlled temporary staff recruitment, 36 per cent revealed HR was mostly responsible and 20 per cent said that their HR departments were never responsible for recruitment of temporary staff. It is believed that HR take control of the recruitment process to save on costs and make the process more efficient. When applicants have applied for the position HR will then shortlist for the interviews. Here is where conflict may occur as line manager may feel that they are having limited control over how employees are being recruited and their requirements from the employee are not being met, this can subsequently result in a high staff turn over than can be cost more financially to the business in the long term.

However if a line manger and HR are to work closely together during the recruitment process conflict can be reduced and the needs of the manager can be met the Personnel Today Website (2001) adds ‘It is not a question of cutting out the middle man – it is more a question of how the HR and line managers communicate their requirements with each other’ Human Resources keep up to date with current legislation changes and ensure that these are applied to working practices within the business.

Without HR keeping the business up to date with current employment law and legislation changes, this could lead to the business being held responsible for cases such as unfair dismissal, which could prove very costly for the organisation. According to Ray Jones a manager at American Express Corporate Travel Services based in San Francisco, he describes human resources as. ‘HR is out to lunch. They’re sheltered from the real world of irate customers and problem employees, the only way they know how to solve problems is to go by the book. ’ cited in Caudron (1999, p. 3) it is clear to see that managers get frustrated by not being able to correct a problem their own way, that they view to be easier, however it is important that HR ensure that business problems are managed and resolved by the book so they can be sure that they are not in breaking any employment laws. Caudron (1999, p. 34) adds that ‘In many respects, HR is viewed as a company policeman who takes away the line manager’s flexibility,’ she adds that many managers get tired of HR telling them “no” so managers start to work around HR instead of with HR.

The appraisal process is now generally a task to be completed by the line manager with the employee, with written guidance from HR. In the authors experience appraisals are set questions to be asked by the manager to the employee that are designed by the HR team. Managers can feel that this is a process that can be carried out by the HR as appraisals can be very time consuming and even more so if the manager has a large team of employees under their command.

This can lead to appraisals process not being as effective as the organisation desires, as managers may just view the appraisal as a time wasting tick box exercise being forced upon them to carry out by HR. When researching the problematic area’s of appraisals it became apparent that managers, in some cases, do not even carry out the appraisal process with the employee. According to Personnel Today Website (2008) ‘A survey of more than 1,000 employees by people assessment firm, Talent Q, found that four in 10 respondents did not receive a formal appraisal.

Managers viewed appraisal as a ‘chore’ rather than a useful activity to manage the performance of their people’. However ultimately this can have a negative impact on the business as training and development opportunities maybe looked over , the employee may feel unhappy in their current position and role and may benefit from job rotation or job enrichment, these areas can often be highlighted in appraisals and when addressed.

Training and development of employees can help motivate employees to improve their personal work output and gain commitment from employees Foot and Hook (2008, p. 248) state that ‘an appraisal is an opportunity to take an overall view of work content, loads and volumes, to look back on what has been achieved during the reporting period and agree objectives for the next’ by agreeing objectives and creating a personal development plan will increase commitment from employees.

Disciplinaries have also become the line manager’s responsibility; the line manager now has to conduct the investigation meeting and also the disciplinary meeting itself. It is now the role of the line manager to decide the level of discipline the employee may receive from verbal warning to dismissal. The line manager must follow the organisations disciplinary procedure and also ensure they stay within the realms of employment law, failure to do so could end with the case being taken to an employment tribunal.

Managers feel that the disciplinary procedure restricts them and frustrates them having to go by the book, Cited in Redman and Wilkinson (2009, p. 232) Rollinson et al. (1996) ‘HR Managers are being asked to sit in on such meetings to police line management practices’ HR sitting in on disciplinary meeting can reduce unfair dismissal cases as they can ensure that the line managers are sticking to the procedure and not breaking employment law.

