The Role of Orientations to Work in the ‘Control-Oriented Organisational Systems' Versus ‘Commitment-Based Hrm' Debate

Friday, 3 July 2015: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
CLM.7.03 (Clement House)
Gabriel Cueto-Pruneda, University of Oviedo, Oviedo, Spain
The literature devoted to establishing the adequacy of different organisational systems to the management of personnel spans over a century, yet conflicting conclusions are not rare. In the case of formal bureaucracy, based on rationalism and control, it has been praised as being the most effective of all for the unbeatable precision levels it is capable to provide (Weber, 1978). As for new HRM systems, they are celebrated for enhancing organisational performance based on the competitive advantage that a knowledgeable and involved workforce may deliver (Appelbaum et al, 2000; Macky and Boxall, 2007; Wood et al, 2012). Nevertheless, both employment regimes have received strong criticisms regarding their potential harm to employee well-being.

On the one hand, the impersonal nature of the bureaucratic environment, mirrored in the increasing rationalisation of human life and extensive control, threatens individual freedom and fosters alienation, hence posing a dehumanising risk for employees (Weber, 1978). On the other hand, new HRM has been criticised for entailing work intensification and inflicting stress and pressure on individuals, as a consequence of the greater levels of responsibility demanded (White et al., 2003; Danford et al., 2008).

Besides the specific criticisms endured by each of these two approaches to managing workers, both presume to be universalist in their scope, something that seems unrealistic due to the unique idiosyncrasy of the individual. Thereby, we propose that orientations to work suggested by Goldthorpe et al (1968) – instrumental, bureaucractic, and solidaristic – be used to tackle this problematic, as it seems highly appropriate to consider worker attitudes and behaviours to explore the suitability of both control-based organisational systems and commitment-oriented HRM. According to this categorisation, some individuals consider work to be a means to an end – a way to earn money –, as opposed to a central life interest (instrumental orientation). Others envisage work as a service rendered to the organisation in exchange of career and status progress, which are central life interests (bureaucratic orientation). Finally, there are those for whom work is a means in itself – it is a central life interest – and whose identification with fellow workers and with the organisation itself is high (solidaristic orientation).

Thereupon, assuming that the expression “one size fits all” has no validity in HRM, the research question posed here is to analyse whether the well-being of workers differs under each of the two modalities of personnel management as a consequence of the heterogeneity in work orientations. To provide an answer to such question, this paper will explore the theoretical advantages and disadvantages in terms of employee well-being that may emerge from control-based and commitment-oriented HRM, drawing upon the sociological notion of orientations to work.