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A diversity of opinion exists about the definition, intellectual boundaries, and major premises of the

fields of human resources management (HRM) and industrial relations (IR). An agreement needs to
exist on what the terms human resources (HR) or, equivalently, human resources management (HRM)
and industrial relations (IR) represent in terms of subject matter and intellectual content. As I will
describe in more detail below, a considerable diversity of opinion currently exists on this matter. Some
researchers, for example, claim HR subsets IR, while others maintain the opposite. Yet, others believe
the two fields are largely separate entities with little overlap in subject matter and research agendas.
In this essay I will try to sort out these conflicting viewpoints and work toward a consensus. Next I
examine the historical evolution in the meanings and definitions of the both fields from the time of
their birth in the late 1910s to present day. In documents reviewed up to the early 1960s IR was widely
perceived to be a subfield of HR, but then afterwards the two fields have largely been regarded as
separate entities. The next paragraph then examines the factors behind this evolution in IR and HR —
when and why they emerged as distinct fields of study and practice, the common and divergent points
that separated them in terms of science building (research) and problem solving (practice/policy), the
factors that precipitated the break-up of IR and HR and HR’s emergence as a separate field, and the
contemporary status of the two fields. Finally, in the last section I use the preceding evidence to deduce
what I believe to be true from my point of view in the respective paradigms underlying the two fields.

In the beginning a plethora of names were used to describe this broad subject area. Names commonly
encountered include employment management, labor management, personnel management, personnel
administration, labor relations, industrial relations, industrial relations management, and employment
relations. The term ‘‘human resource management’’ was not used, as far as I can tell, but the more
general term ‘‘human resources’’ was already employed to connote the idea that the nation’s labor input
is embodied in human beings and represents a form of capital good that can be augmented through
various forms of private and public investment, such as education, training, and public health programs
(Commons, 1919, p. 129).
During the 1920s certain of these terms gained ascendancy and others largely disappeared and, at the
same time, a consensus slowly emerged about their meaning and content. All of these terms somehow
dealt with work, employment, and relations between employers and employees. The umbrella term
used to describe the entire area of study and practice was industrial relations. It subsumed all aspects of
work, included problems and issues affecting both employers and employees, dealt with the practices
of both employer and worker organizations, and covered all employment relationships regardless of
union status (Hicks, 1941; Social Science Research Council, 1928).
IR, in turn, was widely regarded as having two major subdivisions within it. The first dealt with the
management of labor, the second with collective bargaining and methods of workforce governance
(Russell Sage Foundation, 1919). A consensus term for the latter area of IR took longer to develop,
but by the mid-1930s labor relations had become common (e.g., Watkins & Dodd, 1938). As
envisioned at the time, labor relations approaches the subject of work and employment from the
employee’s perspective. The emphasis is on the goals and needs of workers, examines the problems and
issues they face in the work world, explains why individual workers may be at a power disadvantage
vis a vis the employer, and tends to emphasize and advocate collective forms of dealing between
workers and employers through trade unions. The term ‘‘industrial relations’’ was thus broadly
construed and was generally seen as subsuming ‘‘personnel management’’ within it. The meanings
and boundaries of these terms remained largely unchanged up to the early 1960s.
The term labour relations, also known as industrial relations, refers to the system in which
employers, workers and their representatives; directly or indirectly, the government interact to set the
ground rules for the governance of work relationships. It also describes a field of study dedicated to
examining such relationships. The field is an outgrowth of the industrial revolution, whose excesses led
to the emergence of trade unions to represent workers and to the development of collective labour
relations. A labour or industrial relations system reflects the interaction between the main actors in it:
the state, the employer (or employers or an employers’ association), trade unions and employees (who
may participate or not in unions and other bodies affording workers’ representation). The phrases
“labour relations” and “industrial relations” are also used in connection with various forms of workers’
participation; they can also encompass individual employment relationships between an employer and a
worker under a written or implied contract of employment, although these are usually referred to as
“employment relations”. There is considerable variation in the use of the terms, partly reflecting the
evolving nature of the field over time and place. There is general agreement, however, that the field
embraces collective bargaining, various forms of workers’ participation (such as works councils and
joint health and safety committees) and mechanisms for resolving collective and individual disputes.
The wide variety of labour relations systems throughout the world has meant that comparative studies
and identification of types are accompanied by caveats about the limitations of over-generalization and
false analogies. Traditionally, four distinct types of workplace governance have been described:
dictatorial, paternalistic, institutional and worker-participative. A labour relations system incorporates
both societal values (e.g., freedom of association, a sense of group solidarity, search for maximized
profits) and techniques (e.g., methods of negotiation, work organization, consultation and dispute
Human resources management has been defined as “the science and the practice that deals with the
nature of the employment relationship and all of the decisions, actions and issues that relate to that
relationship” (Ferris, Rosen and Barnum 1995; see figure1). It encapsulates employer-formulated
policies and practices that see the utilization and management of employees as a business resource in
the context of a firm’s overall strategy to enhance productivity and competitiveness. It is a term most
often used to describe an employer’s approach to personnel administration that emphasizes employee
involvement, normally but not always in a union-free setting, with the goal of motivating workers to
enhance their productivity. The field was formed from a merger of scientific management theories,
welfare work and industrial psychology around the time of the First World War and has undergone
considerable evolution since. Today, it stresses work organization techniques, recruitment and
selection, performance appraisal, training, upgrading of skills and career development, along with
direct employee participation and communication. Human resources management has been put forth as
an alternative to “Fordism”, the traditional assembly-line type of production in which engineers are
responsible for work organization and workers’ assigned tasks are divided up and narrowly
circumscribed. Common forms of employee involvement include suggestion schemes, attitude surveys,
job enrichment schemes, teamworking and similar forms of empowerment schemes, quality of
working-life programmes, quality circles and task forces.
Since there is a diversity of viewpoints and some confusion about the meaning of the HR and IR
labels and the subject areas they represent, it is useful to take a closer look at the historical evolution of
the HR and IR fields in order to better understand their juxtaposition today.

