Academic journal article Management Revue

Disappearing between the Cracks: HRM in Permeable Organisations**

Academic journal article Management Revue

Disappearing between the Cracks: HRM in Permeable Organisations**

Article excerpt

This paper is concerned with examining the implications of inter-organisational relationships for human resource management (HRM). To date much of the literature on human resource management has been inwardly focussed on the organisation and its employees. Yet increasingly complex organisational forms and more permeable boundaries may mean that employees working for one organisation are influenced by the HR policies and practices of another. This paper presents evidence from two such case studies, representing different forms of inter-organisational relationship. The implications for the HR function are discussed and it is argued that traditional conceptions of HRM are inadequate to encompass these developments.

Key words: Human Resource Management, Inter-firm Relations, Permeable Boundaries, Employment Agencies, Franchising


The ability to manage across internal and external boundaries is an increasing requirement for organisations in the 21st century. Relations between firms are becoming ever more complex, and multiple patterns of interdependencies in the form of networks, alliances and partnerships are developing, that present new challenges for organisations in all sectors (Miles and Snow, 1999). These new inter-firm 'spherical structures' (Miles and Snow, 1999) have a fundamental effect on the nature of the employment relationship. Felstead (1993, p.189) remarks: 'it is becoming harder to determine for whom one really works. Interlocking business relationships are at the heart of this confusion.' Whilst research has been carried out at the level of the organisation to explore the significance of these shifting patterns, very little is known about what these changes mean for human resource management and human resource managers (Sparrow and Marchington, 1998). As Balogun and Hopc-Hailcy (2002) argue, HR managers can expect that their role will be extended to incorporate boundary management, both internal and external to the organisation.

Almost all the existing literature on HRM is predicated upon the assumption that the role of the HR department is an internal one, focused inward on the organisation and its employees (for example, Ulrich, 1997; Wright et al, 1999), rather than outward on organisations within the broader external network of the firm. Camuffo and Costa argued in 1993 that the remit of HRM was being extended to include bilateral relationships, and questioned whether the focus of concern for HR departments was shifting from productivity enhancement to managing complex, contractual and implicit relationships at the permeable boundary of the organisation. However, little follow-up research has been done to investigate these factors.

The increasing incidence of inter-organisational relationships can mean that employees working within one organisation may be influenced by the HR policies and practices of another firm. Rubery et al (2002) identify some of the key problem areas in the employment relationship within multi-employer environments. Amongst others they highlight the tensions and contradictions that these environments raise in terms of organisational commitment, the use of HRM as a universal employment model, pay and conditions and performance management. They conclude that multi employer environments raise questions about: 1) how to provide effective protection for employees through a legal framework that assumes a single employer; 2) the power and relevance of organisational commitment as a goal within the employment relationship; and therefore 3) the applicability of universal best practice approaches to employment management; 4) the link between skill and pay when people find themselves working alongside colleagues doing exactly the same job, but on different pay scales; and 5) the complexity of performance management when the appraiser may be distant and unconnected from day to day supervision. This issue has similarly been investigated by Swart et al. …

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