Employee relations as well as management has remained to be a very essential aspect of organizations be it the organizations that prevailed in the ancient days or the modern day organizations (United States, 2011). Different models and perspectives are adopted by different organizations and or firms and different managers in the management of employees in organizations. The employee relations in organizations emerged amidst industrial relations which began in 1920s in Europe. During then, industries were only termed in the sense to mean the manufacturing firms (Ferner and Hyman, 1998). However, in the modern days, the meaning of the term has expanded to include not just the manufacturing firms but also in other sectors of the modern economy that do not deal with manufacturing. The definition of industrial and employee relations covers all form and or kinds of employment (Barry, 2011).
Scholar in the field of industrial and or work relations have come up with three theories and or perspectives or frameworks that differs in the explanation, understanding and analyzing of relations at places of work. These theories are the unitarism theory or framework, the pluralist perspective and the radical perspective. Each of these perspectives has specific workplace relations perceptions. Utilizing the specificity in perceptions, the theories do describe and or interpret a number of events which include conflict at the workplace, the function of unions and the regulations of job (Kaufman, 2008).
In the pluralist perspective, firms are perceived as having been made up of powerful sub-groups which are divergent in terms of roles and goals. In the unitarism framework, the firm is perceived as being an integrated as well as a harmonious whole. The firm works closely whereby the management and the other employees shares common objectives or purpose. The radical perspective is sometimes referred to as the Marxist view. This perspective explores the behavior of the capitalistic society which has division of interests that exists between capital and labor (Bendix, 2000).
This paper analyzes the relationship between unitarism perspective and the pluralist perspective as it is applied in management. It compares these two perspectives in the broader sense and from the analysis picks singles out the most effective perspective of employee management from these two.
Overview of the Pluralist Perspective
The philosophy underlying this framework is that enterprises and or organizations have collection of persons who have differing interests, objectives and aspirations. Power in this perspective is distributed among the major bargaining groups in the organization in a manner that no party takes advantage or manipulates the other. Pluralism suggests that employment relationships in organizations are open-ended and in a way indeterminate which creates structural antagonism. This has the potential of creating conflict in the labor market as well as in the workplace (Farnham and Institute of Personnel and Development).
The theory cites the state’s role as being that of guarding public interests, protections of the weak and restraining power for the strong. According to this perspective, unions are viewed as being legitimate representatives that represents the interests of the employees. This perspective sees conflict as being something that is unavoidable and a legitimate impact of the varying interests at the workplace (Lewin, Mitchell, Sherer and Industrial Relations Research Association, 1992).
The pluralist perspective is based on the belief that the workplace has a composition of differing sets of beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors. The theory also believes that organizations have differing sources of leadership which are opposing in nature. Organizations also have different kinds of attachments. According to pluralism, conflicts must exist in organizations because competing interests do exist. The conflicts that come up in organizations can be very helpful to the organization more so when they are identified and put under control by using institutional responses. The managerial role is mediation among the competing interests. Trade unions have legal backing in the representation of workers as they aid employees in emphasizing their power in decision making Colling and Terry, 2010).
Strengths of Pluralism
The pluralist form of management emphasizes that conflict in organizations can be resolved by way of using effective industrial relations. Management uses consultative approaches in reacting to and solving of conflict. This perspective also considers alternative processes that can be used in decision making (Edwards, 2007).
Under this perspective of management, conflict is not overlooked and or ignored but is managed in an effective way through the participation of stakeholders of the firm. Therefore, conflict can be used in understanding the deep seated tensions in order identify and properly address them. Therefore this framework utilizes conflict management strategies in engaging the conflicting groups in the organization in orders to reach solutions which are then implemented (Hills, 1995).
This perspective does embrace a wide range of policies related to employee relations. Under this as a form of management companies can choose to adopt non- union policies more so when there is the existence of employee organizations. Other firms can choose to allow trade unions. The level of employee relations in pluralism makes it suited for diverse organizations as well as national cultures. This perspective is also best suited for collective industrial relation systems. This is because it values labor unions and their roles in the management of conflicts that exist between the employers and employees (Balnave, 2007).
