The basic concepts of human relations in a business environment are much the same worldwide. The underlying objective of any human relations program is to promote happiness in a workforce so there are productive workers who have the best interests of their employer at heart. This goes from the floor-sweeper in the Chinese factory to the Chief Executive Officer in New York, London or Tokyo. They will be more productive if they like their job and their employer. Some of the minute elements than can cause friction in a multinational company can be minute and seemingly pointless. Sandwiches are eaten differently in the United Kingdom and France that is a few miles away across the channel. Any Englishman would think nothing of picking up his sandwich in a pub and taking a healthy bit. The “cultured” Frenchman however eats his identical sandwich with a knife and fork as eating with one’s hands is gauche. This is obviously a minute point intended to provoke a simile, but it does point out the subtle differences in national cultures. The Englishman considers the Frenchman an effete snob. The Frenchman considers the Englishman an unmannered boor. This is an underlying basis for conflict in a multinational company like EADS. It is not a problem that will be brought into the open, but it is one that the Human Relations department must consider. The level and seriousness of the problems obviously escalate rapidly from this minute level. It is the department of Human Relations that must find ways to first identify the problems and their natures, then devise solutions.
Borders, a hindrance or a competitive advantage
In Anglo American traditionally liberal political theory there is a tendency to believe that political life is regulated by something similar to a contract. Therefor it is the bounded nature of the subject society that contains the “contractors” and generally not investigated. The non-liberal elements conversely focus explicitly on the community. At least in principal this implies a greater awareness of the relevance of borders. What is clear is the impact of global societal and economic change. This in turn implies the concept of a self-contained community protected by well-defined boarders that comprises the heart of these conservative approaches that becomes increasingly difficult to sustain. This absence or morphing of both liberal and conservative theory of defined borders has become a major problem and source of embarrassment for political theorists.
The problems alluded to above are also underdeveloped in international relations theory. Clearly, scholars of international relations have studied frontiers, but not in a context of borders and national or societal identity. Rather this study of frontiers is the realm of international lawyers and global bureaucrats, and not international relations theorists. (Mathias, 2001) What we see here is an early recognition of the problems of globalisation. The new socio-political and economic world created by globalisation is the underlying question examined here in terms of industrial human relations which while important is only a single facet in a highly complex whole.
There are two ways in which these dividing borders can be viewed. The first is the view that these are arbitrary, intentional divisions set up deliberately by human individuals. The second approach is that these are natural divisions and what is required is an understanding of them to at least partially control them. The third approach as in all questions of this sort is a mixture of the two approaches. The first element in the understanding of borders is concept of hierarchy or the “pecking order” of nations and cultures. Borders are maintained by some type of power or influence that may be malevolent or benign. The power of nations and societies is a continuum. The perception of each individual of that continuum is influenced by where that individual resides on the grid. A clear perception of this power grid is essential to fully utilise it in an ethical manner for the individual or organisation to operate a manner that empowers and sustains the nature of humanity.
The reasons for International Human Relations Management differences
Perhaps the most important single fact is cultural differences. There is no definitive research work we have discovered that makes clear the cultural differences in work habits around the world. The Japanese “salary man” traditionally arrives his workplace at least an hour early and leaves late. In many Japanese companies the workday starts with singing the company song. Brazilian born Carlos Ghosen simultaneously of Renault, a French Company and Nissan a quintessential Japanese company is an example of selecting the best elements of several corporate and personal cultures and finding ways to blend them and get the best of each. The attitude of the “salaryman” discussed above could not be further from the French model. In contrast to the arrive early and leave late culture of the Japanese the French have cut their workweek to thirty-five hours. This is as extreme an example as the sandwich eating differences are unimportant. The materialism of the American worker is in stark contrast to both the French and Japanese models.
What is clear is that there is a vast differential in work habits, productivity, and work ethic based on variations in culture. Quantifying differences would be difficult and probably not really indicative of the cultural and work ethic differences, but any one that has ever tried to get a construction project completed in Mexico or Italy is familiar with the reliability of appointments in those cultures. In contrast, the typical German will be at the appointed place at the appointed time as a matter of honour. If a multinational company is going to operate in America, Japan, Italy and Mexico it is essential that the management and personnel department understands the culture of each of the countries and is prepared to handle the differences in a constructive manner. If BMW opens a plant in Mexico it will have to be prepared to work within the Mexican culture and do it in Spanish. The Mexican can be as hard and productive a worker as the German, but the techniques of employee relations will have to be adjusted to fit with both cultures. Even BMW cannot change national cultures at will.