HR effectively save time for managers in the long term as the carry out the administration for the line managers and keep a check on current legislation to ensure that line manager are managing their staff within the legislation within employment law preventing a case of unfair dismissal or constructive dismissal which can be costly financially to a business and also to it reputation. HR embeds the culture of the organisation into its employees by its working practices.

Outsourcing the HR function has increased in many organisations recently. Organisation may do this to obtain expertise and save money which is believed to be the main driving force for this, a case study found in Thomson (2002, p. 14) stated that ‘Cable and Wireless is outsourcing the bulk of its HR function in order to save an estimated ?13m by 2005. This is in spite of the fact that the organisation to which the outsourcing is being subcontracted, epeopleserve, is half owned by its main competitor, British Telecom. According to a survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, Cited Growth Business Website (2009) ‘organisations expect to outsource more in the future. While 69 per cent of UK-based respondents deliver administrative HR functions wholly in-house, that number is set to fall to 42 per cent by 2010. That said most of those who anticipate moving away from an in-house model will still keep some processes within the organisation, rather than outsourcing everything. Outsourcing can have such a negative effect on the business and is a risk, the organisation taking over management of the HR function will not necessarily have the same values and culture of the existing business, and this may damage the businesses working methods and also the reputation, which can create even more conflict and tension between managers and HR. It has become apparent that many organisations recently are outsourcing HR, and also centralising the HR function.

Centralising HR means that not every location within a business has a HR team based with them and this ultimately means that line managers have to also adopt an element of the HR practitioner’s role. In the retail sector such as supermarkets and clothing and home ware stores and also in the hospitality sector, in pubs and restaurants for example. Here there will not be a HR practitioner for the day to day work so the line manager must then take on some of the duties of HR.

However this is becoming now more common within all sectors. Manager may feel that this is adding to their workload with administration tasks such as addressing sickness absence, return to work interviews and holiday leave planning. An organisation the author is familiar with is the Valuation Office Agency, the organisation is currently planning to centralise it human HR function to stream line the process to make the agency more cost effective under it restructure plan.

The organisation it to be split into five different business steams down from 72 office groups across England and Wales and each five business stream region has its own HR department instead of each office having its own HR practitioners based with them. Now the managers do not have their own case work and are dedicated managers to their team. This plan has left managers within the group angered and frustrated with the plans to changed the topics of their workload feeling that they ultimately taking on their HR role and having their elements of the job they enjoy taken away from them. Hutchinson and Purcell (2003) cited in Armstrong (2006, p. 3) defines the role of a line manager as ‘responsible for a work group to a higher level of management hierarchy, and are placed in the lower layers of the management hierarchy, normally at the first level, they are responsible for the day to day running of the business.

The roles of such managers include, People management, managing operational costs, providing technical expertise, organising and planning work allocation, checking quality and managing operational performance’ Fayol’s five elements of management agree with Hutchinson and Purcell’s view of the role of a manager as is similar to Mintzberg’s findings, as Thomson (2002, p. ) states ‘Fayol’s observed that every managerial job contained five elements of forecasting and planning, organising, commanding, coordinating and controlling. ’ Within the day to day task that a manager must carry out includes people management; this is an important part of being a line manager as the team that the line manager is responsible for is a vital part of the success of any business. In many modern organisations line managers encompass HR roles unlike the ‘traditional’ management role.

The line manager must equally distribute their attention between concern for people and concern for result this can be scored by using the Blake and Moulton Managerial Grid, according to Mullins (2006, p. 83) ‘the impoverished manager would receive a low rating of 1, 1 and the team manager would receive a high rating of 9, 9 as these have both high concern for production and high concern for people. ’ HR practices have been widely studied by many theorists and also by academic institutions such as Harvard and Michigan Universities. Harvard and Michigan describe HR of being either soft or hard HR.

