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Unitarist Approach and All Major Employment Relations Actors

Human resource management (HRM) is generally agreed upon to be a potentially positive impacting structure on employee performance (Boselie, Brester & Paauwe, 2009). Also known as the unitarist approach, HRM has become very popular over the past few decades to the extent that many organizations are adapting its principles in the hopes of having a more efficacious organizational operation paradigm (Boselie, Brester & Paauwe). In the rapid embrace of the HRM position, however, there has not been enough focus on the potential negative attributes of the practice. In reality, the adoption of a unitarist approach is not beneficial for all the major employment relations actors. Though it can be produce some positive outcomes, it does not change the innate difference in perspectives that exist between managers and employees.

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Management and employees have innately different outlooks on organizational operation and these perspectives keep them in a constant state of push and pull even in the best case of balanced HRM practices. Perfection, however, is not part of realistic organization operation as there will always be conflict, change and issues that arise on all organizational levels including management and employee relationships. Though HRM is not beneficial for all players at all times, the strengths of the practice do outweigh the disadvantages that have manifested in case studies. Focusing on the advantages without considering or being cognizant of the disadvantages carries with it the potential to shift the balance in favor of the employee. HRM should not be abandoned based on the literature findings, but it also should not be classified as something innately good.

HRM and Employment Relations
While many countries could be used to illustrate the aforementioned phenomena, Australia has recently recorded events that are of sufficient scope to demonstrate the outlined principles of HRM's true nature. In one perspective, HRM in Australia has led to cries for increased minimum wage standards. According to Burkauser (2010), "The popular objective of minimum wage legislation the elimination of extreme poverty is not seriously debatable" (p. 335). From a human capital perspective, the employees in organizations would want the highest amount of wages possible. Managers and owners, however, are best served by keeping the wages as low as possible to maximize their profit margins. In a classic Marxist sense, the employer keeps the wages low enough to sustain some degree of loyalty by the employee. The cheaper the labor, the better profits for the company, which is precisely why slave labor is the most profitable system for an owner. The embrace of the employee position, however, which is higher wages, demonstrates that Australia is taking the HRM approach.

Human resource management in Australia has allowed for the strengthening of strategic positioning for employees in Australia (Sheehan, Holland & Cieri, 2006). According to Sheehan, Holland and Cieri (2006), "HR professionals face several challenges including: the potential narrowing of their career base; the need for improved HRM metrics; and a broader commitment to the attraction and retention of initiatives" (p. 132). Despite the challenges, industrial relations standards in the country continue to develop based on HRM. In a legislative package announced by the Prime Minister in 2005, "the unilateral move to a national system of industrial relations" has resulted in a new situation where "the era of the select few making decisions for the many in Australian industrial relations is over" (Peetz, 2005, p. 90). Part of the phenomenon for unabashed support of the HRM paradigm in Australia and beyond often cites favorable attitudes of managers on employee organization. In a study conducted by Mamman and Rees (2005), the researchers found in a survey of 521 Australian managers that their attitudes toward trade unions, employee participation and organization stakeholders were mostly favorable. While this was the overall attitude, they all were generally in agreement that trade unions did not act in the organizations' economic interests (Mamman & Rees, 2005). This demonstrates that even managers who support HRM are cognizant of its potential for hurting the overall economic interests of the organization. Keeping employees happy can shift the organizational balance beyond high producing staff to staff who's expectation exceed that which is possible fiscally by the organization. As a result, HRM can quickly shift balance to a situation where managerial position is threatened at the expense of the overall efficacy of the organization.

The presence of unions or organized labor in the HRM paradigm cannot alone be considered the sole issue related to managerial and employee conflict. According to Walton (1985), "The presence of a union may institutionalize conflict and lackluster performance, but it seldom causes them" (p. 76). In addition, the same favorable attitude that the Australian managers had toward organized labor and employee organizations based on HRM, is not necessarily shared by employees thereby again demonstrating the innate perceptual difference between the two factions. In a study by Allan, Bamber and Timo (2006), the highly profitable fast food industry records generally dissatisfied employees on the industrial relations and work organization levels. Despite this, the same employees had a much higher degree of satisfaction with their human resource management and social relations aspects of their jobs (Allan, Bamber & Timo). HRM, as a result, is wrought with ambiguity, inconsistency and mixed results when it is critically evaluated on the perceptual and performance levels of the equation.

