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Human resources in a global context

In a world where globalisation has meant that employees can work for international organisations across the planet, there is a need for human resource management (HRM) practices that are considered within a global context. This international perspective must take into account migration, ethics, governance, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, change management, work-life balance, and diversity and inclusion. Of course, legal and regulatory requirements will also be different from country to country. With globalisation, also comes the challenge of cultural difference. This can be in the case of an international business opening up into new territories but also when employees move to different offices around the world and become expatriates. 

A key text in addressing these issues is Human Resource Management in a Global Context: A Critical Approach by Robin Kramar and Jawad Syed. Originally published in 2012 by Palgrave Macmillan, the book has become a major resource for those in the field of international human resource management (IHRM). It gives a broader view with case studies offered from geographies such as continental Europe and Asia-Pacific rather than the usual focus on HRM in the United States or the United Kingdom.

The book is particularly useful for HR professionals who are considering brushing up on their competencies and management practices with a postgraduate qualification such as a master’s degree from a business school or university.

The purpose of human resource management

Although HRM was once thought of as a branch of industrial relations, it is now considered a field in its own right. Industrial relations (sometimes referred to as employment relations) is very much focused on the regulation, control and governance of the employment relationship. It has its roots in trade unionism in that it recognises the inherent conflict between an organisation’s goal and the welfare of workers. HRM not only takes into account the importance of employee welfare but sees it as reliant on organisational growth.

One of the key functions of HRM is performance management. Performance management used to be mainly centred around managers, professionals and employees working in tech, but now staff at all levels are involved in the appraisal process. The challenge in conducting appraisals is in collecting feedback from multiple sources on performance, rather than simply from line managers. There is also a need to reduce ambiguity in feedback and be aware of bias. HR practices increasingly acknowledge that performance must be twinned with reward management so that people feel recognised and valued in the workplace. In different countries, there are social and cultural factors which will affect employees’ perceptions of reward, whether through salary or other benefits.

Training and development for the workforce are also HR functions. Of course, in international HRM, training and development is site-specific and must be adaptable. Training in its traditional sense is seen as quite rigid, and with technological advances and ways of working rapidly changing, training must truly add measurable improvements whilst contributing to personal development of the employee. Training must also be interactive and stimulating, providing social interaction and real-time learning within the business environment. Chapter 11 (Training, Development and Learning) of Human Resource Management in a Global Context explores this in more depth, including developing versus recruiting workers, needs assessments linked to training design and performance issues, and the link between learning and knowledge.

The impact of remote working

Remote working was already becoming more acceptable before the pandemic hit. However, with the necessity of working from home, HRM and business management in general has had to catch up. Multinational teams working across the world have previously had to manage time differences whether it’s early morning or early evening meetings to ensure everyone is present. But with flexible working also becoming important to employees, HRM can play a role in helping people coordinate their time and ensure that they are caring for their well-being. When well-managed, flexible working can give a business a competitive advantage as it shows a business built on trust that cares for its employees’ job satisfaction, which will attract talent.    

There is a chapter in Human Resource Management in a Global Context called Work-Life Balance in the 21st Century, which engages in key debates on how work-life balance is perceived according to cultural and national differences. It looks at rights from the perspective of parents and carers as well as the experience of women, older workers and minority groups. Ultimately, the organisation that doesn’t take flexible working into consideration, counts the cost in high levels of absenteeism and work-related stress.

Human resources in a global technological environment

With digital transformations taking place across large, international organisations, HRM must have access to reliable digital file storage but also must have good internet connection wherever they are located in the world. In some ways this is more efficient, as physical files no longer need to be stored securely. 

However, there is then the requirement for cyber security to ensure sensitive information is not hacked and stolen. Creating international HRM systems that are coordinated across countries and across various software platforms also raises security issues regarding who has access to them.

Strategic human resource management (SHRM)

Changes socially, economically and politically are constantly shaping the business environment and global market. Human resource planning goes hand in hand with strategic planning in order to ensure that the workforce reflects the goals of the business. This is referred to as strategic human resource planning (SHRM). In uncertain times though, there are often sudden changes in supply and demand, and as we have seen throughout the pandemic in the UK, furlough schemes. These schemes will be different in every country and so international HRM teams will need to be up to speed with changes in each territory. 

Human resource planning can help manage this uncertainty and help the HRM practices of the organisation to be dynamic rather than reactive by having a sense of what is coming up ahead for the business. This is particularly critical when it comes to staffing and talent management as the hiring process requires a lot of resources. One of the challenges that particularly affects SHRM is translating theory into practice – it’s important that these HRM practices are always running in the background rather than in crisis, but it’s easier said than done.

Diversity in an international context

Workforce diversity is consistently at the top of the agenda for many leading international businesses. When working in international HRM numerous factors must be considered in accordance with the regulations of the host country in which operations are being carried out. 

HR policies and HR practices have to align with that particular country’s governance. This can create issues when the host country’s stance on equal opportunities and diversity is at odds with that of the organisation’s home country. In many countries, the population and the demographics of the work force are also changing, but discrimination remains at an institutional and societal level. Chapter 4 of Human Resource Management in a Global Context is called Diversity Management and tackles some of these issues.

Continue your professional development

In an increasingly interconnected business world, knowledge of international human resources management is a valuable asset for management professionals. 

Develop your skills with the University of Lincoln’s MSc Management with Human Resources, studied entirely online and part-time so you can continue to progress in your career as you learn.