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Managing employee relations Essay


Industrial relations are among the core subjects in today’s industrial sphere. Industrial progress may not be easily achieved in absence of good industrial relations. According to John (1958), industrial relations are described as the study of all the facets of job regulation; the procedure of formulating rules and the ways of implementing these rules to govern the employment relationships. The area of industrial relations broadly described, deals with the relationships that are encountered by the people who are at the work place (Green, 1994).

Industrial relations perspectives

There exist several analytic approaches to the industrial relations topic. As such, this study mainly concentrates on two of these approaches: the unitarism and the pluralism approaches.

The unitarist approach

This view has it that, everyone within an organization shares a common goal and are all dedicated to achieving this target. Peters and Weterman, (1982) are some of the proponents of this approach who add that in unitarism, the relationship between the employer and the employee is seen as a partnership between those supplying the capital, employees as well as the management.

Burchill (2008) describes this type of approach as where the organization is characterized by an integral harmonious totality existing for a common purpose, values, and where there is a centre of authority. Conflict is viewed as pathological and seen to erupt from troublemakers, conflict of personality and misapprehension.

Conflict is to be ejected no matter the cost as it is seen as a decaying tooth which if not removed, causes infections to the larger dental formula. The managers in this kind of persuasion tend to align on power, disciplinary measures, reshuffling of employees and employee dismissal. The trade unions are perceived to be irrelevant and obstructive to the efficient management of the organization or are viewed as instruments of fostering unity among the workers.

Basically, workers rarely participate in the decision making process as this would seem opposed to the managerial prerogative; where managers are in full control (Teicher, Holland and Gough, 2006). There is a perspective of mutual interest where what is appropriate for the employer is also appropriate for the employee as well. This approach provides the basis for the classical school of management where the emphasis was on the structure, objectivity, and rationality.

Unitarists argue that conflict is not an integral part of an organization but rather, whenever it arises, it indicates a flaw or a breakdown of the system. They argue that the conflict may be as a result of: poor leadership exhibited by the management, breakdowns in the line of communication, employee resistance and also the failure to have a common target.

This perspective has been applied in some big successful firms like Hewlett Packard, Kodak, as well as IBM. Generally speaking, the concept of unitarism was built from the human relations movement and it is probably the leading contemporary organizational paradigm.

The pluralist perspective

The pluralist approach is laid on a platform of the view that the workplace is a microcosm of the bigger society with mixtures of social groups, values and believes that generate inconsistency (Dzimbiri, 2008). The proponents allied to this approach acknowledge multiplicity of ideas and usually contradictory interests among the people in the workplace.

For instance, the workers’ interests of earning more wages or working for fewer hours often conflict with the employers’ objective of maximizing production efficiency through minimal costs. For Dubin (1954), conflict is an inevitable phenomenon in the organization. He however notes that the conflicts can be disruptive when they are not controlled.

This approach therefore, clearly accepts the presence of conflict between the management and the employees, which calls for effective industrial relations strategies. Theories such as the McGregor’s theory X and theory Y, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs seem to be based on the pluralist perspective. A participative or a consultative culture is what describes the culture of the organization in this perspective.

Managers upholding this type of concept tend to apply various ways off getting to involve the employees in the decision making process, pertaining the issues that affect their working experience or those intended to improve the overall productivity of the firm. Those efforts could include such ways as staff meetings, work councils, trade unions among others. As such, are perceived to be the channels through which the conflicting interests of employees can be made to cohere to those of the employers.

The whole thinking in the pluralist approach is that the workplace is made up of different groups, where each group has a right to exist since it is purported to represent that group in the larger society. The employers here agree to disagree with the employees. The state is regarded to be neutral and is a tool that is applied by the majority to attain the interests of the majority over the interests of the minority.


Neo- institutionalism is said to have evolved out of the general concern with the pluralist democracy (Robert and Klingermann, 1998). This approach emerged as an application of the pluralist thinking. The major issue attached to this approach is the employment relationship. It endeavors to examine the rules that make up the employment relationship.

Rules here are perceived to be either formal, for instance, in a contract, or informal, such as a custom each with their own means of establishment as well as their determination. Also rules could either be procedural or rather substantive. A substantive rule identifies a definite term of the employment relationship. A procedural rule on the other hand deals with how the rules are to be made in the future.

