August 11, 2009

Human Resource Management Lesson 8

Human Resource Management Lesson 8

Q:  With reference to your own experience, critically evaluate the idea that there is a business case for  family friendly working practices

Late 1980-ies brought significant changes in the way the old Personnel departments were transformed into Human Resource Departments. The reason for this was deregulation and ever increasing competition in the market.

Family friendly working practices in most companies may be seen in both external and internal context. The external context determines the broader political and economical environment that has direct influence on how companies operate. In my experience the general state of the economy and the political environment will have direct influence on the way we are conducting business with IBM or the other companies that I've worked for. Therefore, the appropriate behavior in economically favorable times is not as accepted in times of recession. Another important factor for family friendly working practices is the Legal context in which the company is operating. Many important aspects of employment are determined by broader legislation which may be National- and/or European. The unemployment rates and the general condition of the labor market will also have a significant impact on family friendly working practices. From my experience from working in the Nordics I would also like to add the cultural context that may differ from country to country.

The internal context covers the company's internal structure and management practices. In the Joint Venture that I work for there is a strong ethical framework for equality and equal opportunity for all employees. Regulations regarding equal opportunities regardless of race, gender, sex, disability and national origin are strongly encouraged and all eventual deviations are promptly addressed. There is an extensive framework in line with Dickens (1994) that presents a business case with benefits for the organisation through promotion of diversity. All first line managers are instructed in observing these and actively working on implementation of these in their teams. Besides company regulations in the Nordics there is a strong Trade Union involvement regarding the prevention of discrimination and promotion of equality in the working place.

At the same time there are some improvements to be made regarding the possibility for employees to work part time and to have a greater number of employees with disabilities. There are still relatively few female managers although this partly may be explained by the fact that the IT business in largely male dominated. In our Joint Venture there is a great stress on work-life balance and the importance of this balance for job satisfaction. This varies somewhat from country to country in the Nordics, but generally both women and men enjoy extensive welfare benefits connected to child-birth and in case of disease in family. Another notable benefit are the shorter working hours compared to most other countries, which on one side give more spare time to employees but on the other increase efficiency and motivation at work. Contrary to many beliefs the efficiency in the Nordic countries are among the highest in the World even though the working hours are generally shorter than in many other countries. There is also extensively used possibility to work from the home office which is widely used by all employees including managers. This is also supportive of the business case that such family friendly working practices are beneficial to company’s long term goals and its ultimate success in the marketplace.


August 01, 2009

Human Resource Management Lesson 6

Human Resource Management Lesson 6

Question 1: Thinking about an organisation that you know well, evaluate the extent to which it conforms with the LO model.

As mentioned in the student notes the notion of what comprises a Learning Organisation (LO) is a contested one. Working for the Nordic Processor (NP) which is a Joint Venture (JV) between IBM and Nordea Bank in Scandinavia, our organization consists of employees coming from both IBM and Nordea. The notion of LO here is somewhat differently understood and interpreted. One should also point out that the IBM’s practices and views on LO are predominant in the joint venture. However, the application and the interpretations of LO are biased by both organizations and their history. NP consists of at least 2 types of employees coming from the bank and the other group coming from IBM. The organisation is using employee involvement in all major decisions, professional career guidance, training and development of staff. There is extensive involvement of HR department in all matters regarding employees and the HR works closely with managers in order to ensure that the processes and policies are followed in the joint venture. Storey’s (1992) typology of HR functions would place the role of HR in Nordic Processor between Advisory and Change-makers categories. In this sense I would like to point out the concept of high “commitment” that the employees share with the management regarding the success of the company and in maintaining high satisfaction levels with the customer. In Meyer’s and Allen’s (1984) terminology we could say that there is a high level of “affective commitment” in Nordic Processor. In this sense, one may argue that Nordic Processor is a learning organization based also on high level of “psychological contract” between the management and the employees. The very existence and survival of any organisation including Nordic Processor as a Learning Organisation may be dependent on the mutually beneficial negotiation and proper implementation of the psychological contract.

Question 2: What changes would need to take place within the organisation to make it a learning organisation?

In most cases LO initiatives take place as a reaction to some external threat to the company, which is an action that generally lacks offensive initiative. Scarborough et al. (1998) argue that an organisation where professional development is encouraged and within which people learn is a successful LO. There are a number of both internal and external barriers that need to be addressed in this regard. The internal barriers that need to be addressed are different culture for the old bank management in relative comparison to IBM managers and their way of conducting business. Other internal barriers worth mentioning are the hierarchical culture of IBM compared to the bank.

Question 3: To what extent do you think these changes are a) feasible and b) desirable?

The extent in which both internal and external changes will take place is dependent on the senior management’s commitment and communication to all NP employees. Here the bank’s traditional closeness to the employees and open communication may be very useful. I’d say that the changes are feasible due to high motivation and dedication of all employees regardless of their professional origin to business success of the joint venture. The changes in streamlining the organisation and securing it as a LO is imperative to its further success.


July 30, 2009

Human Resource Management Lesson 5

Human Resource Management Lesson 5

1. To what extent do you think that the employment relationship is necessarily based on conflict between employers and employees who have competing interests?

Since the cost of labor is one of the largest fixed costs an employer has within a company or an organization there will always be a conflict of interest between the two. On one side the employer will seek to do the same task with the minimum of labor force or to improve the processes that will lead to less need for extensive use of workforce. One such example I can draw from the recent talk with my colleagues that work at the warehouse where the new computer scanning and stock management systems have been installed. One of the senior guys working there since the late 1970-ies told me that before 1990 there were 7 guys at the warehouse having constant overtime. But since the computer and scanning of stock has been introduced there are only 3 guys working there today with hardly any overtime at all.

The uneven balance of power may lead us to believe that the owners of capital assets are the major party calling all the shots in an employer-employee relationship. This may especially be true in traditional and small businesses. However, in most countries both small and large businesses are bound to follow legal and social (sometimes even moral) obligations to their employees and the broader community. Many countries especially in the Northern Europe have powerful Trade Unions that may limit or even overturn unpopular decisions made by the management.

Coming from the Scandinavian model of conducting business, one may say that the emphasis with us is on a joint share of responsibilities for the business results between the employer and the employees. The stress is on clear lines of communication and the protection of employees as assets to the company. Being in the middle of a major reorganization as we speak, I may nothing but applaud the way the senior management has communicated the need and the rationale for this to middle- and junior management and later at the town hall meetings and information to our employees. This is a good example of what Brown (2000) calls a "partnership arrangement". In this sense the model applied is the “regulated” model typical for Northern Europe.

2.- What factors influence the extent to which the employment relationship is harmonious or conflictual?

I believe that the clear lines of communication and sharing of information benefit both parties. The air of mistrust, rumors and hidden agendas that most of us have probably experienced is reduced through such “open line” measures. The stress on employment security and the need for gearing the company machinery to work towards the common objectives is imperative for the success of any employment relationship. As Brown suggests the “consultation” is the key measure for achieving a harmonious partnership between the parties.

The extent of harmonious relations or conflicts may have many advantages or downsides. The history of employee-employer relations within a certain company may be one of them. The role the Unions have, may also have a significant impact on these relations. On a broader scale the social and economic environment of the national or global economy may have a great impact on the nature of employer-employee relations. The management style is also an important factor that influences this relationship. One should not forget the personal charisma of leaders as important factors for these relations. Applying Purcell’s Style Matrix one may say that traditional style may be in general more conflictual than a consultative style.


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