Article on Hrm

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ER 25,3

Line manager involvement in HRM: an inside view
Douglas Renwick
Management School, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK


Received September Keywords Line management, Employee relations, Strategy, Human resource management 2002 Revised December 2002 Abstract Although line managers have always been involved in managing human resources Accepted December 2002 (HR), it is within human resource management (HRM) that their involvement has been placed centre-stage as a core element of an HR approach. This article reports findings from 40 interviews with line managers on their experiences in handling HR work that has been devolved to them, from a study of three different UK work organisations. The study finds that significant organisational benefits and costs exist from involving the line in HR work. The article concludes that participation of both line and HR managers in HRM needs to be re-assessed, as line involvement in HRM is a problematic initiative for organisations to adopt.

Employee Relations Vol. 25 No. 3, 2003 pp. 262-280 q MCB UP Limited 0142-5455 DOI 10.1108/01425450310475856

Introduction The involvement of line managers[1] in human resource management (HRM) has always been noted in the literature (Guest, 1987; Legge, 1995; Storey, 1992), but in recent years the line have been seen to play a more prominent role in HRM due to more HR work being “devolved” to them (Brewster and Larsen, 2000; Currie and Procter, 2001; Guest and King, 2001; Storey, 1992, 2001; Ulrich, 1997, 1998, 2001). Although devolution to the line in the UK is low compared with other European countries, and the dominant pattern across Europe is of sharing human resouces (HR) work between HR and the line (Brewster and Larsen, 2000), WERS ’98[2] notes that line managers outnumber employee relations specialists in the handling of employee relations (ER) issues at British workplaces (Millward et al., 2000, pp. 52-3). The rationale of why line involvement in HRM has come to the fore in recent years is seen by Brewster and Larsen (2000) to have five main elements: to reduce costs; to provide a more comprehensive approach to HRM; to place responsibility for HRM with managers most responsible for it; to speed up decision making; and as an alternative to outsourcing the HR function (adapted from Brewster and Larsen, 2000, pp. 196-8). Other authors note the different roles that line managers should now play in organisations and the reasons for them. These include ideas that line managers “are now expected to do more of their own HRM” and “can benefit from crosstraining in HR processes” (Mohrman and Lawler, 1998, pp. 443-4); that the line “should lead the way in fully integrating HR into the company’s real work” (Ulrich, 1998, pp. 125-6); and that the line adopt a “partnership” approach between HR, line and employees to manage HR issues – “an HR triad” (Jackson and Schuler, 2000, p. 25).

The possibility of increased line manager involvement in HRM surfaced in the British and American literature from the mid to late 1990’s on in the form of “partnerships” being formed between HR and the line (Eisenstat, 1996; Hutchinson and Wood, 1995; Ulrich, 1997, 1998, 2001), to “add value” and “deliver results” for organisations (Ulrich, 1997, 1998). The costs and benefits of devolution initiatives were also detailed at this time (Storey, 2001; Storey and Sisson, 2000)[3]. The thinking here is that the line should engage in HR processes which span “boundaries outside the organisation”, where “they have freedom to experiment rather than being excluded from decision making” (Currie and Procter, 2001, p. 57). Other academic HR literature at the turn of the millennium started to discuss the issues and dilemmas that surround line...
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