Changing Job Roles Introduction This paper is the result of research into and reflection on the roles carried out by those who are responsible for managing the ‘people’ function within organisations. Whether these incumbents are called personnel or HR managers is not necessarily important; it is however critical to give recognition to the complexity of the task that faces those who have to take responsibility for this function. This paper raises two inter-related issues. First, in what sorts of activities do personnel managers decide to invest time and energy? Are the old reliables of recruitment, training and employee relations the key tasks of the 1990s or are other issues more important? Second, does the hard, often unseen, and usually unrecognised work that is put into personnel tasks necessarily result in an end product which is visible and attributable to the personnel manager? The paper considers this issue by tracing the various roles that personnel managers have undertaken at the various stages of the development of the profession. The paper begins by considering the roots of personnel management and then moves on to discuss the various descriptions which have been proffered for what personnel managers do and what they should do.
The paper then considers the nature of personnel activities before discussing areas which seem to offer the prospect of reward for the expenditure of time and energy. The Development of Personnel Management in Ireland 1940s and 1950s: The Welfare Stage It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when personnel management first appeared in Ireland. Barrington (1980:90) indicates that a personnel function had been established in the civil service after the First World War, but its official recognition in the private sector is probably best dated from the setting up of an Irish branch of the Institute of Labour Management, the forerunner of the Institute of Personnel Management (IPM), in Dublin in 1937. The meetings of the Institute of Labour Management were held in the recreation hall attached to the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory and were attended by a small group of individuals, mainly women, who acted as welfare supervisors in Dublin factories such as Wills, Maguire and Patersons, Williams and Woods and Jacob’s. These companies had strong Quaker traditions and were concerned with the health and well-being of their employees. The early history of these meetings of the Institute indicates some of the issues which concerned this small group of welfare workers.
In Labour Management (May, 1940: 76-77), the publication of the Institute, it was reported that ‘Mr. Julian Rowntree (of Associated Chocolate Company, Dublin) spoke on co-operation in Industry and recommended that employees should be given scope in running their own recreation sub-committees, and encouraged in the use of their leisure time’. He also put forward proposals for a works council on which all levels of management and workers should be represented. Factory inspectors were highly prized as speakers in these meetings and health issues were of particular interest (IPM News, March 1987: 3). Two issues are worth consideration from this brief description of the early years of the Institute of Labour Management.
The first is the concern with employees’ welfare. To what extent has this concern diminished over the years and to what extent should it be considered a central part of the personnel manager’s job? The old ‘tea, towels and toilets stereotype’ (MacKay, 1987: 10) is one that most personnel managers are undoubtedly pleased has long since disappeared. But what has replaced this role of what could broadly be described as ‘looking after’ employees? Certainly there is evidence of concern for employees in the proliferation of employee assistance and wellness programmes. These include health screening, stress counselling and in some cases a rehabilitation component for those with alcohol or drug-related dependency problems. However, the question must be asked whether such programmes are delivered simply because of their cost effectiveness – absenteeism and labour turnover are the expensive outcomes of sick or stressed individuals – or because there is a genuine concern for the quality of working life experienced by employees? The second issue which emerges from an analysis of the foundations of personnel management is its dominance in the early years by women. A full analysis of the implications of this situation can be found in Legge (1995: 21) who suggests that this early identification of personnel management activities with female welfare activities in a patriarchal society, inevitably meant that the function would carry a legacy of being of low status and unimportance, at least in comparison to central male activities, such as production, finance and so on. This appears to have resulted in difficulties for both men and women intent on careers in personnel management.
For men there was the worry of developing a career in a profession with a female image. However, for many men this dilemma was resolved by the industrial relations focus which was to emerge in the 1970s in which bargaining and negotiating with trade unions became very much a male preserve and one with a much more dynamic image. For women the incursion of men into personnel management has created long-term problems. Research in both Britain (Long, 1984; Legge, 1987; MacKay, 1986) and Ireland (Canniffe, 1985; Monks, 1993) suggests that women are not as successful in their careers, at least as measured by career progression, as their male counterparts. Canniffe’s interviews with women working in personnel suggested that women were sidelined into the administrative and record keeping function or seen as ‘agony aunts’ whose role involved solving the personal problems of employees and as a consequence they were passed over for the more general aspects of personnel, including negotiating experience.
Monks’ study of 103 personnel practitioners (50 men and 53 women) found that there were more men than women in the top and senior management jobs and fewer men in the junior management jobs. In addition, men earned significantly more than women. The 1960s: Growth and Development Personnel management grew slowly in the 1950s and 1960s in Ireland; then as now the fate of personnel function was inextricably entwined with economic developments. In 1969 the Report of the Public Services Organisations Review Group was published and this described personnel as comprising: all activities concerning the provision, development and welfare of staffs from their recruitment, through training, performance appraisal, career development, promotion, remuneration and general welfare to retirement and superannuation. (p. 149) This definition contains the list of activities which are still widely described, albeit in different language, in most personnel management textbooks.
