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October 06, 2008

Human Resources Management: Lesson 5 – Exercise

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

Simplifying and summarizing any employment relationship may be based on:

  • Partnerships: structured and cooperative relationships between employers and employees that brings advantage to both  
  • Conflict: employers and employees compete and “struggle” between different and opposite interests  

In an “ideal” world the 1st contest should drive whole companies’ behaviours but obviously it’s not what may always happen since

  • commitments/goals aren’t always shared among employers and employees 
  • employers’ resources aren’t unlimited so all employees’ requests cannot be completely satisfied 
  • growth employers’ objective doesn’t bring the same advantage to employees
  • several others issues...

Often contests of complete conflicts occur and real struggles are taken on by employees: Italy, but not only, has a story full of this kind of disputes.

Especially when conflicts occur between big company and Unions a real stop not only in evolving and growing but also in the day by day production may occur.

For sure the complete harmony isn’t conceivable or desirable from a growing and evolutionary point of view: this isn’t the way in which a company (and the whole society) may grow and improve its own condition.

In my opinion different historical period and different environment have shown different balance of harmony / conflicts. It’s perhaps in this alternation that a single company may find enough resources to grow and the whole society may improve its starting condition.

It’s in fact recognized that in each relationship conflict is inevitable and that a particular level of conflict is optimal[1]: the period immediately after a conflict is among the most productive ones!

Finally I strongly believe that:

  • a too harmonic contest deletes that “pressure” needed if a group want to perform better
  • conflicts haven’t to remain unresolved if employers want to avoid employees’ commitment loosing

Question 2: What factors influence the extent to which the employment relationship is harmonious or conflictual?

Several factors influence harmonic or conflict employment relationship.

One of the first is the place in the world it’s occurring in: perhaps east employees has less "opportunities" of engaging struggle to make employers hear their voice.

I also want to underline that perhaps this occurred only up to this moment since now new opportunities are offered them while “west” employees seems to have less and less contractual/negotiation power.

Legislation is in fact another important external factor that influence the way in which employees and Unions compete against employers’ targets.

The economic contest, competition in labour market and level of employees’ skill influence as well: the more difficult is for employers to find others employees the most they will be obliged in satisfying employees' requests.

Shared interests of employers, employees and unions may be found and relationship may be based on them rather then on differences.

Still strongly believing in communication, in my opinion, if more consultation is performed less negotiation/conflict may occur. I believe in the long-term investment that led to a consensual decision-making process, based on consultation.

  • The Warwick MBA for IBM – Human Resource Management, Lesson 5
  • Mick Marchington and Adrian Wilkinson, Human Resources Management at Work. People Management and Development, Third Edition, CIPD, 2007

[1] Rosenfeld and Wilson, 1999

Human Resources Management: Lesson 4 – Exercise

Question 1: Thinking about organisations you are familiar with (it must not be IBM), what mechanisms and procedures have different organisations used for employee involvement and to give employees voice?

I want to answer this question using 2 different companies that work in the same contest: call centres. One is Telecom Italia (I’ll consider only the call centre department) and NumeroBlu (that provides call centre services to several customer among which Telecom itself.

Despite working in exactly the same environment and (when the customer is Telecom) side by side 2 companies’ employees’ conditions are strongly different:

  • in Telecom Unions have a real power and manage the main part of management-employees relationship;
  • in NumeroBlu (a small company) Unions are almost absent and each employee has to find way to get what he wants.

Dealing with “power-centred involvement policies” (that is dealing with fundamental issues of managerial authority) I’ve noticed “top down” approaches in both company but:

  • in Telecom we can to talk about “indirect methods” of involvement since all the management attention in focused on Unions’ voice and on getting Unions’ agreement
  • in NumeroBlu “radical changes” are simply imposed on employees.

On the other hand dealing with “task-centred methods” (“smaller” or more “operative” changes):

  • in Telecom, also because of Unions’ too strong presence, employees have difficulties in expressing their own opinion, in suggesting new ideas and in being voluntary for new opportunities: Telecom has the entire typical problems related to being a big-almost public company. Only some employees’ satisfaction surveys are performed but often Telecom makes them be led by Unions.

  • In NumeroBlu several “direct methods” have been developed to exploit employees’ opinions in operational growth: brain storming session, blogs,… that all contribute in enhancing productivity and quality

Question 2: How effective were each of these voice mechanisms in a) giving employees an effective voice at work and b) adding value to the organisation?

Obviously there cannot be one single answer in both the contest described.

  1. In Telecom Unionized environment employees’ rights are represented by Unions but we’ve also to consider that because of the enormous employees’ number it’s quite hard to become one unique voice. As mentioned above Unions’ voice seems effective in strategic issue. As the literature suggests the majority of people would like to be involved on the day-to-day issues: in Telecom this should be deeply improved.
  2. Moving to NumeroBlu, it seems: to take employee engagement in account and quite open in reacting to what employees say. Perhaps a great value to the organisation would be given if some “unions” or employees representatives could participate and being involved also in strategic issues and decision. Only in this way it can go over the fact that actually Unions are often a channel that helps in the effective issues’ resolution.

Question 3: Account for any variation in effectiveness of different mechanisms

Since Telecom, as an enormous company, can count on resources and funds I’d suggest introduce some classical HR tools that give more effectiveness to employees’ voice like: “management open doors” days, executives’ web pages where employees can directly write…

NumeroBlu seems to believe in advantages of managing without unions (i.e. speed of change thanks to the fact that managers are not obliged to perform time-consuming negotiations with unions’ representatives[1]). I’d suggest them that this is not what seems to happen in practice: Unions are important in obtaining a meaningful employee voice in any change process[2]. As stated by Storey (1992) if they still impose change from above a lack of participation and of commitment from lower levels of managers, supervisors and employees, may occur.

[1] Flood and Toner, 1997.

[2] McLoughlin, 1993.
  • The Warwick MBA for IBM – Human Resource Management, Lesson 4
  • Mick Marchington and Adrian Wilkinson, Human Resources Management at Work.     People Management and Development, Third Edition, CIPD, 2007

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