Weakness of Pluralism
The major weakness of this perspective is that it concentrates on rules and procedures therefore disregarding the processes which contribute to the resolution of conflicts. For instance, workplace conflict solving rules and or laws can be made through industrial relations (Grady, 1993).
Overview of the Unitarist Perspective
This perspective views the place of work as being integrated and or also a harmonious entity which exists to serve a common purpose. According to it, the management’s role is the provision of strong leadership and fostering of good communication. Workers have to be loyal to the firm for which they work for and its management. The perspective sees unions as being competitors who competes for the loyalty of employees as well as their commitments thus they are disliked. The perspective suggests that conflict is not an inherent factor in the place of work. According to this perspective, conflict is an indicator of faulty communication in the organization (Collins, 1998).
Towards the end of the 20th century, a shift in management f the worker relations has been experienced. The modern focus is on the more strategic as well as integrated frameworks which bases on the commitment of workers and the shared interests at the place of work (Collins, 1998).
In the unitarist framework of management, authority in an organization only emanates from a single source. The management is the source of authority thus there are no opposing leaders in the organization. The function of leaders of the organization is the promotion of commitment and loyalty of the workers to the organization. Also, firms are seen as having a composition of teams which work together in order to reach mutual goals. Therefore, conflict appertaining to interests does not exist between the employees and the management (Hyman and Mason, 1995).
The unitarist framework believes that workers and managers can pull together forces in order to achieve common objectives, values and interests. The management has to show the example of strong leadership in order to meet the objectives of the organization. The other point that forms the basis of unitarism is that the activities of the trade unions are not legitimate and therefore the trade unions are not seen as being essential elements in managing employee and management conflicts in the organization. Conflicts in organizations are perceived negatively as in they are depicted as being dysfunctional and a pathway to disloyalty which impairs with the organization’s well being. Last but not least, unitarism argues that the state is an autonomous entity and plays a big role in the shaping of industrial relations (Giri, 2008).
Strength of the Unitarism Perspective
This perspective tries to integrate the interests of managers and employees in order to enhance the commitment of employees as well as their loyalty. This in itself can be adopted and used in the management – stakeholder where workers are viewed as being among the important stakeholders in the firm thus their affairs are carefully handled in ensuring that the firm’s welfare. This perspective emphasizes on the management role that is in attainment of win-win situation for workers and the firm in general. Managers are thus forced to go past their styles of management that they use in managing employee relations and bring out their managerial and leadership capabilities. If the managers become convincing and influential, the need for trade unions can easily be drawn away (Giri, 2008).
There is the assumption by this perspective that all stakeholders in the organization are rational and thus confides in finding common interests. Such a belief gives a steady argument for focusing on commonality of goals in order to achieve a stable employee relations system. Unitarism is essentially individualistic in the way it approaches employee relations. This can work well for individualist systems of industrial relations (Martin and Fellenz, 2010).
Weakness of Unitarism
Unitarism fails to realize the existence of power inequalities between managers and workers. This generates different kinds of constraints. Managers have great power and exert the power on employees as in the determination of the environment under which the employers work. This mostly works blue-collar jobs. Under this perspective of management, workers are denied the ownership of power thus they are forced to accept the management decisions. Another thing with the unitarist theory is that conflict is treated as a very negative aspect thus it is not viewed as a force reflecting inequalities which could be used in regaining work harmony. Some conflicts are argued to be of value to firms and therefore are necessary in organizations (Wilton and Wilton, 2011).
The unitary perspective is normative in nature. It does not have descriptions of the manner in which individual employee interests and sentiments can be fully integrated into the objectives of the firm. Unitarism also lacks a descriptive framework of the manner in which common interests in the firm can be identified and how they can be shared in different organizations. The perspective fails to give human resource guidelines in order to pursue it effectively. The theory depends on the assumption that organizational members have logic and have the potential of making rational decisions concerning the combination of their interests as well as the interests of the organization (Wilton and Wilton, 2011).