The notion of the personnel manager as responsible for employees, if not precisely from the cradle at least to the grave, is embedded in this perception of the nature of personnel management activity. The 1970s: The Industrial Relations Era Personnel management grew steadily during the late 1960s and early 1970s. A survey by the Irish Management Institute (Gorman et al., 1974) estimated that the number of personnel managers working in firms with over 20 employees increased from around 100 to about 400 between 1964 and 1973. Throughout the 1970s this growth continued so that by 1981 there were an estimated 770 private sector firms with a designated personnel office (Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Industrial Relations, 1981: 39). The main areas of activity associated with the personnel function were outlined in a submission by the IPM to the Commission: 1.
manpower planning; recruitment and selection; 2. employee evaluation, training and development, career development promotion etc.; 3. remuneration and benefits; 4. industrial relations (i.e. policy and practices in relationships with unions and union representatives, procedure agreements covering recognition, disputes, grievances, redundancy, etc.; negotiations with full-time officials and with shop stewards); 5.
employee communications and consultation; 6. organisation development (i.e. organisation and job design, various approaches to securing higher employee involvement and motivation, opinion surveys and survey feedback, etc.); 7. personnel administration – contracts, attendance, turnover, medical and welfare facilities, safety at work, employee performance indices etc. 1.
management incompetence in the area of human relations and industrial relations; 2. low priority for personnel matters in management policies; 3. the lack of management authority of personnel officers. The Commission itself noted that there was ‘still some tendency on the part of management to regard the personnel function as peripheral to the other more central concerns of the enterprise’ and recommended (p. 285) that: All enterprises of a significant size should formulate explicit and comprehensive personnel policies.
Company boards should seek to complement such policies by carrying out annual audits of their personnel and industrial relations systems. In addition, the Commission recommended that where there was a formal personnel function that this should ‘be represented directly at board level in companies which have executive directors and at senior management level in companies which do not’ (p. 286). The 1980s: Cost Cutter By the 1980s, personnel departments were well established in Irish organisations. A survey by Murray (1984: 21) of 141 manufacturing firms found that 74 per cent had a personnel function and that the status of the personnel function appeared confirmed with many personnel managers having access to top management decisions. Surveys of personnel practice in Ireland during this time (Shivanath, 1986; Keating, 1987; Murray; 1984; Monks, 1992) indicated that personnel managers were engaged in a wide range of tasks, but that recruitment and selection, training and development and industrial relations were the major responsibilities.
The economic difficulties of this decade are reflected in the themes of the IPM’s annual conferences. In 1983 this was ‘Survival Management’; in 1984 it was ‘Job Loss: the Price of Being Competitive’; in 1985: Social and Political Change: the Implications for Personnel Management; in 1986 ‘The Uncertain Future’; and in 1987 ‘Meeting the Challenge’. The uncertainties of this time are also reflected in the training courses offered by the IPM: canteen costs, profits by people, absenteeism, remuneration, pensions and employee insurance claims. The 1990s: Strategic Planner and Business Manager The 1990s have seen attention turn to the roles that the personnel practitioner might play as business manager and human resource specialist, these roles involving an active contribution to ‘competitive advantage’. Again it is useful to analyse the recent IPM and, since 1995, Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD), conferences to see the reiteration of this theme.
In 1991 the conference was ‘Personnel Priorities for the Nineties’ and the literature advertising this conference suggested that ‘modern personnel management has a critical role to play in the strategic management of an enterprise, be it in the public or private sectors..attention will focus on how to achieve and maintain a competitive advantage while operating in a rapidly changing and volatile business environment’ (IPM News, 1991). ‘Horizons for Change’ was the focus in 1992 with the objective to highlight the fact that we are entering an era of unprecedented opportunity for personnel management to emerge as the critical strategic function within modern Irish business.. the personnel function must create a market driven strategy which recognises that people are central to business success. At the same time it must establish an innovative industrial relations environment which will reconcile the needs of business with the changing expectations of employees (IPM News, 1992: 1). In 1993 ‘Global Competition: the Personnel Contribution’ was the conference theme and in the opening address the chairman suggested that: with more and more global competition, the personnel professional of today must focus on change and be capable of inspiring and maintaining a culture of cost competitiveness, quality and customer satisfaction, together with much closer linkage of personnel policies to the business needs of the organisation (Kennedy, 1993:1).
In 1994 the conference debated ‘People – the Ultimate Competitive Advantage’ and suggested that it was: an exciting, challenging and rewarding time to be involved in personnel management. Exciting, because personnel management is now emerging as the critical strategic function and challenging because personnel professional must develop from being ‘the resolvers of inevitable conflict’ to become the champions and implementors of change. On the evidence to date, there is every reason for optimism as the function rises to the occasion and assumes greater strategic responsibilities..They [the conference speakers] will show how we must jettison much of the current thinking on organisational theory and people development, and in turn embrace a philosophy which advocates total flexibility and calls for loyalty and commitment from a work force which can no longer be guaranteed job security or even rewarded with promotion. (IPM, 1994). The problem of commitment emerged again in the 1995 conference ‘No Finish Line’. As the director of the IPD wrote in the introduction to the conference: ‘How do you convince employees of the need for ..
