Human Resource Management: Convergence and Divergence Dabate in Europe

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Human Resource Management as a concept was formalised in the USA in the late 1970s and early 1980s, encapsulated in two famous textbooks (Beer et al. 1985; Fombrun et al. 1984). These approaches varied but both differentiated HRM from personnel management and argued that the former involved more integration of personnel policies across functions and with the corporate strategy (with HR being the downstream function); a greater role for line managers; a shift from collective to individual relationships; and an accent on enhancing company performance. The notion of "European Human Resource Management" was developed largely as a counter to the hegemony of US conceptions of human resource management (HRM). This, in part, reflected developments in the arguments about how we should conceive of the notion of HRM (Kamoche 1996). It was argued (Brewster 1994; Sparrow/Hiltrop 1994) that US assumptions about the nature of HRM were inappropriate in this (and probably other) continents and that Europe needed models of its own HRM practice. Due to technological advancement, globalization and economic changes in terms of human resource management practice made managers to develop new competencies to manage their working futures (Morgan 1988) increasingly, these require an international perspective in order to manage people in different culture and with different customs. There has been debate about how new ‘internationalisation’ or globalisation is, (Brewster, Sparrow, and Harris,2001, Farnham,1994, Hu, 1992, Moore and Lewis, 1999, Williamson, 1996,) its effect and how it has been felt around us. The question is, is the US model of HRM the one that will be inevitably followed In Europe since HRM practice was originally conceptualised and developed in the United State of America? Or do the feature which make European countries different mean that HRM in Europe will inevitably be different? And is there evidence of one model of HRM in Europe or many, looking at the convergence and the divergence of HRM practice in Europe. This essay is concerned with identifying the convergence and divergence of human resource practice in Europe establishing whether it makes sense to speak of a "European" version of HRM (Brewster 1994); with identifying the differences between countries in Europe in the way that they manage HRM; and with establishing whether the trends in HRM are strong enough to lead us to speak of convergence or divergence. Can we distinguish a version of HRM in Europe that is different from the versions existing in, for example, Japan or the USA? The latter case is of particular significance, given the power of the US version of human resource management. It has been argued that the US is an inappropriate model for Europe (Cox/Cooper 1985; Thurley/Wirdenius 1991; Pieper 1990; Brewster 1994; Brewster 1995). The vision of HRM that has come to Europe from the USA is culture bound (Trompenaars 1994; Adler/Jelinek 1986) and in particular a view of HRM as based on the largely unconstrained exercise of managerial autonomy has been attacked as being peculiarly American (Guest 1990; Brewster 1993; Brewster 1995b). In Europe, organizations are not so autonomous. They exist within a system which constrains (or supports) them, first, at the national level, by culture and by extensive legal and institutional limitations on the nature of the contract of employment, and second, at the organizational level, by patterns of ownership (by the State, by the banking and finance system and by families) which are distinct from those in the USA. It has been argued by (Brewster 1993) that a new 'European' model of HRM is required, one that takes account of State and trade union involvement. Of course, with a different turn of the focus screw, it is possible to distinguish distinct regional clusters even within Europe. Mostly these have been one-dimensional and limited to simple dichotomies. Thus, Hall and Soskice (2001) and Gooderham and colleagues (1999)...
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