Unitarism and Pluralism as form of Soft Human Resource Management
The application of unitarism has been adopted in human resource management. It has however had constraining factors that undermine it. A major assumption in the application and practice of ‘soft’ human resource management is that the firm is unitarist. Unitarism lies at the center of the philosophy of human resource management. This theory treats the place of work as being integrative and harmonious. The pluralist theory is accommodative in nature in a way that it allows for allows for differing interests of workers and managers. Thus this leads to conflicting interests that human resource management will be required to negotiate and or mediate and resolve in order to meet the goals of firms. On the other hand, the unitarist theories bases on the assumption that all stakeholders of organizations more so the workers and the managers do have unified interests in meeting the goals and or objectives of firms. This is argued to be just a ‘fiction’ that has intentions of drawing away the theoretical constraints which are beset by the pluralists as it applies to managerial prerogative (Radcliffe, 2005).
Unitarism has been applied in the models of human resource management in several states that lie in the South East Asia region. It is also claimed that unitarism has been applied in management in the western countries. This has not been fully approved. Though it is argued that most of Human resource management theory has a foundation in unitraism, therefore most of the big and mainstream firms have put a very little emphasis on changing the management style that they use – the pluralistic style. In a study that was conducted in organizations in the United Kingdom in the year 1992, it was discovered that both pluralism and unitarism perspectives of industrial relations exist in organizations. However, it was noted that the perspective that dominates the Japanese as well as several other Asian firms is the unitarism perspective. Western firms more so the Australian firms have very small elements of pluralism. This in itself has a big effect on the managers and employees who caries out their work under human resource management practices in their pluralistic organizations. There exists a wide gap in proving that unitarism does exist in Western organizations thus the validity of human resource management does exist putting in mind that the human resource management theories are formed basing on unitarism as the core assumption (Radcliffe, 2005).
It is argued that a number of firms are putting in place measures to ensure that their employees do not adopt pluralist tendencies. This has been backed by the finding of a research that was conducted in 2003. The findings were that a number of entrepreneurs and or employers have begun to make attempts to de-unionize their firms through the use of different means. One of the means that are being used is through the strategies that are used in the recruitment exercise where managers look for recruits with unitarist tendencies and leaves out those who seem to have union backgrounds. The main malady in this is that proper employees may be left out which can in turn negatively impact on the productivity and the general performance of organizations (Radcliffe, 2005).
A case study of Human Resource Management in Germany
In a research that was conducted in organizations in Germany, it was found out that a number of United States Firms namely United States Pharmaceutical, United States Chemical and the United States Merchant Bank utilize a unitarist Human Resource Management Strategy. These firms do not so much comply with the institutions that govern the labor markets in the country. They do follow a non-union labor policy. They have a relatively high priority in human resource management. This example has demonstrated that that a unitarist United States – type human resource management can be adopted in Germany. However, very few companies which operate in Germany do apply the unitarist perspective of management (MichaeL, 1999).
Without having enough backing, it can be speculated that Germany has many organizations which follow the unitarist approach of management. However, there is no single company which operates in Germany including the three United States companies that have been mentioned above that has fully modeled itself as a true user of unitarism as a form of human resource management. Even the Hewlett Packard Company that is greatly acknowledged for pursuing human resource management in an excellent manner has never been described in the sense of being a model for unitarist management. For instance, the Hewlett Packard Company has not been known to embrace collective bargaining. This is different with firms in the United Kingdom and United States where numerous well known firms have been brought out as having applied Unitarism perspective in human resource management. It has been argued that the reason as to why this is not applied in Germany is because it is costly to apply it in the context of the Germany Country. However it is also important to note that a number of the United States Companies namely United States Branch Bank, United States Consumer Oil and United States Chemical follows a pluralist strategy of human resource management. This is a bit strange as the parent companies back in the United States are known to use the unitarist form of human resource management (MichaeL, 1999).
A majority of small organizations which operate in Germany uses prefers to use the market- type personnel management instead of the pluralist approach of human resource management. From the research, it was deduced that the administration of Germany gives preference to the pluralist form of human resource management. Medium as well as large companies that carry out their operations in Companies that operate in Germany are forced to apply collective bargaining in their market operation. Although firms in Germany can choose to use practices aligned to human resource management, they are limited when it comes to adoption of unitarist human resource management values. The Germany system does not give room for the use of the unitarist framework of human resource management (MichaeL, 1999).