It is believed that in modern day organisations that HR is a mixture of both hard and soft models. Soft HR the Harvard model believes that managing people comes from human relations and that employees should be viewed as stakeholders and managers and employees should coincide their views of business success and how they plan to reach this. Hard HR, the Michigan model which is also referred to as the matching model uses the best fit approach to HR. It requires that HR strategies have a tight fit to the overall strategies of the business.

This limits the role of HR to a reactive, organisational function and under-emphasises the importance of other external factors, it is difficult to see how the current concern for work life balance could be integrated into this model. HR is applied to a business using a strategic approach as HR is people focussed and outward facing. The role of HR as previously stated is to embed the culture of the organisation into its employees by its working and management practices attempting to gain employee commitment and agreeing a psychological contract between the business and the employee Brewster et al. (2008, p. ) state ‘the psychological contract that is a dynamic, voluntary, subjective and informal accomplishes two tasks: firstly it defines the employment relationships, and secondly, it manages mutual expectations. ’ HR plays an active role in gaining employee commitment which is a must for business success. An influential expect David Guest has the view of HR having four underlying main principles when applying HRM to a business these are, strategic integration, high commitment, flexibility and high quality, the CIPD website (nd) states that Guest theory on a high quality workplace is ‘the concept of the psychological contract.

In research funded by CIPD over a number of years he has used a model of the psychological contract between employers and employees based on fairness, trust and employers’ delivery of the “deal” with employees’ Guest believes that it is the interests of organisations to move forward from having their employees only complying will company rules by establishing a psychological contract with its employees. It is of the author’s opinion HR proves that they play an integral part within the business and is a necessity to organisational success.

The HR function is widely used in modern organisations as a partner of the business, to advise the best course of action to take, whether be assisting in business decision or improving employee relations. Armstrong (2006. p. 209) states that ‘HR practitioners can play a number of important roles in management. These include that of supporter, interpreter, champion, monitor, resourcer, and anticipator of potential problems’.

HR incorporates current legislation into business working practices. HR are effective in convincing organisations of their value and worth Thomson (2002, p. 15) states that ‘there are increasing indications that there is a positive relationship between ‘good’ HR practices and organisational results’. HR can be described as providing a safety net for a business, ensuring that it provides managers with the correct advice to manage the business and its employees.

Managers may feel that HR are attempting to make day to day work difficult by adding administrative task to their workload, just to justify their role within a business. However HR does indeed police the actions of the business keeping the business and its people interests a top priority. While tensions may exist between HR and line managers it is suggested that an improvement of communication and understanding of each others needs from both sides is vital for improving work relationships between the two business functions.


Armstrong, M. (2006). Human Resources Management Practice 10th Edition. Kogan Page Limited. London.

Brewster, C., Carey., Grobler, P., Holland, P. and Warnich, S. (2008). Contemporary issues in Human Resources Management Gaining a Competitive Advantage 3rd Edition. Oxford University. Cape Town.

Caudron, S. (1999). HR vs. Managers. Workforce, Vol. 78, Issue 8, pp. 32 – 38.

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Website (nd). Foresight mental capital and well-being project. Available at [Accessed 13 January 2012]

Foot, M., Hook, C. (2008). Introducing Human Resources Management 5th Edition. Prentice Hall. London

Growth Business Website (12th August 2009). HR Outsourcing: The Basics. Available at [Accessed 10 January 2012]

HR Magazine Website (23rd February 2010). HR and line manager relations showing signs of improvement. Available at [Accessed 28th December 2011]

Mullins, L.R. (2006) Essentials of Organisational Behaviour. Prentice Hall. Essex

Personnel Today Website (27th March 2001). Line managers should help HR fill vacancies. Available at [Accessed 28th December 2011]

Personnel Today Website (15th February 2008). Tick-box mentality explains poor take up of appraisals in UK. Available at [Accessed 10th January 2012]

Redman, T., Wilkinson, A. (2009). Contemporary Human Resources Management Text and Cases 3rd Edition. Prentice Hall. London

Thomson, R. (2002). Managing People Third Edition. Elsevier Butterworth Heinemann. Oxford.

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