A well-respected source on the problems international human resources management identifies three major challenges outside of its primary focus, the implications of the differences in legal codes around the world. Obviously, a multinational business must take care to comply with the widely varying legal codes concerning employment and human relations topics. It identifies the two (non-legal) challenges as equal employee opportunity and network organisations. It identifies human resources as anyone that works for the company in any capacity and any place, and human resource management as all management decisions or practices that affect the company’s workforce. (Scribd, 2011) The underlying challenge is procuring, allocating and utilising people in a multinational company while balancing both the integration and the cultural differences of the workforce regardless of their physical location.
The international human relations policy must control the risks inherent in an international workforce, avoid cultural risks and regional disparities and to manage this diversified human capital advantageously. This workforce will be made up of parent country nationals (PCNs), host country nationals (HCNs) and third country nationals (TCNs). For example, German auto companies’ plants in Germany have substantial numbers of Turkish nationals (TNCs) in the German workforce. This is an example of the type of problems faced even in the home country operation in today’s globalised workforce.
Global HR Competition
The question of global competition from a human relations standpoint goes far beyond a simple comparison of wage rates between Nation A and Nation B. There are two problems in terms of wage rates that imply abominations, outright slavery and child labour. As we enter the twenty-first century it is incredible that these questions still exist and even more incredible that they are actually widespread. Even within the European Union there are questions of the use of child labour in Portugal, France Italy, Romania and Bulgaria. (Vinković, 2008) There are even examples of outright slavery within the European Union and,even more extraordinary, occasional examples within the UK. (Summers, 2011) If the less developed world is considered both child labour and slavery are even more common and the use of both in production facilities and factories is not unusual. The US State of California has introduced a legal requirement on retailers to articulate the steps they have undertaken to eradicate slavery from the supply and distribution chain of goods they sell. This is not an archaic leftover from the past but a law passed September 30, 2010 that goes into effect January 1, 2012. The law does not cover child labour, only human trafficking and slavery. It includes both all retailers and manufacturer that do business in California. This would obviously include a number of large multinational companies from Nike to major fashion houses. (Jackson Lewis, 2010)
While it would seem axiomatic that any major multinational company would be ethical enough to eschew slavery and child labour, but this may not be the case. In the clothing business for example many of the major producers use subcontractors to actually sew their product together. There may be no unethical practices in their own operations, but they select their subcontractors on the basis of cost among other criteria. The payment of the subcontractor’s employees may or may not be a consideration of the contracting company. In countries where laws concerning working conditions, let alone slavery and child labour do not exist or are not enforced clearly would have a cost advantage over countries that insist on humane working conditions for employees. While we see that even in so called developed or first world nations this is not universally the case, it is obviously far more common among the emerging economies.
In an analysis of the tensions between local and global issues the position of a manager in a multinational that has installations in developing economies with far different labour laws and practices than those of the home country of the company and the employee must include compromise. There are obviously elements and practices in the developing country that the corporate level employee would not be subject to or agree to. Conversely, it would not be necessary, or practical, for a French company to institute a thirty-five hour workweek globally. The operations in each country where there were operations would work the hours common in the subject country. This implies variations in all sorts of operating rules and human relations practices for multinationals, and so long as they do not violate any human rights standards there is no reason for the multinational must provide working conditions or rules different from other ethical employers in the same country. The underlying requirement for a human relations manager in a multinational enterprise is sophistication in terms of national cultures and traditions. There are also obviously huge communications problems in any multinational. One of the major challenges is simple verbal and written communication.
Specific questions in the assignment
There are several specific questions in the assignment that are covered here individually. “How far does globalisation require International Human Resource Managers to develop particular strategies to respond to international issues?” The question is too general to provide a specific answer. Some elements such as human rights are discussed above, but it is clear that the human relations department must deal with many and probably most problems on a local level. It is possible to make broad generalisations such as, “Motivation should be based on reward for good performance as opposed to fear of poor performance.”
