Human Resource Accounting

Article excerpt

Human resources is an old field of research in economics, as reflected by accounting treatments. This paper reviews this contribution from accounting literature and the European legal framework. Different institutional attitudes toward this topic were collected from such organizations as the Financial Accounting Standards Board [1984, 1993] and the American Accounting Association [1970]. After that, a detailed revision is made of the main costs related to human resources: training and selection costs and exit costs. This analysis is made from the points of view of external and internal (or managerial) accounting and from historical costs and opportunity costs. Finally, no unique solution to this problem is given, but all possible alternatives are evaluated and open for discussion. (JEL J40)


Human resource accounting is not a new issue in economics. Economists consider human capital as a production factor, and they explore different ways of measuring its investment in education, health, and other areas. Accountants have recognized the value of human assets for at least 70 years. Research into true human resource accounting began in the 1960s by Rensis Likert [Bowers, 1973]. Likert defends long-term planning by strong pressure on human resources' qualitative variables, resulting in greater benefits in the long run.

Looking at different proposals [Conner, 1991], the resource theory considers human resources in a more explicit way. This theory considers that the competitive position of a firm depends on its specific and not duplicated assets. The most specific (and not duplicated) asset that an enterprise has is its personnel. It takes advantage of their interdependent knowledge. That would explain why some firms are more productive than others. With the same technology, a solid human resource team makes all the difference [Archel, 1995].

The American Accounting Association [1970] defines human resource accounting as "the human resources identification and measuring process and also its communication to the interested parties." There are two reasons for including human resources in accounting [Ripoll and Labatut, 1994]. First, people are a valuable resource to a firm so long as they perform services that can be quantified. The firm need not own a person for him to be considered a resource. Second, the value of a person as a resource depends on how he is employed. So management style will also influence the human resource value.

Conceptual Frame

Human resources, like any other asset, bring with them several costs (Table 1). Using criteria to determine elements that can be recorded [Financial Accounting Standards Board, 1984, 1993; International Accounting Standards Committee, 1989, 1994], Table 2 shows the possibilities of considering human resources as an asset [Financial Accounting Standards Board, 1984, 1993] and as a current expense.

Legal Frame

Following the fourth directive of Comunidad Economica Europea [1978], no party that is referred to human resources is considered in the different balance sheet models, and only in the profit and loss account are the costs most directly related to them, such as salaries and staff welfare expenses (including pensions). The number of employees classified in categories is mentioned only in the explanatory report, the same as the board of directors' payment. In Spain, the treatment followed by the Plan General de Contabilidad [Ministerio de Economia y Hacienda, 1990] is more or less what has just been shown, which implies a continuation of the Plan General de Contabilidad [Ministerio de Economia y Hacienda, 1973].

Training and Selection Cost Analysis


No doubt, when a firm invests in human resources by acquisition and training, it anticipates a future generation of profits and services that will be produced by these assets. Referring to training, the Asociacion Espanola de Contabilidad y Administracion (AECA) [1994] states that one of the techniques showing a greater capacity to stimulate efficiency is based on the idea that an employee who is induced to get to know his job better is more productive and quicker on the job. …