Hard human resource management refers to a human resource strategy that emphasizes employees as resources that either benefit or are a detriment to the company. Rarely does a completely hard or soft approach to human resource management (HRM) the best choice; nearly all companies use a combination of the two. Corporate planning in this style of HRM typically has the broader goals of the company at the forefront.
Employees are seen as resources by employers, much like production equipment. Organizational goals of sales, growth and profit are the focus, and personnel issues are short-term, moving people in to do the job and out if they can't. Hard human resource management uses little lateral communication or support. The emphasis is on getting the job done, not rewarding performance.
Hard human resource management usually accompanies a pragmatic approach to business management. There is little to no communication from higher echelons to the lowest. Any information disseminated to lesser ranks filters through layers of managerial staff. A small company might directly communicate, but in a very large national or global organization, this becomes impractical. Lower-tier workers are detached from executives; they might not even know who they are.
In contrast, many companies use a soft human resource management style in which employees are valuable resources as people, and the company concentrates on employee retention, communication and long-term goals. Competitive pay and rewards systems are in place, along with comprehensive training and cross-training. Managers encourage teamwork and delegation and enable empowerment —that is, letting employees do their jobs without micromanaging or curtailing their ability to produce or help customers. Soft HRM is easier to implement in a smaller company with less people so one-on-one attention can be given.
Most companies use a combination of both. Hard human resource management is often thought of as autocratic. As a result, a completely hard HRM approach may alienate employees and cause problems in labor relations, retention and production due to absenteeism and resentment. It will cost companies money in terms of retraining frequent new hires and dealing with lost productivity as a result. A totally soft HRM style can produce personnel expenses that can compromise competitive advantage.
A 2011 study by the University College Dublin and Queens University Belfast in Ireland showed that a recession there did not seem to spur companies toward a purely hard human resource management strategy to cut costs. Instead, they concentrated on a combination approach that included assessments, communication, motivation to retain employees they already had. Pay and hiring freezes helped reduce payroll costs while focus on keeping current and competent employees eliminated training and recruitment costs. An HRM plan that takes these factors into account and is specifically tailored to the company’s needs contributes to a better chance of survival in a harsh economic climate.