Human Resource Management: Industrial Relations


Researchers engaging in studies related to industrial relations classify three important theoretical approaches, which are critical in understanding the interactions among various stakeholders in the places of work. The perspectives differ in a number of ways, but they are often employed in understanding the behavior of individuals in the workplace. These perspectives include the unitary view, pluralist perspective, and the radical view. The theories explain the role of unions, as well as the rules and regulations governing the conduct of individuals in the places of work differently (Befort, & Budd, 2009). It is noted that the actions of individuals and the events that take place in organizations differ in a number of ways. Scholars holding the radical perspective are of the view that places of work are characterized by conflicts hence the model is often referred to as the conflict model. Even though pluralism tends to view interactions in the places of work in terms of conflicts, it differs significantly from the radical model. Most Marxist scholars are associated with radicalism.

Description of the Perspectives

The unitary perspective is the most dominant point of view among scholars of industrial relations. The theory views the organization as an integrated and harmonious system that lacks conflicts and tensions. In other words, all members of the organization cooperate in terms of realizing the organizational goals and objectives. The theory assumes that organizational members share core standards, interests, and ideas. Therefore, working together as a team is highly encouraged since it leads to the fulfillment of mutual goals. Unitary perspective is known for its paternalistic approach implying that members are expected to be loyal to the management and the organization in general (Budd, 2004). In this regard, trade unions are not accepted, as they encourage divisions and unnecessary disruption of work.

The employee and the employer have different views pertaining to the theory. For an employee, the perspective suggests that the work schedule should always be flexible to enable any worker to cope with the assignment. Any person involved in the organizational work should be business oriented meaning that he or she should explore some of the ways that might improve the working conditions. In this regard, efficiency is a valued principle whereby the role of the employee is to equip him or herself with adequate skills. The employee prefers the existence of the union since it might act as a link between the management and other stakeholders, particularly workers. Based on this, the role of the union is purely to act as a means of communication between the senior staff and junior employees, but not to interrupt the work schedule. Employees emphasize on the good relationships between the organization and other stakeholders since this might improve the employment terms and the working conditions. Any employee is free to participate in the decision-making process. It is believed that participatory decision-making empowers the junior staff to realize their potentials. Through this, novelty, solidarity, creativeness, diplomacy, problem-solving, and quality enhancement among groups is enabled. The role of the management is to provide direction and guidance to the junior staff. Therefore, management has the role of imparting skills and expertise to employees without using force and harassment.

The employer views the unitary theory from a different perspective. For instance, the role of the organizational policies and regulations is to inspire, unite, and motivate employees to achieve their personal and organizational goals. Whenever the management intends to introduce something new in the organization, each employee should be informed in time meaning that proper communication is the key to success. Members of staff should be consulted adequately before introducing new ways of doing things. In case the organization comes up with a reward system, such a program should be designed in a way that would promote devotion and dedication among employees. Some reward systems are often skewed to the extent that only a few employees benefit. The most performing employees should always be rewarded while the lazy ones should be subjected to sanctions that would help them improve. The role of the line managers is actually to lead their groups and take responsibility for any underperformance. Employers believe that conflicts would emerge from inadequate information sharing and poor designing of organizational policies. In this regard, the organization has the role of ensuring that personal goals, objectives, interests, and aspirations are incorporated into the general organizational values and principles.

Pluralistic perspective differs in a significant way with the other two perspectives in the sense that it perceives an organization as a combination of influential and conflicting sub-groups and trade unions. This means that each sub-group has a different interest that differs in a number of ways with those of others. Whenever the organization makes sufficient profits, conflicts are inevitable as far as distribution of proceeds is concerned. In this regard, the management tends to exclude other groups in decision-making by concentrating on controlling and enforcing organizational rules and regulations. The principles of persuasion and coordination are not always employed in managing conflicts. On the other hand, the role of trade unions is well defined since they are viewed as legitimate bodies that represent the interests of workers (Kaufman, 2004).