Another question that is outside the scope of any project of this type is, “Evaluate such strategies in the context of particular human resource management functions within multi-national companies. Include consideration of the requirements of human resource management in relation to all stakeholders in the business.” Without knowing what the nature of the business in question is the definition of “stakeholders” is too broad to make any meaningful statement. The interests of stakeholders other than the employees are in most respects outside the purview of the Human Relations Department. Resource management is part of the responsibility of every employee at every level to some extent. The operator of a machine tool is responsible to see that the tool is used correctly and maintained carefully so that it will not be damaged or destroyed. This in turn contributes to the viability and profitability of the enterprise. The same sort of generalised responsibility for the human resources in general of the enterprise is aimed at the same goal of sustaining profitability and viability.
Consider the statement form Brisco et al “International Human Resources Management”
The general statement of the challenges facing the management of human resource in a multinational enterprise in a global environment is absolutely correct in its emphasis of the growing importance of globalisation. Managing a workforce of tens of thousands of people in a number of cultures and nations with vastly differing levels of ability, education, training and languages is daunting. It requires an appreciation of the differences in cultures and languages. The expectations of an American, a European, and a Korean are vastly different. To retain a workforce in each of these cultures simultaneously while maximising productivity implies both a broad background and considerable mental flexibility. At the same time the underlying Maslow hierarch of needs are universal, and will vary only very marginally based on cultural background. (Maslow, 1943) The underlying drive of most workers is to provide a roof over his or her family’s head and to put food on the table. The progress that his or her employment can provide toward self-actualisation is a concern of a good human relations department, but cannot be achieved entirely in the work place and will be achieved differently in different national cultures. Achieving it or aiding employees to achieve it is probably outside the sphere of the HR department but not something to be ignored. Even helping to build it will produce a productive and happy work force, the underlying objective of a good HR department.
To achieve the underlying objective of the human relations department requires coordinating processes that by definition differ from one facility to another even within the same country while responding to local issues and requirements. Applying the techniques of achieving this on a global basis is basically a question of scale. This may be more complex on a global scale as the employee handbook is translated in multiple languages, and the stated rules in the handbook may vary from Korea to the UK, but the underlying function is the same.
The global competences are the same as those for any HR department, but their application in different languages and cultures may vary. The global human relations director must both understand and sympathise with the problems of many locals and must make the effort to discover and understand the differences in the problems. A large part of the so called global expertise is the ability to understand many of the same problems that occur in different languages in different place, and may have cultural significance that varies widely. The underlying skills that include understanding or sympathy for the problem remains constant.
The basis of the project is, “How far do you agree with this statement?” The answer is that globalisation adds a new element of complexity to every facet of every organisation. Global supply chains and global communications are also infinitely more complex that a simply local supply chain or an operation where the manager can go on to the work floor and say, “Hey Joe, lets do it this way.” Each of the elements requires the building of the global mind-set that is the lead in sentence of the three questions. Any disagreement would be based on the assumption that any of the fundamentals of operating a business change dramatically with the globalisation of that enterprise. They may become increasingly complex and challenging, but good engineering, good human relations, good marketing and good finance are all foundations of any enterprise. They are all just more complex in a global world.
Farndale, E. (2010) “What is really driving differences and similarities in HRM practices across national boundaries in Europe?” European Journal of International Management. Vol. 4 No. 4 PP. 362-381
International Human Relations (2008) “International Human Relations” Recovered 03/05/2011 from: http://internationalhumanrelations.blogspot.com/
Jackson Lewis, (2010) “California Anti-Slavery Law Imposes New Requirements on Retailers.” Retail Employment Law Blog. Recovered 04/05/2011 from:
Mueller, F. Mueller, D. (2008) “International Human Relations, Interpersonal Work Skills.” Recovered 03/05/2011 from: http://internationalhumanrelations.blogspot.com
Maslow, A. (1943) “A Theory of Human Motivation” Psychological Review, vol. 50 no.4 pages 370-396
Mathias, A. (2001) “Identities, Borders, Orders: Rethinking International Relations Theory.” Minneapolis, MN, USA: University of Minnesota Press.
Scribd, (2011) “International Human Resource Management.” Recovered 03/05/2011 from: http://www.scribd.com/doc/15744060/INTERNATIONAL-HUMAN-RESOURCE- MANAGEMENT
Summers, C. (17/02/2011) “A case of modern day slavery in the suburbs.” BBC News UK,
Recovered 04/05/2011 from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12687088
Vinković, M. (2008) “Child Labour from the EU Perspective.” Strossmayer University, Osijak, Croatia. Recovered 04/05/2011 from: