Industrial Relations - In the Doldrums..

Posted in Human Resources Articles, Total Reads: 1358 , Published on 05 October 2012
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“Has improved quality of human resource management in recent times decreased the need of Industrial relations management?”  This was a question asked by a peer of mine in an introductory course on IR. An interesting discussion ensued. The underlying premise for this discussion was that if HR performs its role efficiently and is able to project a pro employee attitude, then :

  • Employees/workers won’t have to unionise to safeguard their rights, since issues that lead to unionization would be already taken care of.
  • Employee/Worker would feel more comfortable approaching the HR department rather than the union in case of disgruntlement.

Do these premises hold good or were we (the future HRs) being too idealistic in our assumptions.

Had this discussion taken place today (after the Manesar incident) it would have surely taken a very different course.

Let’s try to establish the origin of such arguments.


In the past decade IR has certainly taken a back seat compared to other facets of HRM. Possible reasons are:

1. Increased urge of HR department to have a bigger role in “strategic decision making” :  HR graduates from top b-schools ,armed with knowledge and theories to kill ,are almost “desperate” to make their presence felt. Hence,  facets of HRM such as being in touch with the employees and being aware of the pulse of workforce have been overshadowed by “business partnering” facets such as alignment of compensation, performance management and human resource planning . Arguing against the importance of these facets would be nonsensical but the point of debate is: How justified is it to promote one at the cost of other?

2. Are the best and brightest of the young generation of HR managers shying away from IR: This is a feeling that has been prominently expressed after the Manesar incident. Possible reasons for this attitude of young HR professionals may be:

a) Very few IR profiles(of quality) are being offered during campus placements

b) IR roles seen as less lucrative compared to consulting and corporate HR roles.

c) Importance of IR not appreciated by HR students on campuses: Part of the blame has to go to selection procedures at B-schools.  Usually 90% of the batch comes from an IT background which has largely been free from unionization. Hence, they aren’t able to appreciate the importance of IR management.  This feeling is well reflected by the registration for elective courses on IR.

d) A relatively peaceful IR atmosphere in the past decade has meant that the brightest talent hasn’t been required in IR jobs.

3. Decrease in “Human Quotient” of HRM: Incidents like Manesar happen when humans are seen as ”resources” that give increased  “output”  if one can increase the number of “man-hours”  that can be  “derived out of them” .

“De-humanizing” of HRM refers to the belief that human behaviour/attitude can be significantly altered through compensation/incentives and performance management parameters. This “de-humanizing”  is promoted partly through aforementioned over-eagerness of HR to be a strategic partner and partly through the knowledge that is being imparted to students in HR classes which is too skewed  in favour of Compensation and Performance management rather than collective bargaining and Labour administration.

4. HR not taking accountability and hiding behind the subjectivities of human behaviour: A common reaction of the HR fraternity to the Manesar incident was to give a clean chit to HR and blame the “aggressive regional belt” for the incident.

This argument seems a bit hypocritical since on one hand HR claims to have the magic wand of changing the behaviour/attitude of employees through compensation and performance management and on the other hand blames such incidents on ingrained and unchangeable “aggressiveness” of the workers of a regional belt.

This argument of HR fraternity becomes all the more irresponsible considering the “aggressiveness” of workers in the said incident may well have been borne out of the behaviour changing measures(such as  incentivized over-times etc) adopted by  HR department.  As long as HR would continues to shirk accountability such incidents would continue to occur.

Manesar incident can turn out to be a critical juncture that may define the shape of IR for the next few years. One possibility being increased reluctance of people to take up IR roles due to perceived safety concerns, other very distinct possibility is that the IR fraternity would pull up its socks, reinvigorate IR by re-emphasizing its importance to the young generation of HR managers.

Which course would IR follow in the coming years is anybody’s guess.

This article has been authored by Vipul Khanna from XLRI.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Has improved quality of human resource management in recent times decreased the need of Industrial relations management?”  This was a question asked by a peer of mine in an introductory course on IR. An interesting discussion ensued. The underlying premise for this discussion was that if HR performs its role efficiently and is able to project a pro employee attitude, then :

·         Employees/workers won’t have to unionise to safeguard their rights, since issues that lead to unionization would be already taken care of.

·         Employee/Worker would feel more comfortable approaching the HR department rather than the union in case of disgruntlement.

Do these premises hold good or were we (the future HRs) being too idealistic in our assumptions.

Had this discussion taken place today (after the Manesar incident) it would have surely taken a very different course.

Let’s try to establish the origin of such arguments.

In the past decade IR has certainly taken a back seat compared to other facets of HRM. Possible reasons are:

1.      Increased urge of HR department to have a bigger role in “strategic decision making” :  HR graduates from top b-schools ,armed with knowledge and theories to kill ,are almost “desperate” to make their presence felt. Hence,  facets of HRM such as being in touch with the employees and being aware of the pulse of workforce have been overshadowed by “business partnering” facets such as alignment of compensation, performance management and human resource planning . Arguing against the importance of these facets would be nonsensical but the point of debate is: How justified is it to promote one at the cost of other?

 

2.      Are the best and brightest of the young generation of HR managers shying away from IR:

This is a feeling that has been prominently expressed after the Manesar incident. Possible reasons for this attitude of young HR professionals may be:

a)      Very few IR profiles(of quality) are being offered during campus placements

b)      IR roles seen as less lucrative compared to consulting and corporate HR roles.

c)      Importance of IR not appreciated by HR students on campuses: Part of the blame has to go to selection procedures at B-schools.  Usually 90% of the batch comes from an IT background which has largely been free from unionization. Hence, they aren’t able to appreciate the importance of IR management.  This feeling is well reflected by the registration for elective courses on IR.

d)      A relatively peaceful IR atmosphere in the past decade has meant that the brightest talent hasn’t been required in IR jobs.

 

3.      Decrease in “Human Quotient” of HRM: Incidents like Manesar happen when humans are seen as ”resources” that give increased  “output”  if one can increase the number of “man-hours”  that can be  “derived out of them” .

“De-humanizing” of HRM refers to the belief that human behaviour/attitude can be significantly altered through compensation/incentives and performance management parameters. This “de-humanizing”  is promoted partly through aforementioned over-eagerness of HR to be a strategic partner and partly through the knowledge that is being imparted to students in HR classes which is too skewed  in favour of Compensation and Performance management rather than collective bargaining and Labour administration.

 

4.      HR not taking accountability and hiding behind the subjectivities of human behaviour: A common reaction of the HR fraternity to the Manesar incident was to give a clean chit to HR and blame the “aggressive regional belt” for the incident.

This argument seems a bit hypocritical since on one hand HR claims to have the magic wand of changing the behaviour/attitude of employees through compensation and performance management and on the other hand blames such incidents on ingrained and unchangeable “aggressiveness” of the workers of a regional belt.

This argument of HR fraternity becomes all the more irresponsible considering the “aggressiveness” of workers in the said incident may well have been borne out of the behaviour changing measures(such as  incentivized over-times etc) adopted by  HR department.  As long as HR would continues to shirk accountability such incidents would continue to occur.

Manesar incident can turn out to be a critical juncture that may define the shape of IR for the next few years. One possibility being increased reluctance of people to take up IR roles due to perceived safety concerns, other very distinct possibility is that the IR fraternity would pull up its socks, reinvigorate IR by re-emphasizing its importance to the young generation of HR managers.

Which course would IR follow in the coming years is anybody’s guess.    


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