HRM – Human Resources Management Dissertation Topics

1.0 Introduction
A dissertation on Human Resources Management (HRM) can encompass a wide range of topics, therefore it is vital to start wide and then focus in on a specific subject area. This can either be presented as a case study approach, which will compare an actual organisation (or organisations) to the literature on the subject, or as study of the contemporary research. The case study approach adds depth to the paper, introducing real life scenarios and how organisations identify and react to them. The following are only suggestions of topics within the Human Resources (HR) umbrella and can be adapted to meet individual needs and preferences for a Human Resources Management (HRM) dissertation.

HR Theory Dissertation Topics

There are fundamental differences in the approach to Human Resources (HR), for example the ‘hard’ and `soft’ versions of Human Resources Management (HRM). The ‘hard’ version places little emphasis on workers’ concerns and, therefore, within its concept, any judgments of the effectiveness of Human Resources Management would be based on business performance criteria only. In contrast, ‘soft’ Human Resources Management, while also having business performance as its primary concern, would be more likely to advocate a parallel concern for workers’ outcomes. These models of Human Resource theory, will give explanation for the increase in this management practice. It has been defined as “mutual goals, mutual influence, mutual respect, mutual rewards and mutual responsibility”. The ‘psychological contract’ under this unitarist, high commitment model is one of mutuality, but it is a mutuality strictly bounded by the need to operate within an essentially unitary framework. The following are some suggestions within the area of Human Resources (HR) Theory that you could base your human resources management dissertation on.

  • Comparison of models
  • HR in practice, a modern study
  • Can HR provide all the answers to people issues
  • The dark side of HR
  • Trade unions’ place in the organisation
  • HR behind closed doors
  • Can line a manager execute HR policies, or does it dilute the practice?
  • HR as a shared service
  • HR and control practices
  • Taylorism versus HR

Challenging HR “The Workers Verdict”

This was a very compelling and powerful article published in 1999 by D Guest in the Human Resources Management journal. A good dissertation topic would be to re-visit this article and then compare this to employee’s current opinion of the intervention. This article claimed Human Resources was another management tool to control the workforce, and in the wrong hands would bring back control and command management practices. It questioned the ability of management to acquire the soft skills needed to implement Human Resources in its purist form. This article is one of the most damming written on the HR practice, therefore a good paper could either conclude after nearly ten years of practice since, practitioners are delivering value for all or the workers verdict of the practice is still negative.

With all the sections there are numerous areas that can be reviewed. I have discussed one area and then added suggestions on how to focus the research. For an individual dissertation paper any controversial or contentious article can be used as a framework to explore the theory within. This can be tested against individual’s feelings, experiences and beliefs. Challenging HR is a subject close to many workers hearts and would make for a compelling human resources management dissertation.

  • Theory in action (an example and study of the theory in practice).
  • Is the Human Resource valued?
  • Can the HR function always drive change?
  • Outsourcing (can the gate keeper of culture be outsourced?)
  • Outsourcing, what do we do now?
  • Who pushed who out (a decline of the unions with the increase in HR practices).
  • Employee bargaining power.
  • Does HR work?
  • Managing the HR function.

Training and Development Dissertation Topics

Recognition of the importance of Human Resources has increased in recent years; this is a result of competition from overseas economies. In countries, for example Japan, Germany and Sweden, investment in employee development is higher than the UK. This has led to some organisations reviewing their policies on training, introducing continuous investment in their employees.

The latest recession’s impact on business is the credit crunch and whether this will have an impact on training and development. It is well discussed within literature that the “training budget is first budget cut during hard times”, although theorist do not believe in general that this is the best action for the Human Resources department, and the long term benefits of training outweigh the short term monetary savings. With the credit crunch a year old, an organisation, for example in financial services, could be studied to see the effect on their training budget. To add context two organisations could be compared, with a small section on their financial performance to test the statement above. Below are some suggestions as to how to narrow your human resources management dissertation on training and development down to a specific topic.

