Soft HRM vs. Hard HRM

Difference Between Soft HRM and Hard HRM A most vital function of all organizations is Human Resource Management…

Difference Between Soft HRM and Hard HRM

A most vital function of all organizations is Human Resource Management since people make up a very valuable asset which should be properly harnessed in order to fulfill the organization’s goals. Two contrasting styles in HRM that guide organizations in tackling their workforce exist: Soft HRM and Hard HRM. Most people often get confused with these two terms even if they lie on opposing extremes of management. In this article, we will try to distinguish between the two, and know the advantages and disadvantages of each in order to aid managers in choosing which style to adopt.

To start, we have to remember that HRM is a very vague concept and that there are many conflicting theories and views when it comes to defining it. Fortunately, both Soft and Hard HRM acknowledge that human resource is very critical for all businesses. Any organization will only gain competitive advantage its competitors if it effectively uses its human resources, maximizing their skills and expertise and motivating them sufficiently to achieve the aims of the organization.

Storey was the one who elaborated the Harvard and Michigan models of management in 1989. Harvard and Michigan had already established two theories: theory X and Y, which explain two opposing styles in HRM. The first one, theory X, classically views the employees as lazy and working only for their own interests. The theory states that the employees’ interests are the exact opposites of the company’s; therefore it is the management’s duty to conduct changes and modifications in employee behavior in order to achieve the company’s goals. Basically it’s just plain old carrot and stick strategy. Theory X is more focused on the company’s nature and goals; neglecting entirely the nature of its employees and generally labeling them as lazy. The approach tends to regard employees as machinery with the task of keeping them in order and in proper condition falling into the hands of the management. This is the Michigan model or what we now know as Hard HRM.

The other one, theory Y in the total opposite of theory X. It perceives employees as actual humans that are capable of emotions and feelings, and in need of proper motivation. They are viewed as more than mere machines and that they take real interest in their jobs in order to achieve personal realizations by means of honest work. The managers are given the task of implementing sufficient motivation and ensuring that the employees realize their full potentials. The approach, unlike the previous one, does not view people as inherently lazy. It views them as self responsible individuals who can be creative and proactive, and with the help of the management’s encouragement and persuasion, capable of furthering the organization’s goals. This is the Harvard model; known to many as Soft HRM.

Sadly, either of the two alone can be actually useful in the real world. Each view reflects an ideal situation which does not really exist in reality. Each individual who makes up the workforce behaves in a different way; therefore the workforce as a whole cannot be assumed as responsible or machine-like. A good manager needs to make use of his own style, taking the best points from both Soft and Hard HRM and combining them into something that suits the needs of the organization.

Points to Remember:


  • Soft and Hard HRM are contrasting styles in HRM
  • Soft HRM is focused on employee interest while Hard HRM’s primary concern is the organization
  • Hard HRM views employees as lazy and mere resources that need to be utilized for the organization’s goals.
  • Soft HRM views employees as capable of emotions and responsible workers.
  • Neither approach works desirably alone; a well crafted combination of the two should be adopted.
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