A number of scholars in the field of Human resource management have been critical of unitarism as a model of management. The sholars have suggested the pluralist framework of management is better and should be used instead of the unitarist framework. This is as it has been applied to Germany where the pluralism framework of management is dominant more so in a number of large companies. This is an illustration which points that pluralism is a good approach of management. In spite of the high levels of unemployment, firms in Germany have remained relatively competitive. Nonetheless, it should not be assumed that the pluralist form of management can only be applied by organizations when they are pressured to do so. It is argued that the pluralist form of management may become common and mostly preferred in European firms which follow a market strategy that bases on high quality and substitute the unitarist form of management that the United States uses (MichaeL, 1999).
General Analysis and Discussion
The pluralism model of management combines economic factors of management as well as psychological concepts in labor while at the same time linking labor to human rights as applied in a democratic society. Furthermore, it combines all the above mentioned attributes with the complicated vision of relations in employment that are characterized by conflict (Mabey, Salaman and Storey, 1998).
The pluralist perspective has a strong link with the modern world. It can be classified as a model of management that captures the true picture of the economy of the 21st century and more so the relations in the management of the labor market. The shift from personnel management to human resource management has a conceptual backing in the pluralist model of labor management. The personnel majorly focused on the management of people as tools that were aimed at propelling the organization towards the achieving of the goals of organizations more so profit making. The needs of the laborers were rarely considered by the leaders of organizations. People were managed unitarily (Mabey, Salaman and Storey, 1998).
Modern human resource management has come to realize that laborers are the most important assets of the organization and the way they are managed determines how the organization performs. Thus human resource management which is being adopted by many organizations in these days addresses the needs of employees in a very big ways. It even follows the models of human needs for instance the Maslow Hierarchy of needs model and applies it in the management of employee and their relations in organizations (Wilton and Wilton, 2011).
Pluralism is an inclusive form of management. It is also participatory in nature and acknowledges the prevalence of conflict in firms. The modern human resource management centers on ensuring that employee as well as employer conflicts are settled in a proper way. Conflict is an unavoidable more so in the modern economy which is characterized by competition that is coupled with a lot of dynamics that put a lot of pressure on laborers as well as the management of firms both in their line of duty and even outside their line of duty. Conflict must be accepted as being part of what defines organizations in this modern economy. Pluralism recognizes the existence of conflicts in organizations. This is contrary to the unitarist model of management which does not recognize the existence of conflict in firms. Furthermore, unitarism ignores the needs of employees and treats employees in as mere tools that help organizations reach or meet their objectives. Unitarism further ignores is not a participative style of management and ignores the idea of employees which could be used to positively alter the course of events in organizations. The unitarist is likened to utopic and or authoritarian regimes therefore many organizations are shifting from this kind of management and adopting the pluralistic form of managing employee relations in organizations (Wilkinson, 2008)
Pluralism captures the emerging dynamics in management. Realizing that the conflicts are one of the important tenets of organizations, it puts in place conflict resolution mechanisms that are used in the management of conflicts. It acknowledges the use collective bargaining in negotiating of conflicts. When conflicts are effectively managed the organization gets a chance of having a new look and therefore more room for development. It recognizes the existence of groups and in organizations and the existence of differing interests. Groups are becoming essential in the organization in the sense of product development and improvement of quality of productivity of firms. The diverse ideas are in this innovative world codified through collective agreements and leads to new innovations in firms. Modern organizations continue to adopt and use modern forms of management and or administration. This means that pluralist approaches of management which forms a big part of modern human resource management are being embraced in management (Wilton and Wilton, 2011).
Employee relations emerged from industrial relations in the Europe in the early 1900s. Employee relations refer the patterns of relations in organizations between employers and the employees. There are different perspectives of managing relations in firms. These are unitarism, pluralism and radicalism. Different organizations and or managements choose a specific perspective in the management of employee relations. In the modern times though, with the dynamics in management, organizations may choose to use more than one style of management though in an integrative way. Because of the dynamism of the modern economy, the pluralism perspective is the best approach of management as it captures most of the needs of employees and managers in that it allows for a participatory aspect in management.
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