The idea of collective bargaining is often employed in resolving the major conflicts, even though some view it as an ideal tool of bringing about change and development in the workplace. Managers are always urged to accept divergent views. The organization is encouraged to employ experts charged with the responsibility of addressing conflicts arising from industrial action. Their major role is to engage in negotiation and consultation to ensure that workers are satisfied. Since organizational managers might be viewed as parties to the conflicts, the role of independent arbitrators is often appreciated. The representatives of various unions are encouraged to conduct their duties without intimidation and fear since threatening them would interfere with the productivity of employees.

The third perspective, Marxism or radical perspective, views industrial relations from a social point of view. In this regard, industrial relation is purely a microcosm of the wider industrialist society whereby the rich will always try to outdo the poor since they own the means of production. Therefore, conflicts between the owners of the means of production and proletariat are inescapable and interminable (Befort, & Budd, 2009). In fact, conflicts in the workplaces represent the realities of the struggles between the rich and the poor, even though open conflicts are always infrequent. To the radical scholars, conflicts emerging in the places of work show the class struggles whereas industrial relations is perceived as a political concept, which is indeed an outcome of the class struggle. For any scholar to comprehend industrial relations, he or she is expected to familiarize him or herself with the dynamics of the capitalized society, the social relations of manufacturing, and the system of wealth accumulation.

Recent Adaptations

Human resource management represents the modern form of unitary perspective. The modern approach suggests that the employer is the only stakeholder mandated to offer decisions as far as guiding the organization is concerned. In this regard, planning the needs of human resource is the first step towards achieving organizational goals (Kaufman, 2004). The management is further charged with the task of recruiting and selecting the best employees that would help the organization in realizing its objectives. For employees to of any value to the organization, the model suggests that they must undergo an extensive training session that will help them improve their performance. In fact, it is believed that a trained employee is easy to manage, apart from being efficient and productive. Since people differ in terms of their productivity, the reward system must be introduced to encourage the hardworking employees and slap sanctions to the underperformers. Whenever an employee continuously underperforms, the management has the right to retire such a worker or even dismiss him or her to pave way for a high performing individual.

Neo-institutionalism is simply an extension of the pluralist perceptive, which states that only two types of rules govern the behavior of individuals in the organization. One set of rules is related to informal and formal regulations. The second set is directly linked to substantive or procedural rules, which are often made in a broader context owing to the forces and necessities of industrialist social relations. The new model of pluralist perspective suggests that the current industrial affairs can perhaps be understood through the study of the past (Rees, 2010). In other words, the theory is concerned with the actual world hence it generates the theory through induction.

The labor process theory is a new model of the radical perspective that is often supported by Marxist scholars. The new theory explores some of the ways through which the organization often exploits the conversion of prospective labor into real labor. Since labor does not always comply with the set rules and regulations, employees are forced to engage in industrial action to fight for their rights, such as improved working conditions. In this regard, the management is always engaged in the process of coming up with the best control method in order to maximize actual labor.

Conflict and Cooperation at Work

The three theories suggest that employees are forced to cooperate with their employers while at other times they engage in conflicts to fight for their rights. Radical perspective and labor-process theory view conflict as inevitable in capitalistic societies. Therefore, employees will always engage in collective bargaining to force the employer to comply with the established rules and regulations. Conflict resolution is through negotiations and consultations. Pluralist perspective and its new model, neo-institutionalism, insist on cooperation since there is an established conflict resolution mechanism. The employee and the employer should engage in discussions to ensure that the work schedule is not interrupted. Unitary perspective and the human resource theory suggest that conflicts are detrimental to the survival of the organization. Therefore, communication should be strengthened since it reduces conflicts and tensions. The major role of the management is to ensure that employees are satisfied to prevent conflicts.


Befort, S. F., & Budd, J. W. (2009). Invisible hands, invisible objectives: Bringing workplace law and public policy into focus. Stanford: Stanford Economics and Finance. Web.

Budd, J. W. (2004). Employment with a Human Face: Balancing Efficiency, Equity, and Voice. New York, NY: Cornell University Press. Web.

Kaufman, B. E. (2004). The global evolution of industrial relations: Events, ideas and the IIRA. Geneva: International Labor Office. Web.

Kaufman, B. E. (2004). Theoretical perspectives on work and the employment relationship. Ithaca, NY: International Labor Office. Web.

Rees, J. (2010). Representation and rebellion: The Rockefeller plan at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, 1914-1942. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. Web.

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