  • How do organisations survive economic crisis (from the training and development perspective)?
  • Does training and development really impact on the bottom line?
  • What skills are needed for today’s turbulent climate?
  • Who trains the trainers?
  • Is training a Panacea?
  • Soft skills, who needs them?
  • Training on a budget.
  • Where now, post disaster survival?
  • Soft versus hard skills.
  • Can poor selection processes be remedied through training and development?

HR as the last competitive advantage Dissertation Topics

This could be based on simply “If you snooze you lose”. This is a strange statement for Human Resources, but there is so much written in contemporary literature that preaches that Human Resource is the final competitive edge for organisations; therefore those that have not introduced this practice are at a disadvantage. This paper could compare two organisations, for example one operating a best practice HR policy and the other with little or no HR policies. This would identify what added value there is in best practice Human Resources, and if this adds the same value to all organisations. The organisations for the study would need to be in similar markets and employ the same number of employees.

Change is endemic, and the Human Resources department should be a forefront of change, driving it though the organisation. Suggested topics within this area for your human resources management dissertation could include:

  • If you snooze you lose.
  • Keeping up with change, how do organisations cope with change?
  • HR replaced personnel, what can replace HR?
  • Value, how do you assess the HR value?
  • Why bother, I will catch the next fad.
  • A study on an organisation to advise them of their options.
  • A study of change in an organisation.
  • Change for change sake (is new always best?).
  • Benefits of HR.

Performance Management Dissertation Topics

Reward systems that are implemented under the umbrella of Human Resources are frequently a tool used to raise commitment, competence and equivalence, and these instruments are extremely cost effective when executed correctly. Today the individualism of contract gives employees more control on their reward. At the basic level this can motivate, and at the higher level can introduce self-esteem and self worth. Performance reward or incentive pay is a tool that can be used to set targets and then reward when theses targets are met. Performance management consists of a cycle, consisting of five parts (1) setting of performance objectives (2) measuring the outcomes (3) feedback of results (4) reward linked to the outcomes and (5) amendments to objectives and activities. There are many companies that use performance management strategies, and use them in different ways, giving you different topics to research and companies to compare and contrast. Some ideas are listed below.

  • Is performance management effective?
  • Can skills be increased through performance management?
  • Is it possible to manage all?
  • Can wages be capped through performance management?
  • Do individuals have control over their reward?
  • Upskilling.
  • Reviewing and reacting on results.

Appraisals Dissertation Topics

A topic area could be the subjectivity of the appraiser. Performance management is widely used to assess employees’ capabilities and to set targets for the next year. The main contentious issues with performance management are the appraisals; they are conducted with the subjectivity of the appraiser, who will often enter the appraisal interview with pre-conceived conclusions of both the appraisee and the interview. The gravity of this is immense as it forms the foundations of performance management. If they are not conducted fairly, there are no beneficial outcomes to either the appraisee or the organisation.

A paper on the “Subjectivity of the Appraiser” could be based on the theory from psychology and management practice, and reviews methods and techniques to reduce bias from the appraisal interview. If you are interested on basing your human resources management dissertation on appraisals, there are some suggested dissertation topics below.

  • Can subjectivity be removed?
  • Halo, what Halo?
  • Was that fair? A comparison.
  • Can I have a pay rise?
  • Are they honest?
  • 360 degree appraisals.
  • Public sector appraisals and the spinal pay reward.

Motivation Dissertation Topics

In theory a motivated worker is a productive worker. Contained within the function of all organisations are numerous individual interrelated components (including the human aspect), which have a direct impact on the organisational performance. It is widely recognised that the “human resource” is regarded as the most valuable resource an organisation has. However, this resource does not always receive the attention, respect and the financial recognition to develop, to allow the employees’ full potential to be realised.

