T4-05: Issues in HRM

6 September 2019, 15:00–16:30

Chair: Carsten Wirth


Exploring internal labour market ‘churn’

Analysing employees’ experience of internal redeployment

Chris McLachlan, University of Leeds
Robert MacKenzie, Leeds University Business School

Employees who are subject to organisational restructuring processes typically experience a range of social and economic effects, whereby the loss of employment has implications for future employability, future earnings and disruption to career trajectories. For employees displaced through redundancy, the transition to new employment typically involves retraining for a new job and engaging with institutional support mechanisms externally. In this sense, displaced employees face a period of employment instability and the experience of labour market ‘churn’ (Brand, 2015; Jolkkonen et al, 2017). One organisational approach to limiting the impact of restructuring and avoiding compulsory redundancies has been through the implementation of internal redeployment processes. This paper thus explores the consequences of the implementation of internal redeployment processes for affected employees, provoking a wider debate around the function of internal labour market systems and the notion of internal labour churn in relation to organisational restructuring.

The rationale for organisations implementing internal labour market systems is traditionally understood as a means of protecting job security and job instability through employer-led solutions (Grimshaw and Rubery, 1998; Grimshaw et al, 2001; Capelli and Neumark, 2004). The organisational practice of internal redeployment has therefore sought to insulate employees affected by restructuring from the vagaries of the external labour market by offering them alternative employment internally. Rubery (1994) notes the importance of organisational contingencies on determining the condition of the internal labour market yet remains critical however of a tendency to over emphasise the organisational focus at the expense of neglecting the firms relationship with the environment in which it operates. Therefore, defining the existence of an internal labour market in terms of its distinction from the external labour market raises the question of the effect of the state of the external market upon the operation of the internal market. The point is to demonstrate the need to go beyond the tendency for asserting the dichotomy of the internal and external labour market and adopt an integrated approach in recognition of the interplay between the internal and external markets. As argued by Grimshaw and Rubery (1998), internal and external competitive pressures mutually interact to shape employer’s strategy and the labour market status of employees.

The paper hence builds on ideas of external labour market churn, viewed as the volatility caused by the voluntary or involuntary turnover of employees for organisations and employees alike, and the consequent impact on employment outcomes and career trajectories. We develop the notion of internal labour market churn and suggest this represents an analogous phenomenon, focusing attention on the way employees’ experiences and outcomes are shaped specifically by internal labour market systems such as through the practice of internal redeployment. Whilst employees can experience such churning due to the vagaries of the external labour market, this paper argues that churn may also be evident, and equally negative, within processes such as internal redeployment. Exploring redeployment process also connects to recent policy developments at European Union level, with the European Restructuring Monitor (2018) emphasising the need to anticipate the consequences for ‘stayers’ – those that remain employed post-restructuring such as through internal redeployment – in order to more effectively manage organisational change.

With regards to methodology, this paper seeks to further conceptualise the notion of internal labour market churn by building upon empirical research conducted at the UK subsidiary of a multinational steel firm (SteelCo). Based on a qualitative case study of an internal redeployment process the findings revealed the challenges faced by redeployed employees. Data was collected as part of a wider case study where 1700 jobs were lost at SteelCo between 2011-2015 over the course of two restructuring programmes. The focus on establishing an internal redeployment process meant employees moved between jobs in the internal labour market. The findings highlight how redeployed employees experienced similarly negative effects of ‘churn’ to those faced in the external labour market. Such effects included career scarring, feelings of displacement, underemployment and poorer terms and conditions. These effects are also often compounded by the external labour market environment, with a paucity of alternative employment opportunities and relative wage levels place constraints on employees and oblige them to engage with internal redeployment processes. Crucially, however, this brings into focus the role of HR in managing redeployed employees. Thus, the paper also points to the wider structural tensions in HR’s implementation of restructuring, highlighting the specific challenges faced by HR in relation managing internal redeployment. Structural tensions emerged in relation to the timing of the process, the availability of internal vacancies and the provision of retraining for redeployed employees. The paper concludes with some reflections on the changing role of internal labour markets and future implications for the management of restructuring processes.

Strategies for labour and employment relations as an academic field

Dong-One Kim, Korea University Business School

» Full paper: ilera-2019-paper-182-Kim.pdf


The academic field of labour and employment relations (LER) is currently in turmoil. Because of decreasing union density and collective bargaining coverage in most developed countries, there are growing doubts that LER is relevant to the changing employment environment. This paper examines how LER researchers have responded to and discussed strategies and the future implications for the field.

There exist two competing views on the evolution of LER. On the one hand, pessimists holding the “change or perish” view argue that the field has not evolved sufficiently with the increasingly dynamic world of work, and consequently it is in a serious crisis. Conversely, optimists arguing for “maintaining status quo” assert that LER is slowly yet steadily adapting to changing world of work, and no radical redirection from the present is warranted. Thus, currently there is much contention as to the future direction of the study of LER.