The fields of HR and IR had their genesis in the concept of labor problems (Kaufman, 1993).
Beginning in the last quarter of the 19th century, public concern began to grow about the conditions of
labor in this country and the adversarial, sometimes violent relations between employers and their
workers. This period was marked by large-scale immigration, the development and spread of the
factory system, long periods of recession and depression, and the emergence of a wage-earning labor
force. Collectively known as ‘‘labor problems,’’ these maladjustments included an apparent growing
hostility between employers and workers (evidenced by growing numbers of strikes and acts of
violence), widespread inefficiency and waste in industry brought on by stupendously high rates of labor
turnover, haphazard management methods, and worker ‘‘soldiering’’ on the job (standing around or
working as little as possible), and often deplorable conditions for workers, including poverty-level
wages, 12-hour workdays, primitive health and safety conditions, and autocratic and often
discriminatory treatment by managers. It was in the years immediately preceding WWI that the
previously mentioned terms, such as ‘‘employment management,’’ ‘‘personnel management,’’
‘‘industrial relations,’’ and ‘‘employment relations,’’ first appeared and only during the 1918–1920
period that they came to connote a new movement in industry. The common denominator of these
terms was that they represented an attempt to reform the employment system used in American
industry and put it on a more scientific and humane footing. By the early 1920s, as earlier indicated, the
term ‘‘industrial relations’’ was widely used as the descriptor for the entire field. Through the 1950s
the concept of IR succeeded in serving as the umbrella concept that brought together people with
otherwise disparate interests and perspectives on the work world. The common denominator that
brought people together under the IR banner was rejection of two principles of the traditional
employment model: (1) the ‘‘commodity’’ conception of labor and (2) the ‘‘autocratic
authority/unrestricted rights’’ model of management.
HRM practices and published major research on the topic (Commons, 1919, 1921; Slichter,
1919a, 1919b, 1920), they nonetheless strongly believed that improved personnel/HRM was by itself
insufficient and unbalanced and would fail in the long run if collective bargaining and labor legislation
were not used to put a floor under market competition and police the unscrupulous and grasping among
the employer class.


1. Focus on employment and workplace issues.
2. Gives attention to management, unions, and government policy.
3. Recognizes the humanness of labor.
4. Seeks positive-sum solutions to labor problems.
5. Are largely applied, multidisciplinary fields.
6. Have normative blindspots.

