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Strategy and Human Resource Management

Article  in  Management Decision · October 2003

DOI: 10.1108/00251740310479368 · Source: OAI

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John Purcell
University of Bath


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Industrial & Labor Relations Review
Volume 57 | Number 1 Article 84


Strategy and Human Resource Management

Peter Boxall

John Purcell

Review of Strategy and Human Resource Management, by Peter Boxall and John Purcell. Industrial &
Labor Relations Review, Vol. 57, No. 1.
Available at:
Strategy and Human Resource Management

This book review is available in Industrial & Labor Relations Review:

part-time workers equitably with respect to to- responsible for the disappearance of good job
tal compensation. opportunities have continued, and some have
Not only should public policy help to ensure intensified, since 2000. As the economy and the
that workers receive good jobs with adequate stock market unraveled, firms began to lay off
benefits, it should also aid in the creation of workers and to reduce benefits, especially pen-
more jobs for the future through improved sion and health benefits, and the government
fiscal, monetary, and trade policy. In the fiscal restricted active fiscal policy, concentrating in-
realm, Sicker suggests reducing or eliminating stead on seeking new trade agreements to gen-
corporate subsidies and using these additional erate demand for American-made products.
funds to subsidize work, for example by offering One subject regrettably missing from the
employers wage rebates in times of sluggish book is the status of older workers’ health and
labor markets, or by rewarding them for job of their retiree health care coverage. Many
creation. With respect to monetary policy, Sicker older workers—between 10% and 20% of them,
dismisses the notion of the natural rate of un- according to various estimates—suffer from
employment as empirically unsupported, and health problems serious enough to make con-
argues that monetary policy-makers should put tinued work impractical; and yet many firms
strong economic growth first, rather than low have ceased offering retiree health care cover-
inflation. Last, he argues that trade policy has age to their workers. Sicker’s omission of this
focused too much on unregulated trade and subject is especially surprising since it seems a
capital flows and that the incorporation of strong example of the declining commitment
worker rights in trade agreements could sup- of employers to their employees that he dis-
port the creation of good jobs. Without such cusses at some length.
active employment and economic policies, That shortcoming aside, the book is an in-
Sicker argues, there will not be enough good sightful contribution to the literature on the
jobs for the coming generations of older work- social consequences of an aging society. It
ers. provides cogent reasons to doubt rosy predic-
The book is a very sensible, insightful, and tions of abundant job opportunities for older
provocative analysis of the trends that are likely workers in the years ahead, and challenges read-
to influence the creation of good jobs. It chal- ers to consider realistic policy options to create
lenges the notion that older workers will find meaningful job opportunities for the growing
meaningful employment to support them as share of the population that is elderly or near
they age, and it challenges policy-makers to elderly.
address this apparent divergence between pre-
diction and reality. Christian E. Weller
In arguing his point, Sicker takes to task Economist
many sacred cows of economists, including the Economic Policy Institute
natural rate of unemployment and the trend
toward unregulated trade and capital flows.
Economists have increasingly questioned the Human Resources,
validity of the natural rate hypothesis, as the Management, and Personnel
book illustrates in its references to the work by
the late Robert Eisner, by James Galbraith, and
by Paul Omerod. Moreover, Sicker touches
Strategy and Human Resource Management.
upon the ongoing discussion among econo- By Peter Boxall and John Purcell. New
mists over the benefits of unregulated trade and York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. 299 pp.
capital flows. This discussion has been partly ISBN 0-333-77820-0, $29.95 (paper).
fueled by examples of job losses outside low-
skill occupations, which directly contradict the The increasing importance of people to or-
theoretical predictions of neoclassical economic ganizational success corresponds with the rise
theory. For instance, Sicker points to the De- of Strategic Human Resource Management
partment of Labor’s certification of trade-re- (SHRM) as a field of study worldwide. Research
lated job losses at GE and Hughes Aircraft. On on SHRM issues has grown exponentially over
this matter as on others, Sicker weighs the exist- the past ten years. Originating as it has, how-
ing evidence from various sources, including ever, across diverse academic disciplines (for
academic studies, think tanks, and the media, in example, psychology, sociology, economics) and
a balanced manner. geographic regions (although primarily Europe
Most of the trends the book highlights as and the United States), this literature has been