change when it effectively means ending a traditional relationship that offered lifelong employment in return for loyalty and commitment?’ In the most recent conference, ‘HR in Transformation’, the implications for the HR function of these major changes were the focus of debate. The chairman’s address (Brennan, 1996:1) suggested that we [those who work in the human resource profession], above all professionals, must be the keepers of that Holy Grail of competitive success: the need to constantly and relentlessly seek to improve and change if we are to survive in the long term..It is no longer enough to possess the competencies traditionally associated with Personnel or Industrial Relations. They were driven by being reactive, interventionist, confrontational, tactical and disciplinary..We need to become proactive, supportive, co-operative, strategic and flexible. While the rhetoric of the conference publications suggest the personnel manager as playing a vital role in strategic decision making, the reality suggests that this is not as widespread as personnel managers might like. Evidence from the Price Waterhouse Cranfield study (Gunnigle and Moore, 1994) indicates that about half the respondent companies (N=194) reported personnel involvement from the outset in the development of corporate strategy, but in the remainder of the firms, personnel involvement was confined to a consultative role (25 per cent) or implementation role (12 per cent), with 11 per cent indicating exclusion from strategy formulation. Roles for Personnel Managers: Continuity or Change? The historical analysis of the development of the personnel management role raises several critical issues.
Is there a dominant role in Irish organisations in the mid 1990s? Do the roles which have developed over time co-exist or have some disappeared? Are some roles better than others and, if this is the case, better for whom? Can and should personnel managers link personnel policies and business needs, can they be ‘proactive, supportive, strategic and flexible’? What tasks should they undertake? A superficial analysis of the situation suggests that there has been a great deal of continuity in personnel management over the years and that the issues that have concerned the personnel manager and the personnel profession have remained remarkably constant, although perhaps portrayed using very different language. Thus, the tasks of personnel management as outlined in the Report of the Public Services Organisations Review Group (1969) and the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Industrial Relations, 1981) are little different from those which are to be found in contemporary textbooks. The search for status and acceptance at board level was an issue which perturbed the IPM in the late 1970s as well as today. Even the job advertisements of the 1960s, although couching their requirements in very different terms, appear to seek candidates with similar intentions (see figure 1). In order to comprehend these elements of continuity and change, it is necessary to turn to models of personnel management practice which have been put forward as mechanisms for explaining and understanding the variety of roles undertaken by the personnel practitioner.
In order to comprehend these elements of continuity and change, it is necessary to turn to models of personnel management practice which have been put forward as mechanisms for explaining and understanding the variety of roles undertaken by the personnel practitioner. Models of Personnel Management There have been many attempts to understand the roles performed by personnel managers. In Britain there have been studies by Legge (1978), Watson (1977; 1986), Tyson and Fell (1986), Guest (1990 ) and Storey (1992). In Ireland there is work by Shivanath (1986), Gunnigle (1990; 1996) and Monks (1992/3). There are similarities between these authors: although writing at different times and in varying contexts, they establish the diversity of personnel practice and the variety of roles carried out by personnel managers.
The work of Tyson and Fell and Storey in Britain and the work of Monks in Ireland is briefly explored. Tyson and Fell (1986) use an analogy drawn from the building profession to identify three styles of personnel management: the `clerk of works’, the `contracts manager’ and `the architect’. In the `clerk of works’ model the personnel manager is involved in basic routine administration and welfare provision to employees. The `contracts manager’ is focused on industrial relations activity. The main tasks are the ‘interpretation of existing agreements and contracts’ and the main achievements lie in ‘the pragmatic resolution of day-to-day problems’ (p. 24).
In the ‘architect’ model, ‘managers at senior level take business decisions in the light of the consequences for the management of people’. A ‘creative role’ is expected from personnel specialists who initiate policy changes in partnership with line management. The personnel manager ‘regards himself as a business manager first and a professional personnel manager second’ and looks for ‘business opportunities to exploit through the people employed in the enterprise’ (p.26). Figure 1 – Extracts from Job Advertisements for Human Resources Specialists Institute of Personnel Management Digest, 30 October 1967 Personnel Manager The Personnel Manager will be responsible directly to the Managing director for devising and implementing a personnel policy with particular reference to recruitment and training. However, he will also be extensively involved in management decisions affecting the general direction of the Company and must therefore combine a commercial awareness and profit consciousness with his specialised knowledge.
(p.xi) Management Development The successful applicant, who will report to the Joint Managing Directors, will be responsible for advising the line management of his company on all matters concerning the career development of staff and for providing the necessary assistance and persuasion to ensure that effective development takes place…Applications will be considered not only from personnel specialists in this field who must have had experience of administering modern development schemes and who are accustomed to relating their activities directly to the company’s Operational Plans, but also from engineers, currently in line management, who recognise in this post the opportunity to develop their own abilities in preparation for top general management posts within the Group in the future. (p.vii) Irish Times, Friday 13 September 1996 Human Resources Specialist …You will maintain specific global information standards and ensure ongoing systems integrity after implementation. Applicants must have HR functional experience, excellent PC skills and strong communication, people and organisational skills. You will be assertive and m …