1. HR emphasizes employer’s solution to labor problems; IR emphasizes workers’ and
community’s solutions.
2. HR largely takes an ‘‘internal’’ perspective on employment problems/research; IR largely
takes an ‘‘external’’ perspective.
3. HR’s primary goal is organizational effectiveness/efficiency; IR’s goal is a combination of
organizational effectiveness/efficiency and employee well-being.
4. HR takes a ‘‘instrumental’’ approach to promoting employee interests; IR treats employee
interests as an largely important independent end goal.
5. HR focuses on creating a unity of interest between employer and employees; IR focuses on
mediating a conflict of interest.
6. HR views management power as necessary for organizational effectiveness/efficiency; IR
assumes management power needs checks and balances.
7. HR assumes conflict not inevitable and can be minimized by management; IR sees conflict
as inevitable and requiring third-party intervention.
8. HR sees management as primary contributor to positive employment outcomes and unions
and government as occasionally necessary but often burdensome constraints; IR also sees
management as key contributor but only if supplemented by strong unions and government

In the introduction to this essay I noted that a good deal of controversy and uncertainty exists as to the
definitions and intellectual domains of HR and IR as fields of study and how the two fields relate to each other.
Largely through an historical analysis of the two fields’ respective origins and developments, I have
tried to shed further light on these matters. My claim is that HR and IR in North America both have
common roots in the late 1910s and arose in universities and the business world as a progressive reform
movement aimed at increasing the efficiency, justice, and humanity of the workplace. This progressive
heritage still provides a common ethos for people in the two fields, as exemplified by the continuing
effort of researchers and practitioners to craft better solutions to a host of employment-related
The HR and IR fields are also distinguished, however, by numerous differences in their approach to
research and practice. When the fields were born in the late 1910s, three alternative ‘‘solutions’’ (or
strategies) to employment problems were advanced: the ‘‘employer’s,’’ the ‘‘workers’,’’ and the
‘‘community’s.’’ HR and IR envision a role for all three, but the emphasis differs. The HR field focuses
on the ‘‘employer’s’’ solution of personnel/HRM, makes increased organizational effectiveness the
primary goal, and examines the role management and HRM practices can play in this process. IR also
considers organizational effectiveness an important goal but emphasizes, in addition, the independent
importance of protecting and promoting the interests of employees. Hence, while IR views employers
as an important actor in the employment relationship, considerable attention is also given to the
workers’ solution of trade unions and collective bargaining and the community’s solution of labor
legislation and social insurance. Numerous other differences also separate the two fields, such as HR’s
‘‘internal’’ versus IR’s ‘‘external’’ approach to workplace research and problem solving, the dominance
of the behavioral/organizational sciences in HR research and economics and law in IR research, the
emphasis given to unity of interest versus conflict of interest in the employment relationship, and the
role of power and conflict in the workplace.
Out of these differences come numerous opportunities for fruitful exchange and dialogue between
people in the two fields — a process the papers in this symposium hopefully stimulate and move
forward. For this dialogue and exchange to be truly fruitful, however, scholars on both sides have to
give greater recognition to the fact that the different assumptions separating HR and IR are only
specialized tools for investigation and do not represent a full or universalistic explanatory model for
studying the employment relationship. The reality of the work world is that most employment
relationships represent a mix or blend of HR and IR assumptions, with some corresponding more
closely to the IR view, some more closely to the HR view, while many others are in the middle. Thus,
while I believe that the division of labor between HR and IR can be a useful intellectual source of
productivity in research, one has to use both models with a clear recognition that their applicability is
situationally contingent and therefore a matter to be determined through empirical investigation and not
as an invariant, a priori theoretical or normative commitment (Kaufman, 2001).
An implication of this viewpoint is that HR and IR are really parts of a larger field, one that
prior to the 1960s was called ‘‘industrial relations’’ and subsumed both of the PM and ILE
schools. Today this intellectual confederation has largely dissolved, leaving HR and IR as
separate and competing fields. In the final analysis, however, HR and IR are at least as much
complements as substitutes in analyzing and solving workplace problems and therefore need
to be seen as partners in a larger intellectual enterprise. If the name ‘‘industrial relations’’ no
longer works, scholars need to find another term and then rebuild cross-disciplinary dialogue
and supporting institutions so the field once again can claim jurisdiction to be the study of
‘‘all aspects of work.’

B.E. Kaufman / Human Resource Management Review 11 (2001) 339–374 371
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ESSAY - There is one A school of thought that ague Industrial Relations is not a subset of Human
Resources. The other school of thought argues it is a subset of Human Resources.


ASSIGNMENT QUESTION: · There is one A school
of thought that ague Industrial Relations is not a subset of
Human Resources. The other school of thought argues it is a
subset of Human Resources.



STUDENT ID: 2018030021