The forces that mould the employment relationship can be viewed to emanate from the supply side, where basically factors such as availability of suitable labor, raw materials, technology etc come into play. Other factors that may spark employee relations include: demand, through say, the demand for the final product, the society, through factors such as the socially allowed limits on working hours, the exposure of pregnant women to radiations at the workplace or from the historically-derived pattern s of behavior.

One major concept in this approach is the open-endedness of the employment relationship; where many of the contracts involve the delivery of specific services at a given period of time.

With the presence of the employee relationships, the terms of the contracts are subject to renegotiation over time; the management may choose to alter the services to be delivered or the employees could as well halt their performance, ask for an increased pay, or even show discontent with the process of production. The success of the current process requires that both the employer and the employee to be thinking and moving in a similar fashion.

The neo-institutionalists also perceive the present behavior as if based on past behavior. It is understood that the activities of the present are the results of the previous actions.

These theorists are apprehensive about the understanding of the real world, the reason for the existence of the present behaviors. This approach can said to be inherently inductive with no intent to develop the grand premise.


Today’s HRM can be described as an extension of the human relations and the neo-human relations perspectives, and it indeed represents a particular approach to the routine activities of the employee administration. It is the modern day form of unitarist that is applied in industrial relations.

Walton (1985) views HRM in a perspective that stresses on the mutuality between the employer and the employed concerning; rewards, respect, goals, influence as well as responsibility. A classical approach to human resource management introduced the concept of strategic human resource management by which HRM policies are associated with the formation as well as the execution of strategic, corporate and/or business goals (Fombrun, Titchy &Devanna 1984), an approach that was later referred to as the matching model.

This is a unitarist view which assumes that, dissimilar views or conflicts cannot exist within an organization because the management and the employees are all focused to the achievement of the same goals. Decentralization and devolvement of organizational responsibilities are seen as parts of the HRM techniques of facilitating involvement, communication as well as commitment of the middle management and other workers in an organization.

HRM from a pluralist view

Such aspects of human resource management as individual dedication and mutuality of interest in the success of the organization tend to be allied to the unitarism perspective. The question arises however, how pluralism shares perspective with the HRM approach.

According to Armstrong (1999), one of the elements of HRM model for industrial relations is the management of complementary communication forms, for instance, team briefing and also the traditional collective bargaining- that is, approaching the employees individually rather than through their representatives, a perception shared with the pluralist approach.


The managers have the luxury of choice to decide upon which frame of reference to apply in the management of employee relations. The two perspectives focused on in this essay (the unitarist and the pluralist), have merits and demerits in their own capacities. The unitarists believe that divergence of issues can be avoided.

In addition, trade unions are perceived negatively by the unitarists, whereas the pluralists support them. Pluralists also allow for difference of opinions in the workplace. Organizations that apply the unitarist approach may effectively achieve organizational goals by having vast spectrum of efforts that improve employee motivation as well as satisfaction. The application of either HRM or the neo-institutionalism approach is dependent on the perspective of industrial relations adopted.


Michael, A. (1999). Armstrong’s handbook of human resource management practice. London: Kogan Page Limited.

Burchill, F (2008). Labour relations. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dubin, R., Kornhauser, A and Arthur, M. (1954). Industrial conflict. London: McGraw-Hill.

Dzimbiri, L. (2008). Industrial relations in a developing society: the case of colonial, independent one-party and multiparty Malawi. Berlin: Cuvillier Verlag

Fombrun, C., Titchy, N &Devanna, M. (1984). Strategic human resource management. New York: Wiley.

Green, R. (1994). Wages policy and wage determination in 1993, Journal of industrial relations, 36(1), 99-116

John, D (1958). Industrial relations systems. New York: Holt.

Peters, T. and Waterman, R. (1982). In search of excellence. New York: Harper and Row.

Robert, E and Klingermann, H. (1998). A new handbook of political science. Oxford: oxford university press.

Teicher, J., Holland, P., and Gough, R. (Eds.), (2006). Employee Relations Management, 2nd Edition. Frenchs Forest, NSW: Prentice-Hall

Walton, R. (1985). From control to commitment in the workplace. Havard Business Review. 65(2) 77-85.

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