HRM, commitment, insecurity and low pay: some indicative evidence from the European banking sector: Steve Jefferys, Carole Thornley and Sylvie Contrepois
One notable feature of labour market policy debate over the course of the last two decades has been controversy over changes in labour management techniques associated with ‘Human Resource Management’, or HRM. The terms of this controversy hinge on perceptions of the conceptual and practical underpinnings of HRM, and its linkages with wider neoliberal policies geared towards labour market deregulation, individualisation, privatisation and trade union avoidance. This chapter explores one of the more superficially ‘appealing’ strands of ‘soft’ HRM, in which winning employee ‘commitment’ is regarded as a key goal for firms seeking to raise labour productivity. In the context of government preoccupations with improving competitiveness through encouraging dissemination of best management practices, empirical evidence on the outcomes of HRM-led strategies of this type has an obvious policy significance.This study draws in detail from one strand of pilot fieldwork conducted in the British banking sector in the late 1990s, the findings of which are placed in wider context on the basis of cross-national fieldwork, conducted in France and Denmark as well as the UK. It is argued that to the extent that the concept of ‘commitment’ provides a theoretically robust construct, which can be operationalised for purposes of measurement, the material factors of job insecurity and low(er) pay may undermine firms’ attempts to elicit high levels of commitment from employees; moreover, this may be true largely irrespective of the national-or firm-specific institutional context. In developing this argument we flag up as being of central importance a set of issues often neglected in studies of this type.The implications of the design and findings of this exploratory study for policy, at management, trade-union and state levels, are explored.