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Human Resource Management in Europe

Towards a Europeanisation of Multinational Firms?

At a time when the construction of the European edifice is engendering an increasing uniformity in national fiscal codes (VAT) and regulation of competition, where does that leave the employment policies of multinational firms?

Is European integration bringing with it a standardisation of human resource management within the European Community? Are multinational enterprises (MNE) adopting a standard strategy in this area? A study carried out by Pierre Béret, Ariel Mendez and Claude Paraponaris of the Laboratoire d'Economie et de Sociologie du Travail1 along with Nadine Richez-Battesti of the Centre d'Economie et de Finances Internationales2 represents an attempt to respond to these questions.

The results of their investigation into human resource management practices in three industries (pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and informatics) — and more specifically HRM for R&D personnel — led the authors of this study to answer in mitigated terms. While standard forms of HRM tools are emerging (specifically in managing human resources in R&D), they are not yet the norm across the EU. Most HRM policies, in areas such as recruitment and remuneration, retain the imprint of their national context, including legal and institutional specificities.

Among the observed convergence, the authors note first of all an increasingly systematic tendency to resort to decentralised structures, a pattern linked to the intrusion of new economic constraints in research activity — most notably in terms of costs and deadlines. With the number one management priority being the reduction of time-to-market for a new product, the firms in the study were moving ineluctably to a system of “management by project”. This management approach entails adopting a “matrix” organisational structure whereby the various activities contributing to product conception are separate from one another. Research teams might in consequence find themselves spread around the globe, with information and communication technologies providing the cement for this type of structure and avoiding even the need for researchers to travel.

This model, of Anglo-American origin, is propagating across Europe. European commercial patterns already show ten times more intra-European trade than the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA)3, or 23% of all trade compared to an average of 4% for NAFTA. This model entails a more standardised method of evaluation, which makes for ease of communication even among foreign teams.

That being said, there remains significant differences in personnel evaluation and work evaluation from firm to firm. Incentive systems and in particular salary scales vary widely depending on the nationality of the firm and the national regulatory environment (labor agreements, labor laws). The most flagrant differences show up in the remuneration for successful patents and in fact these differences cause equity problems among transnational research teams. The nationality of an MNE also has an influence on the management of mobility; a look at the international background of researchers in the private sector in France reveals that they are more mobile when they work for foreign-based MNE's.

When the subject is recruitment patterns, the study's authors also discovered a mixed situation. Even though the recruitment of foreign scientists doubled between 1984 and 1997, they still represent only 2.7% of the total number of scientists employed in France. Recruiting strategies still focus therefore on national sources, especially since recruitment programmes work closely with public research laboratories, engineering schools, and universities, all of which remain essentially national structures. Researchers themselves, however, stressed that European programs of scientific exchange and mobility, which are increasing, could very well change all this in the future.

In the end it is clear that despite a supposed homogenization of HMR practices resulting from globalisation, in many ways these practices still reflect national diversity.


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Pierre Béret, Ariel Mendez, Claude Paraponaris, Nadine Richez-Battesti. Démarche communautaire et construction européenne (Vol. 2 : Dynamique des méthodes). Edited by F. Hervouët. La documentation Française, 2002.

Contact

Ariel Mendez
LEST
E-mail: mendez@univ-aix.fr

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