Academic journal article Management International Review

The Place of International Human Resource Management in International Business

Academic journal article Management International Review

The Place of International Human Resource Management in International Business

Article excerpt

Abstract This article addresses the issue of whether International Human Resource Management (IHRM) is disconnected from other International Business (IB) studies. A content analysis was conducted of 383 articles published in five main international business journals used by IHRM scholars as outlets for their work over a 21 year time span. We classified the articles into two streams of IHRM research: international assignment management and what we term MNC-related research. These streams were found to be given almost equal research attention, developing in tandem across the time period examined. A thematic analysis of articles within each stream facilitated the identification of areas receiving the most research concentration, those with partial attention, and topics yet to be explored. A third stream of articles we designated as non-empirical allowed consideration of theoretical developments within the field. This assessment demonstrates how IHRM is developing a stronger connection with more general IB research.

Keywords Content analysis * Field evolution * Multinational HRM * Non-expatriate workforce * International assignees * Expatriates

1 Introduction

How to effectively manage the expatriate process has been a core research question in International Human Resource Management (IHRM). Sparrow (2009, p. 4) suggests this focus may be attributed to the somewhat prescribed nature of human resource management that directs research to "issue-driven concerns" faced by human resource practitioners in multinational companies. But IHRM scholars generally consider that the field has moved on from its earlier preoccupation with expatriation. As the authors of several overviews have concluded, the IHRM field has rapidly developed into an area concerned with the wider range of people-related issues in multinational firms (see e.g., Ferner 2009; Schuler and Tarique 2007; Sparrow 2009; Stahl et al. 2012).

Broadening the scope of research enquiry, though, has resulted in a blurring of the definitional boundary of what constitutes IHRM. As research has extended into broader multinational management issues, such as the transfer of HRM practices into subsidiary operations, some scholars have suggested that IHRM overlaps with, or is subsumed into, the related research areas of comparative human resource management and cross-cultural management (see e.g., Harzing and Pennington 2011; Sparrow 2009). However, based on definitions used in key texts and handbooks, it would seem that the prevailing consensus is that IHRM is concerned with all the issues related to the management of people in the MNC context (Dowling et al. 2013; Evans et al. 2011; Stahl et al. 2012); and thus falls under the international business research umbrella.

A lack of clarity as to what delineates IHRM makes it difficult to explain to 'outsiders' what IHRM involves as a scientific field. For the broader international business (IB) scientific community, IHRM may appear to be a field preoccupied with expatriate management and its related activities--particularly expatriate adjustment. As IHRM scholars, we have heard IB colleagues comment that 'IHRM equals expatriate management'. Of more concern perhaps is the identification by the current co-editors of the Journal of International Business Research (JIBS), of what they term a disconnection of IHRM from other IB studies (Cantwell and Brannen 2011). While IHRM scholars may dispute these observations, it does reflect how the field may be perceived within the IB research community. The challenge is to demonstrate that IHRM scholars are engaged with broader IB-related issues; that the growing body of IHRM research findings make important contributions to answering what Peng (2004) describes is the overarching IB research question: What determines the success and failure of internationalising firms.

One way of meeting this challenge is to map the field of IHRM. As Williams and Plouffe (2007, p. …

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