in need of integration and synthesis. Boxall and cepts of work systems, models of employment,
Purcell’s Strategy and Human Resource Manage- managing individual performance and devel-
ment provides a thorough review of this eclectic opment, and employee voice.
literature in a framework that makes it easy for Third, satisfying the promise implied by the
the reader to grasp the field’s evolution and book’s title, the authors do a tremendous job of
current state of thinking. I see this outstanding discussing the basic concepts of strategy on
book as distinguishing itself from other similar their own merits. Too many presentations of
efforts in three important ways. SHRM begin and end with HRM, exploring
First, it fairly considers both U.S. and Euro- strategy in shallow and superficial ways, and
pean perspectives on SHRM, which differ in probably only insofar as the concepts directly
important ways. Most researchers in the United link to HRM. I believe that it is impossible to
States adopt an implicitly managerialist ap- study SHRM without a relatively deep knowl-
proach, focusing on how HR can benefit share- edge of strategy, and the authors of this book
holders, while researchers in Europe empha- demonstrate such knowledge. Chapter 2 dis-
size the importance of balancing the interests of cusses the strategic decision-making process,
multiple stakeholders such as employees, Chapter 4 presents a deep analysis of the re-
unions, governments, and society. The Euro- source-based view of the firm, Chapter 9 ex-
pean view tends to emphasize the importance of plores the dynamics of industry-based competi-
context; the U.S. view, “best practice.” Boxall tion, and Chapter 10 does the best job I have
and Purcell do an outstanding job of accurately seen of examining the distinct issues that arise
representing these different viewpoints, par- from distinguishing between corporate-level and
ticularly in how they affect research and prac- business-level strategy. In each case, the au-
tice. When pressed, it seems clear that they, not thors accurately represent strategic concepts
surprisingly, adhere to a more European view, based in the strategy literature. Only after
but their presentation is both fair and balanced. presenting these concepts do they examine the
Chapter 1 makes a strong case for how HRM can implications for HRM. Clearly, this is a book
affect business performance, and a recurring about strategy and HRM, not simply about stra-
theme throughout the book is that properly tegic HRM.
managed human resources will benefit share- I find little to fault in Boxall and Purcell’s
holders. The authors do not create an artificial book. It accurately and thoroughly reviews the
either/or distinction, but simply focus readers evolution and context of both research and
on the fact that increased business performance practice in the area of SHRM, and integrates
is only one positive outcome from the effective and synthesizes the burgeoning literature on
management of people. the subject. For those interested in understand-
Second, whereas often the tendency in cover- ing the current state of the field, this book is a
ing SHRM is to emphasize the current state of must read.
the art, focusing only on the most recent devel-
opments in research and thinking, Boxall and Patrick M. Wright
Purcell’s treatment of the field dwells more on Professor of Human Resource Studies
its evolution. Consistent with the European New York State School of
emphasis on understanding “context,” these Industrial and Labor Relations
Cornell University
authors invariably present topics from the stand-
point of how thinking and practice have devel-
oped over time, often exploring the critical
factors driving that evolution, such as techno- International and
logical change, economic cycles, and govern- Comparative Industrial Relations
ment intervention. One clear value of this
approach is the help it offers in answering a Transforming Gender and Development in East
question the authors often pose: is the current
Asia. Edited by Esther Ngan-ling Chow.
state completely unique and never seen before,
or simply the latest return of some phase in a London and New York: Routledge, 2002.
recurring cycle? This brings the concepts of 263 pp. ISBN 0-415-92492-8, $22.95 (pa-
both dynamism and predictability to our under- per).
standing of how the whole SHRM knowledge
base has evolved. In particular, Chapters 5–8 The gender-blindness and androcentrism of
thoroughly cover the evolution and context of mainstream scholarship on East Asian develop-
research and practice with regard to the con- ment is particularly shocking when women are

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