Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations


Human resource management and Industrial relations are two broad subjects that discuss the same issue though they may appear different. Both studies take a different approach but converge on the issue that they cover. The difference between the two disciplines comes in the way they are applied in the classroom but in the field that is aimed at addressing similar issues. This paper will look closely into the two disciplines in order to unearth their similarities and at the same time look into the ways in which they are similar. (Aoki 2001, p. 87; Pavett and Morris 2005, p. 62).

The theoretical framework underlying the study of the two subjects

There have been many theories that have been advanced on the two subjects. But their underlying approach is that work is a matter of coordination of individual activities is put together in a systematic manner. The underlying concept is that if these individuals have to work together in a coordinated manner, there must be norms the will govern how they interact with one another. Also, there must be confidence build in these people that the norms are applicable to all people and that they will be followed. Without such norms and the confidence of the individual that they will be observed, it will be difficult to coordinate the efforts. (Perotin and Robinson2000, p. 43)

Interaction and coordination of these individuals cannot happen if there is no participation of more than one individual. The norms are usually developed and recognized by the individuals through interaction and coordination of their activities. It is evident that human participation is an important element in any work process. This is advanced by the widely used capitalist production system which values human participation in the production system. (Falkum 1997, p. 59; Elvander 1998, p. 142)

Application of the concept of employee participation in the two

In HRM, the concept of involvement comes out strongly in the study. To involve is portrayed as an investment of attitudes, competencies, and creativity, and several of forms ownership in the work. In HRM, human, social, and cultural relations are considered superior to the focus on structures, positions, and interests of groups. As such, HRM recognized human and social capital as some of the most important investments that an organization takes in its operation. HRM takes the involvement of the employees as one of its driving forces. It forms its core operation with an emphasis on the empowerment of the workforce through involvement. It views employees’ involvement as self-directed, work teams, total quality management, quality circle, profit sharing, formal suggestion in complaint systems, and many other systems that have been put in place to involve the employees. HRM works to create more employee involvement which reduces the action of trade unions and support from employees. (Arther 1994, p. 5; Gunnes 2003, p. 1)

On the other hand, industrial relations are more emphasized on the representation of the employees in the organization. However, in contrast to the HRM theories, IR is traditionally an element of institutionalization in aspects of the role of laws, bargaining schemes and regimes wage formation and labor market, and others. Hence IR has more emphasis on the achievement of the needs of the employees through the use of trade unions. Although HRM seems new than IR, both address the same issue of employees participate in the workplace. But while HRM addresses the issue of employees and their participation in the organization, IR seems to address the issue outside that organization mainly through a trade union. HRM works to reduce the participation of employees in the trade unions while IR works to enhance the participation of employees in the trade unions. (Harley, Scholarios and Ramsay 2000, p. 65)


Based on the aspect of employee participation, we find that the two address the same issue of involving the employees more in the operation of the company. They both aim to ensure that employees are well represented in the operation of the organization and that their interests are served. They both aim at ensuring that employees follow norms in order to work as a system. They ensure that the norms laid for employees are less oppressive and the work condition is streamlined. They both come up with several participation schemes either direct or representative to involve the employees. In both, it will be found that the emphasis on participation schemes that promote equal opportunities and incentives that will improve the establishment of optimal performance for the organization. (Deming 2002, p. 145)

The difference between the two comes in the approach that they use in HRM is geared towards negotiated representative and direct involvement of the employees in their workplace while IR is geared more towards representative of the employees by the union on behalf. Hence it is more aimed at representing the employees indirectly. While HRM calls for negotiation in the workplace, IR is takes more mass action from the employees. The above analysis shows the in a way, approaches used by IR and HRM can be considered as more compatible in employee representation. Hence we can say that though they may use a different approach in their studies, they are aimed at achieving employee representation. (Edward 2006, p. 3)


Aoki, M 2001, The cooperative game theory, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Arther, J 1994, Human Resource Management, Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 37, Issue 3, p. 3-9.

Deming, W 2002, Quality, Productivity and Competitive position, University Press, Cambridge..

Edward, L 2006, Efficiency and Democracy in the work place, Malta Drydocks.

Elvander, N 1998, Industrial Relations, Wiley, New York.

Falkum, T 1997, Corporate efficiently and employee participation, John Benjamin, Amsterdam.

Gunnes, S 2003, Productivity Puzzles, Paper to IIRA 13th World congress, Berlin  2003.

Harley, B., Scholarios, D. & Ramsay, H 2000, Employees and High performance work systems, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 34, p. 33-89.

Pavett, C. & Morris, T 2005, Management Styles, Human Relations, p. 67.

Perotin, V. & Robinson, A 2000, Employee participation and equal opportunities, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 38, p. 556-559.