The complex relationship between employee and employer has been studied from both a psychological and sociological aspect. The findings from both these fields of research have identified four main categories of theories on employees’ motivation. (1) Economic needs of man, money is the motivator for example: Taylorism (2) Social man from the Hawthorne studies: (3) Self actualisation – this extended the results from the Hawthorne studies to include psychological issues: (4) The contingency approach – this identifies that individual motivation is influenced by a number of variables. If you are keen to discuss motivation within your human resources management dissertation, here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Contemporary versus traditional theory.
  • HR and motivation.
  • Motivation and job satisfaction.
  • Cross organisation comparison, who gets it right?
  • HRM is a motivator.
  • Link between motivation and performance.
  • Motivation and retention levels.
  • Does motivated work force increase productivity?
  • Motivation versus total reward.

Strategic HR Dissertation Topics

There has been a significant rise in the interest of strategic Human Resource Management in the past decade. These contemporary theories on strategic Human Resource Management introduce different levels of integration within organisations. Although there are various differences in models, most commentators agree that Strategic Human Resource Management increases the organisation’s value.

With the global economy and the increase in competition this brings, the human resource is viewed as the last competitive edge. It is how this resource is managed and the value that is place on it, that makes a difference between organisations. When the organisational strategy has not considered the implications to the human resource i.e. are there enough trained employees or do we need to employ more, the strategy runs a high risk of failure. Therefore it is vital to align the human resource with the organisation’s strategy. A human resources management dissertation on strategic HR lends some interesting topics for you to discuss.

  • Does HR sit and fit on the board?
  • Future planning or fire fighting?
  • Reactive or proactive?
  • Future planning or justifying role?
  • Can HR be strategic?
  • SHRM, another new fad?
  • HR driving the organisation.
  • Operations or planning the HR function?

Culture Dissertation Topics

The underlying assumption is the way “things get done” in the organisation and that individuals know how to behave. When an assumption is broken, it is questioned by members of the organisation. This helps to maintain the culture (Phelan 2005). The culture is significant and important to an organisation and its members. For the individual and group member, culture is the “social glue that helps hold the organisation together by providing appropriate standards for what employees should say and do”. Consequently, the culture will reduce an employee’s uncertainty and anxiety about expected behaviour.

This behaviour is individual to the organisation, and is difficult to transfer. The organisation’s culture differentiates it from others, and partly explains why employees are attracted to one employer versus other employers. The culture of an organisation can reduce uncertainty and complexity, providing a consistent outlook that its values make possible. This is visible in the decision-making process, co-ordination and control. Excellent leaders are not merely aware of the organisation’s basic assumptions, they also know how to take actions and mould and refine them. To discuss culture as a human resources management dissertation, some topics are suggested below.

  • Gatekeeper or owner?
  • Placing values in the organisation.
  • Culture is the organisation.
  • It’s the way we do it around here.
  • Inducting new employees into the culture.
  • Recruiting to change the culture.
  • Managing cultural change.
  • Training and culture.
  • Change agent.

Diversity Dissertation Topics

Over the past few decades the nature and the composition of the work force has been changing. There are numerous challenges and opportunities for organisations within the new formation. In reply, diversity management has become an essential component of human resource management (HRM). Diversity management is a relatively new, but significant area of HRM.

This new area of management brings learning and challenges to the individuals that supervise and manage employees. Diversity management does assume different forms and models in practice, but is defined as an organisation’s active investment in the integration, development, and advancement of individuals who collectively represent the work force. When developing an organisational strategy, diversity is placed in the culture, policies, and practices which support respect and communication, as well as individual, team and organisational performance in a diverse environment. Possible topics on diversity for your human resources management dissertation are:

  • Differences between diversity and discrimination.
  • Managing the new workforce.
  • Cross national diversity.
  • Can discrimination be removed?
  • Managing diversity and cultural differences.
  • Training for diversity.
  • The line and diversity.
  • Diverse and cosmopolitan.
  • The global village.

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