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'Best practice' human resource management : perfect opportunity or dangerous illusion ?

by M. Marchington, I. Grugulis
()

Abstract

In recent years there has been a considerable degree of interest in the notion of 'best practice' HRM, inspired at least in part by the work of Jeffrey Pfeffer. Along with other contributions from the UK and the USA, this has resulted in assertions that a particular bundle of HR practices can increase profits irrespective of organizational, industrial, or national context. In this paper, we focus on the way in which HRM is characterized in these writings, querying whether the practices which are typically assumed and put forward as 'good' may not appear quite so beneficial to workers when analysed more systematically. It is suggested that there are a number of problems with the notion of 'best practice', both in relation to the meaning of specific practices, and their consistency with each other, and the claims that this version of HRM is universally applicable. The unitarist underpinnings of this literature are also exposed. This is not to argue that HR policies and practices do not influence organizational performance but, rather, that we cannot determine this from the current literature. The 'best practice' conclusions may be attractive but the jury is still out.

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