In an industry like ours, where there are no production lines, people are our most important asset and everything depends on how they work as part of a team. This means that, to get the best results, managers have to care about how they (the employees) live and function, not just about how they work and produce (Sir Colin Marshall, ex-chairman British Airways, quoted in the Financial Times, 1984).
During the 1980s, British Airways, like many other UK organisations, implemented a range of new working practices and strategies in response to the challenges of market forces, growing competition, and the increased freedom for employers to reconstruct the employment relationship. A key objective of new management strategies and reform of the employment relationship was to “win the hearts and minds of employees” and to secure their cooperation and support of new business objectives. The popular cliché “people are our most important asset” is indicative of organisational recognition that control and compliance is often insufficient for survival, and that the active cooperation and commitment of employees is a valuable resource offering the key to achieving a “competitive edge”. Human resource management (HRM) principles and techniques were purported to offer a key to securing these objectives. While corporate policies describe a responsible and “caring” approach to managing people, the reality in competitive markets may differ from the rhetoric. Corporate policy statements ubiquitously promote good health and safety practice and acknowledge the importance of a high quality working environment in business success. This position sits uncomfortably with the catalogue of industrial disasters, the prevalence of work-related stress, RSI and illnesses related to exposure to hazardous substances. This raises the question about the actual position of health and safety in HRM agendas.
Given that health and safety is a key area covered by HRM, it is surprising that...