What We have Done: Trend Analyses of LER Research, 1947–2014

To resolve this debate and shed light on the future direction of LER research, one should first examine what we did in the past to obtain some implications for what we should pursue in the future. A study conducted by Ki-Jung Kim and I (2018) examined the degree to which LER research has reflected the ever-changing reality. We analyzed the abstracts in major LER journals in the post-World War II era (1947-2014). The data of this study include all the abstracts available in five representative journals in the field of LER representing four Western countries. Analyzing the frequency of keyword appearances and co-occurrence matrix, we found surprisingly that the number of studies researching trade unions has grown more or less steadily since the 1940s. Likewise, traditional topics in LER such as collective bargaining, strikes, mediation and arbitration show little signs of declining. Although research in LER seemed to increasingly embrace new phenomena and new realities such as nonunion, temporary and contingent workers, family, gender, women and immigrants, their share remained to be only minimal. Overall, most scholars in this field tacitly follow the view of optimists arguing for maintaining status quo.

Strategies for Labor and Employment Relations

To revitalize academic disciplines in crises, three basic strategies can be identified in previous literature: (1) strengthening the discipline itself, (2) collaborating with other robust disciplines, and (3) reshaping and expanding the scope of the discipline. I believe these strategies are based upon distinguishable assumptions.

The first strategy is to revitalize and reinforce the traditional boundaries separating this discipline from the other related disciplines. This strategy’s effectiveness is predicated upon the assumption that the perceived changing environment is actually temporary and not only can be reversed but will be in due course. The second assumption is that adherents of the disciplines in crisis are resistant to any radical change in the discipline’s core components. Revitalization requires reemphasizes its traditional essence in terms of both theory and practice. This strategy enables the discipline refocus its effort on more academically promising research without straying into the territory of other academic disciplines. The example of this strategy was philosophy at the end of 19th century.

The second strategy is to create strategic alliances with stronger disciplines. To prevent obsolescence and inevitable decline into obscurity, it must collaborate with more promising (e.g., newer) or more robust disciplines. This involves removing boundaries around itself to venture forth into more academically rewarding territory by emulating and adopting relevant theories, frameworks, and approaches prevailing in other disciplines. The example is the case where the soft discipline of sociology merged with the hard discipline, biology, to form a synergistic field of ‘sociobiology.’ This strategy is premised upon three assumptions. First, it presumes that this changing landscape is not temporary, but a permanent paradigm shift. Second, the field has little new to offer by itself. Third, adherents of the discipline have a feeling of crisis consciousness and willing to adapt to necessary changes to preserve the discipline.

The final strategy is readjusting, repackaging and expanding the field to incorporate emerging trends while preserving its core. This strategy may not applicable to all fields but only to those undergoing dynamic developments, such as new trends and paradigm shifts, that are forcing the field to expand. Newly emerging related fields provide unclaimed academic territory, creating new blue ocean strategic opportunities. This strategy is not the negation or displacement of the old; rather, increasing complexity compels the emergence of new approaches to theory, modality and methodology. For example, the discipline of Agriculture rebranded itself in the course of last two decades as life science, thereby providing a much larger context in which to grow in multiple directions. This strategy is based upon three assumptions. First, as the changing environment is irreversible, maintaining the status quo offers no prospect of bringing its old glory back. Second, because of the rapidly changing environments and ever-growing complexity, there are likely to be new areas emerging that other disciplines are not likely to stake a claim over, therefore opportunities. Third, its adherents are prepared to accept adaption in response to rapidly changing environmental factors to maintain the discipline.

Regarding the field of LER, the present study argued for the final strategy of readjusting, repackaging and expanding this field. I propose that we must expand the field of LER for it to remain relevant and survive in the future. That is, it should be able to embrace and explain the new realities of the world of work. However, I do not claim immediate disposition of research on unions and collective bargaining. Rather, I believe that we must not abandon our traditional core, as unions and collective bargaining may rebound in developed countries and either are emerging or remaining important in the public sector and developing countries.

Retail trade as an arena of inclusion in the labour market

Ragnhild Steen Jensen, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo
Kristine Nergaard, Fafo Institute for Labour and Social Research, Oslo

This paper deals with the importance of employment in the retail trade for inclusion in the labour market. The threshold for securing a job in a shop is low compared to many other occupations and industries, and many young people start their careers in retail. The industry recruits many young workers, and has no particular criteria for formal education or work experience upon appointment. Retail work is primarily learned through participation in practical work in the shop, as well as close follow-up by more experienced staff.

The industry is one of few in which employees can still advance to management level based on work experience and without completing a higher education. Shop managers place a strong emphasis on employees’ work ethic and personal characteristics. However, managers also stress that the industry is relatively open and that the threshold for securing a job is not high. In addition, the retail trade is widely used by the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) in connection with work training/the work experience scheme.

In the paper, we examine how the retail industry deals with those recruited from NAV on employment initiatives/work experience placements. Is this sector –with experiences form high turnover-rates and on-the-job training of many young employees with little work experience, well-equipped for work training? Or are the characteristics of the sector, including a potential interest from employers in “cheap labour” an obstacle for the kind of employment training NAV supports?

The study observes that the usual method of training used in the industry, through practical work and with close follow-up, also seems to work well in relation to those sent by NAV. However, those on labour market initiatives receive a longer training period, and are more closely followed up during the process. Some prerequisites must be in place to ensure effective inclusion. First, businesses must dedicate sufficient resources to training and following up those on employment initiatives. Second, it is important that the local NAV office and/or the rehabilitation organisation have a close cooperation with the employer. This entails keeping the lines of communication open during the process, as well as understanding the needs and requirements of a job in the retail trade and taking these into account when selecting candidates for practice placements.

The survey is based on qualitative and quantitative data, but focuses mainly on interviews with employers at different levels in four large retail chains.

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