Sunday, November 23, 2008

Divergence and Convergence of Industrial Relations and Human Resource


The fields of Industrial Relations formerly known as the Institutional Labor Economics and the School of Personnel Management (originally known as Employment Management) which later on evolved into what is called at present as Human Resource are seen as two separate and distinct areas of studies and specialization. Tracing its origins and development the two areas are the responses in order to identify the causes of labor problems as well as to provide resolution to those problems which is very much inherent in the domain of labor and capital in the industry.

At the outset of the establishment as academic inquiries and practices in the commercial and business organizations, labor problems were seen as unitary and capitalist in nature wherein there is a general struggle between labor and capital over the control of production and distribution. However, another view was introduced which defied that particular perspective. It was pluralistic by character which recognizes that labor problems may not solely be the cause of labor-management conflict but may take different forms such as those that afflict both employers and workers. Moreover, it was seen not only as existing under a capitalist economy but also in socialist system. These labor problems provide the central position of investigation in the field of Industrial Relations. It defines the field as including those problems of human behavior involved in the reciprocal relations of the worker with four types of situation - the laborer’s work, fellow-worker, worker’s employer and the public. Industrial Relations was believed to lead increased efficiency in the organization through the means of improved production methods, motivation and cooperation between management and workers. These labor problems were recognized as field specific and were then labeled as personnel problems. As the labor problems were streamlined so as the schools of thoughts themselves. As Industrial Relations focuses in the study of key forms of behavior focusing on the employment relationship a new field of personnel management was being formed.

Industrial Relations was then viewed as the inquiry and Human Resource as a practice. Personnel management or Human Resource emerged as a fusion of Scientific Management and welfare work which then evolved with the emergence of human relations movement. Personnel management maintains the view that the root cause of labor problems and conflict between labor and management is not intrinsic in the defects of the capital market but in the organizational and administrative practices of the management. Hence, labor problems are management problems and improved industrial relations is a responsibility on the part of the management.

Both try to take forward the knowledge on the varying aspects of the employment relationship such as problems in the prevailing business practices as well as the working conditions faced by the workers. Furthermore, both try to seek reforms in the workplace and achieve efficient employee-employer relations or employment relationships.

Departure of Human Resource from the field of Industrial Relations

The major point of disagreement between Industrial Relations and Human Resource is on the discussion on the most effective way to resolve labor problems and appropriate role to be played by the labor unions and collective bargaining. Moreover, it is deemed as the former is more concerned with the organized and unionized relationship in the workplace while the latter is centered in the individual work relationship of labor and management. Human Resource believes that alternative forms of industrial democracy or joint representation other than having labor unions and collective bargaining could materially take forward both the interests of the workers and the management.

Another point of contention between the two areas is on the view on improving the work and work relations of both workers and employers. In order to achieve the goals of Industrial Relations which are improved efficiency, equity and human well-being in the workplace industrial democracy, social justice and societal and institutional transformation should be employed. On the other hand, Human resource posits that achievement of those could be attained by creating an organizational climate that promotes a mutuality of interests between management and labor and high levels of job satisfaction and productivity among the workers.

Convergence of IR and HR

The field of industrial Relations and Human Resource are of the same view and analysis that there is a need for employment reformation. They also maintain similar views on the essential elements of reform to achieve increased efficiency and those could be achieved through the means of improved production methods, motivation, supervision, and cooperation between management and workers, greater equity in pay, good working conditions among others. Both have recognized that in order to resolve the problems it is important to take into consideration the human factor in structuring and managing work.

The two schools of thought believed that the autocratic, master-servant type of employment relations between workers and the management should be replaced with the type that would foster decent and fair treatment to its workers such as appropriate representation rights and due process in the establishment. Moreover, the two fields believed that the basic institutions of capitalism, private property and free labor markets should be maintained as these elements are the underpinnings of work and employment in which both workers and employers are apparently part of.

In the current context of Industrial Relations and Human Resource both as fields of study and as practices in the organization, the convergence is as follows:

  • In the domain of the workplace, IR is the study of human relations while HR is the study of people management.
  • Both disciplines are concerned with organized and individual relationships within the organization. The basic process of IR is rule making while decision making is the course of action in HR.
  • Both are concerned with increased productivity and efficiency as well as empowerment of workers in the organization.
  • The inputs of both fields such as the environments in the economic, legal-political and socio-cultural sphere affect the structure and its processes.


Note: The discussion with reference to the ideas, concepts and principles of both IR and HR were derived from the references below.


  • Kaufman, Bruce. 1992, Industrial Relations in the United States
  • Human Resource Development: A field in Transition

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