The Management of People: HRM in Context

John Benson (University of Melbourne)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 1 October 2004



Benson, J. (2004), "The Management of People: HRM in Context", Personnel Review, Vol. 33 No. 5, pp. 605-606.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The Management of People is a welcomed addition to the growing range of texts available on human resource management (HRM). This is in stark contrast to the situation a decade earlier where few non‐American books were available. This increase in publications mirrors the growing popularity and research in all aspects of HRM. In this period the theoretical underpinnings of HRM have been subjected to close attention and more research has focused on both benefits and contradictions inherent in this field. While the theoretical aspects of HRM are still under‐developed these developments provide a clear framework by which to review the latest additions to HRM texts.

To what degree does The Management of People tap into these developments and are they presented in an easy and readable style. Chris Rowley presents HRM as being composed of four areas: employee resourcing, employee rewards, employee development and employee relations. In other words HRM is all about attracting, retaining, rewarding and developing employees while attempting to manage the complexity of relationships that arise at the workplace. This will be a welcome simplification to many students who, while wading through the tremendous amount of detail provided in most books, lose sight of the basic fundamentals concerning the world of work. Recent developments in the field are presented within this structure and the author does not lose sight of the contestable nature of much of what we call HRM.

The importance given to employee relations is welcomed, at least by this reviewer. Issues concerning individualism and collectivism, partnerships, and employee involvement are treated in context rather than as some isolated psychological condition. As Rowley points out employee relations “has critical impacts on HRM, for example through the political process and employer and employee organisations, and through LM (labour market) changes and legislation” (p. 197). A similarly critical approach to the areas of resourcing, rewards and development is taken. These “lessons” are sometimes presented in the form of case studies, sometimes in the form of international comparisons. For example, an interesting case study on “Health Services in the UK” (pp. 39‐40) is presented which concerns future resourcing issues. The case study, adapted from The Economist, does not simply point out the shortage of staff and the need to recruit more doctors and nurses. Rather issues such as pay, length of training, the aging of the workforce, turnover, recruitment from overseas, and international competition for staff, show the complexity of the problem and that the solutions will extend beyond any one enterprise and the control of any one HRM director.

Rowley concludes that HRM is about the common tensions inherent within it. These tensions include “the common desire to seek universal, simple answers to perennial HRM issues versus the contingent and complex reality of working life and the management of people” (p. 259). Courses in HRM must address these issues if mistakes, such as that made by the new HR manager in attempting to introduce a pay scheme that proved to be unlawful, are to be avoided. While for many students such tensions add an unwelcomed complexity to their studies in HRM, they and their subsequent employees are being sold short if they are not central to their education. As Rowley argues HRM remains critically important, but that the “management of people needs to be put in context and viewed through this lens” (p. 285).

I would highly recommend this book to all those interested in studying or teaching HRM. The book is well structured and provides a variety of learning experiences for the student. Each chapter commences with a brief overview, presents numerous case studies, a range of questions, and follow‐up reading. The readings are diverse and international in focus. The book concludes with a section titled “Further Reading and Background Information”. This is useful to those teaching HRM as it includes not only a list of additional references and relevant journals but also an extensive list of television programmes, films and general books that illustrate many of the issues raised throughout the text. In short, this book is mandatory reading for all those interested in HRM and the management of people.

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