Comparing Personnel Management with Human Resource Management

Comparing Personnel Management with Human Resource Management


In management science, personnel management and human resource management have emerged as two important, related yet confusing areas of study and practice. According to Storey (2007), the terms ‘Human Resource Management (HRM)’ and ‘personnel management’ both relate to ‘people management’, an important area of management science that involves decisions and actions that have a direct impact or influence on the ‘people’ (employees and leaders) as ‘members of the particular organization’ rather than ‘just workers’ (job-holders). Although the two terms relate to ‘people management’, several differences between ‘personnel management’ and ‘human resource management’ exists and need an in-depth analysis when developing leadership skills.

Human resource management

According to Boxall and Purcell (2006), as early as 1950s, the term ‘Human Resource Management’ was being used in North America, but without any special meaning rather than as a label for personal administration and management of personnel. However, according to Storey (1989), the term had actually developed into a specific field of management science and practice by 1980s. Storey (1989) asserts that the term had actually evolved to mean a radically difference approach as well as philosophy of managing people at the workplace. The field placed a lot of emphasis on human commitment, performance and rewards based on the contribution of a tem and individuals.

In the modern context, a major characteristic of HRM is the decentralization of a large number of aspects of managing people directly to line managers from a group of specialists. In the recent past, HRM has become to be known as the chief executives discovery of personnel management. HRM is concerned with the development as well as the implementation of ‘people strategies’. These strategies are integrated with the wider range of corporate strategies. Once integrated with corporate strategies, people strategies ensure that corporate values, culture and structure as well as the members’ commitment, motivation and quality extensively contribute to the achievement of organizational goals.

According to Boxall, Purcell and Wright (2007), Human resource management involves carrying out the same functional activities that were traditionally by the corporate personnel function. This includes human resource planning, employee relations, selection and recruitment of employees, analysis of jobs and management of human performance and appraisal of employees, training, development and compensation among other activities. However, the HRM approach applies a qualitatively distinct manner of performing these functions, unlike Personnel Management (Guest 2004).

Personnel Management (PM)

According to McNamara (2005), unlike HRM, PM is basically a function of administrative recordkeeping at the operational level of corporate management. According to Hope-Hailey et al (2007), PM attempts to instil and maintain fairness in terms and conditions of employment and simultaneously manage personnel activities for specific departments with efficiency and fairness.

What are the differences between Personnel management and human resource management?

According to McGovern et al (2001), HRM approach is resource-centred because it tends to be directed mainly at the level of management in terms of decentralizing the responsibilities of managing human resources to line managers, management development and other functions. On the other hand, it is worth noting that Personnel management is centred on workforce, as it is mainly directed at the employees of an organization (McNamara 2005). For instance, it involves finding and training, making payment arrangements, explaining the expectations of managers to the employees, justifying the actions and reactions of the management and other employee-centred activities.

It has further been shown that PM is not totally identified with managing interests. PM tends to become ineffective because it cannot lead to a better understanding and articulation of the aspirations as well as the views of the employees (McNamara 2005). It is basically an operational function that is primarily concerned out the daily activities of managing persons.

On the other hand, human resource management tends to be strategic. It is primarily concerned with assisting an organization directly to obtain a competitive advantage that is also sustainable.

According to Kersley et al (2006), human resource tends to be more proactive and relates to forecasting of the needs of an organization. It also involves continued monitoring and regulation of personnel systems in order to satisfy the current as well as future requirements of the organization and management of change. In contrast, personnel management is less proactive than human resource management (Kersley et al 2006). In addition, personnel management is concerned with maintenance of personnel as well as the administrative functions of an organization.

A number of other differences occur inherent to the nature of both HRM and PM in management science. For instance, the beliefs and assumptions of the two forms of management are relatively different. For example, while personnel management is concerned with carefully delineating written contracts, Human resource management has a broad aim that seeks to go beyond the written contracts (McGovern, et al 2001). While PM attempts to emphasize on the importance of devising clear rules and mutuality, HRM can go beyond the rules by out looking beyond the written rule. In addition, the guide to management action of the two forms of management is relatively different. For instance, while PM is concerned with procedures, HRM is concerned with the business need of the organization (McNamara 2005). Moreover, PM tends to emphasize on customs, norms and the practice of the organization, while HRM is more concerned with the values and missions of the organization. While PM is concerned with monitoring people within the organization, HRM is more proactive as it involves nurturing the people to obtain the best from them. The nature of relations is relatively different when comparing the two forms of managing people in an organization. While the nature of relations with PM is basically pluralistic, HRM management tends to provide a unitarist approach to nature of relations between the employees and managers (McNamara 2005). Moreover, the assumptions in PM are that conflicts can be institutionalized in order to be addressed and solved. On the other hand, HRM tends to apply a de-emphasized approach to conflict management and resolution.

It is also worth noting that PM tends to apply old aspects of strategic management in organizations, unlike HRM that tends to take a modern approach to strategic management. For instance, while PM takes a labour management approach to managing people, HRM tends to take a customer approach (Guest 2004). In addition, the speed of decision-making is relatively slow in PM, while being marginal to the corporate plan. In contrast, decision making in HRM is generally fast, while it tends to be central to the corporate plan.

According to Boxall, Purcell and Wright (2007), HRM and PM differ significantly in terms of management. For instance, while HRM assumes a transformational leadership led by line/business/general managers, PM has a transactional leadership that is also led by personnel or IR specialists (Guest 2004). PM allows an indirect form of communication between managers and their employees, which also means that there is a big emphasis on standardization (McGovern, et al 2001). On the other hand, HRM management emphasizes on direct communication between managers and their employees, with a low degree of standardization. Finally, while employee rewarding and prizing is largely negotiated in PM, HRM emphasizes on facilitation of procedure and protocols needed to implement prized management.


From this analysis, it is worth noting that HRM is a product of evolution of PM with time, has yielded a friendly yet professional relationship between employees and managers. As shown by a real example of MacDonald’s Inc, there have been changes in the way employees and handled. While employees were treated as ‘labour’ and managed as so before 1980s, the company has increasingly realized the need to handle employees as a part of the organization, allowing direct communication between them and the managers (Hendrya & Pettigrewb 2008). This is the common phenomenon in most organizations in the modern world.


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Boxall, P & Purcell, J, 2006, Strategy and Human Resource Management, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

Boxall, P, Purcell, J and Wright, P, 2007, The Oxford Handbook of Human Resource Management, Oxford University Press, Oxford, MA.

Guest, DE, 2004, ‘Human resource management and industrial relations’, Journal of Management Studies, vol. 24, no. 5, pp 503–521.

Hendrya, C & APettigrewb, A, 2008, ‘Human resource management: an agenda for the 1990s’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 17-43

Hope-Hailey, V, et al , 2007, ‘A Chameleon Function? HRM in the 90s’, Human Resource Management Journal, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 5-18.

Kersley, B, et al, 2006, Inside the Workplace: Findings from the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey, Routledge, Abingdon.

McGovern, P, et al, 2001, ‘Human Resource Management on the Line?’, Human Resource Management Journal, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 12-29.

McNamara, T, 2005, ‘Strategic Management in the Irish Civil Service: a review drawing on experience in New Zealand and Australia’, Administration, vol. 43, no. 2.

Storey, J, 2007, Human Resource Management: A critical text, Thomson Learning, London

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