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HRM: a game of two halves?
Michael White

Half of British workplaces have only gone halfway with Human Resource Management (HRM) and the results are not even half-good. The other half have moved up to a more wholehearted kind of HRM and are on an upward curve of rising employee satisfaction and commitment.

This is the message from new research that looks into the intensity of HRM development across all kinds of British workplaces.

The reason for bothering with HRM is usually so as to foster higher levels of motivation and performance among employees. Questions about overall job attitude - job satisfaction and commitment - can give a good idea of HRM's effectiveness, since a positive attitude has been shown to link up with the employees' task performance, general helpfulness around the workplace, and with timekeeping, attendance, and length of service.

The dominant creed among HRM advocates has been that any bit of HRM 'best practice' contributes positively. The research suggests that this is a myth. So long as HRM is stuck at a low or only moderate level, employees are likely to be turned off by it. It's only when a workplace breaks through to a high level of HRM intensity that a positive impact appears, and from then on each further development takes employee response to a higher level.

My co-author Alex Bryson (NIESR) and I explain that HRM should be seen as a system that communicates signals which motivate - or demotivate - employees. Only when there is a high level of practice does the positive signal come through strong and clear.

So if an organisation's management wants employees to be committed, it needs to be fully committed itself. As HRM needs time to install and develop, and cannot be done in one big leap, this usually means commitment long-term. Management may well face a difficult time while HRM is in its early stages, but by hanging in and keeping going with further development, they have a good chance of getting to the lasting rewards.

The article, Positive employee attitudes: how much human resource management do you need? appears in the March 2013 issue of the journal Human Relations.

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