Hard and soft HRM

Should your business take a hard or soft human resource management (HRM) approach?

HRM is human resource management. It’s a strategic approach to the acquisition, motivation, development, and management of your business’s HR efforts.

It’s possible to divide HRM into three areas:

Individual: Assisting staff with developing within your business. Organisational: Generating a successful system across your business. Career: Matching individuals with the right roles and career paths throughout your organisation. You can also take a hard or soft HRM approach. Let’s take a look at what they are, so you can decide which one best fits your business.

What is hard and soft HRM?

Okay, let’s start with a hard and soft HRM definition. They’re different types of approaches to managing your employees with HR—hard HRM focusses on more traditional business outlooks, while soft has a progressive outlook.

Let’s take a look at the hard and soft models of HRM:

1. Hard HRM: The focus here is to identify workforce needs so you can recruit and manage as you need to (including hiring staff, or making others redundant). The main features of this approach are:

  1. Regular changes in employee numbers.

  2. Little business transparency.

  3. Lower wages.

  4. Little to no empowerment of employees.

  5. Appraisal systems that focus on good and bad performance.

  6. A more old-fashioned style of leadership.

Soft HRM: This approach treats employees as an essential resource in your business—if not the most important one of all. This makes it a more progressive outlook. One where you treat staff members as individuals. The soft HRM model focus is for the needs of your staff, including rewards and motivation.

  1. Focussing on long-term planning for your business and its workforce.

  2. An open and transparent business model with good communication.

  3. Competitive pay, relying on salary benchmarking and bonus packages.

  4. Employee empowerment.

  5. Appraisal systems that identify training opportunities and professional development.

  6. A more democratic type of leadership.

So, is a hard or soft HRM for you?

Whether you take the HRM hard and soft approach depends on what you want to achieve as a business. Along with your beliefs in terms of leadership.

But you can merge various aspects of the two as you see fit.

However, the soft HRM approach is certainly more popular in the modern business world. Especially with employees, who expect to be treated with respect.

The reality is that staff now have a much wider range of businesses available and have more choice on where they can work. So to retain top talent, you should look to offer them a competitive package.

The more relaxed and encouraging you are with your employees, the happier they’ll be. And the more likely they’ll commit to your business in the long-term.

But, what’s right for you? The hard or soft HRM approach? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the two types.

Hard HRM advantages and disadvantages

One of the main advantages of a hard HRM approach for an employer is you get maximum control in your business. And, depending on your industry, that means you can be more stringent in your approach.

And that means you can take more cost-effective policies, with faster decisions amongst managers. After all, it’s in the name—it’s a “harder” (tougher) approach to business.

The disadvantage of that is it could frustrate employees, as the approach is more in line with micromanagement.

It’s often unpopular with staff. This, in turn, can lead to high turnover rates and that can add to recruitment costs as you have to keep replacing departing employees.

Soft HRM advantages and disadvantages

The main advantage of a soft HRM approach is with employee morale. With this approach, your workforce will feel more valued and be appreciative of your efforts as a business.

This can lead to greater levels of motivation and higher productivity for your business. As well as a long-term commitment from staff, who’ll remain eager to continue working for you. So, that cuts costs on recruitment as you’ll have a higher retention rate.

Your business will also receive positive word of mouth, with equal opportunities and rewards for staff hard work. This will encourage a positive company culture and attract like-minded employees.

However, on the downside, there are a few issues with this approach.

For a start, your focus on training and professional development will cost your business money. Although you can balance that out knowing there’s a return on investment (ROI) from upskilling staff.

It can also delay decision making sometimes, as there’s a more democratic approach with the need for varying departments to provide feedback.

So, whether you choose a hard or soft HRM is up to you. Still got questions? Call our HR experts for advice on 0800 783 2806.


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