Employee Demographics in Hrm

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Employee Demographics in Human Resource Management Research
Fiona Edgar & Alan Geare

Abstract

Despite a prominent perspective of the literature that employees are consumers of HRM, only recently has HRM been evaluated from the employees’ viewpoint. Whilst these studies have helped to develop our understanding of the HRM‘experience’ from an employee perspective, they frequently ignore the issue of employee demography. This study contributes to understanding in this area by establishing areas of difference in employee views based upon their characteristics about the importance and application of HRMpractice. Specifically, the demographic categories of gender, ethnicity, age, occupation, length of service, and employment sector are examined. Fndings indicate that employee demography, especially gender, ethnicity and employment sector, does influence employee attitudes towards HRM, and should be given consideration in HRM research. The findings are discussed in terms of their relevance for the Asia Pacific region.

Introduction

The view that best practice models of Human Resource Management (HRM) have universal applicability is an assumption that is often made in the literature (Wood 1995, Purcell 1999). This implicitly suggests that employees are homogenous, and hence, would have similar views towardsHRM policies and practices. However, there is little actual evidence to support this view as few studies in HRM have researched employees themselves. As Bowen and Ostroff (2004) point out in a recent paper: In past research on HRM practices and systems, scholars have typically relied on reports from a higher-level manager or HR executive ... we suggest that a better alternative is to assess these characteristics of the HRM system from employees themselves. (p.216) If employees, as a group, have been largely ignored in HRM research, it is not surprising that employee demographics have apparently been deemed irrelevant. This paper takes an alternative view, and argues that there are logical reasons why employee demographics should be given consideration and presents data in support of that argument.

Employee Demographics

Employee demography can be defined as “the study of the composition of a social entity in terms of its members’ attributes” (Pfeffer 1983: 303). Demographics include such factors as gender, age, ethnicity, occupation, seniority, salary levels, marital and family status. The researcher normally includes those factors which are assumed to have explanatory value in the research. Research outside the discipline of HRM frequently considers employee demographics, accepting that they can explain significant differences in attitudes and beliefs (Cianni & Romberger 1995, Mor Barak, Cherin & Berkman 1998). However, in the specific area of HRM research a high proportion of researchers ignore employees altogether, let alone consider demographics. This lack of attention afforded to employee demographics in HRM research has created what some now refer to as a ‘black box’ (Pfeffer 1985, Lawrence 1997). Lawrence (1997:2) points out that despite the important, sometimes critical role of demography, researchers often leave demographic variables “loosely specified and unmeasured, creating a ‘black box’ filled with vague, untested theories”. Somewhat belatedly, in the last few years there have been calls for more employee ‘voice’ in HRMresearch. In addition to Bowen and Ostroff (2004), the most persistent calls have come from Guest (1999, 2001, 2002). If employees are to be given a voice in HRM research, then it is arguable that employee demographics should also be considered, rather than it be implicitly assumed employees are a homogenous group with similar attributes and beliefs. While work forces have always had a degree of diversity in terms of age and skill, this diversity has grown markedly over the last two to three decades. The number of women in the work force...
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