Prior to the HRM approach, the dominant organizational theory was that of an industrial democracy perspective (Boselie, Brewster & Paauwe, 2009). The previous system emphasized short term scope, compliance, external control and a pluralist perspective of employee relations (Boselie, Brewster & Paauwe). This autocratic approach is defined by managerial analyst Acona et al (2005) as being part of the old organizational paradigm. According to the researchers, the old organizational paradigm is no longer equipped to deal with the rigors and conditions of the twenty first century (Acona et al., 2005). While it is true that a pure old organizational paradigm approach with emphasis on tiered management, the individual employee, protocols and top down communications is unsustainable in most twenty first century organizational environments, the pure HRM perspective also have problems. According to Boselie, Brewster and Paauwe (2009), "Recently, a growing number of authors dispute this unitarist perspective, stressing the often conflicting interests of employees and employers" (p. 461). The terminology of balance has been referenced many times during the course of the debate, but it is the balance between the employee and the manager perspective that creates the most efficacious work conditions. Rather than what is best for the employee is best for the manager and vice versa, this realistic perspective acknowledges that was is a sustainable compromise for both parties is what is best for the organization and everyone involved.

What is best for the employee would create a set of conditions with over powerful unions, unsustainably high wages and benefits that an organization may not be able to pay for. What is best for the employer would a situation where labor and benefits are as low as possible to maximize profit. Organization of labor would be minimal because it would hold the potential to threaten the bottom line of profit and production. Despite these competing philosophies, the good related to the HRM paradigm still outweighs the bad. HRM, however, needs to be accomplished in a balanced manner. As outlined by Boselie, Brewster and Paauwe (2009), "A more balanced HRM approach takes into account the economic side of organizing and the human side of organizing" (p. 461). Due to the innate perceptual differences of management and employees, however, this will sometimes inevitably result in conflicting mechanisms). Outside of the U.S. HRM perspectives are generally embraced less, however, Australia has been gradually shifting toward this perspective and recent legislation and the overall attitude of management in the literature presented is reinforcing this observation.

Happy employees that feel that they have stake in a particular organization will always be more loyal and be more productive in their labor standards. As a result, it is in the best interests of managers to work within a balanced HRM or uintarist perspective in order to create the most sound organizational culture. If left unchecked, however, the perceptual demands of what is best for the worker can result in legislative, union and general employee attitudes that threaten levels of sustainability for the organization. Just as a manager centered working environment would lead to dissatisfied workers and less loyalty, an employee centered environment can easily lead to an over demanding workforce that wants maximum compensation for minimal efforts. Employee and employer perspectives are innately different and this factor will not change. In order to have the most efficacious environment, balanced HRM must be embraced in order for sustainable compromises to be established. Unitarist approaches are still necessary as they serve as a check on management and so long as they do not lead to an unchecked employee organizational base, the proper balance can be attained. Though Australia was used as a case study, the results are sufficiently robust to accommodate virtually any organizational state environment on a theoretical level.


Acona, D. et al. (2005). Managing For The Future. Canada: Thomson.

Allan, C., Greg J. Bamber, Nils Timo. (2006). Fast-food work: are McJobs satisfying? Employee Relations, 28(5), 402-420.

Boselie, P., Brewster, C. & Paauwe, J. (2009). In search of balance - managing the dualities of HRM: An overview of the issues. Personnel Review, 38(5), 461.

Burkhauser, R.. (2010). An American Perspective on the 2010 Increase in the Australian Minimum Wage. Australian Bulletin of Labour, 36(3), 335-340.

Mamman, A. and Christopher J Rees. (2005). Australian managerial attitudes towards employee relations: A comparison with the British National Survey. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 43(3), 381-403.

Peetz, D. (2005). Coming Soon to a Workplace Near You - the New Industrial Relations Revolution. Australian Bulletin of Labour, 31(2), 90-111.

Sheehan, C., Peter Holland, Helen De Cieri. (2006). Current developments in HRM in Australian organisations. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 44(2), 132.

Walton, R.E. (1985) From control to commitment in the workplace. Harvard Businss Review, 2, 76-84.

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