What are soft HRM and hard HRM?

Soft HRM and hard HRM are two opposing methods of Human Resource Management. HRM is the strategic approach toward acquiring, hiring, training, engaging, and retaining personnel. 

Soft HRM emphasizes the human side of HR, recognizing that the workforce is composed of individuals with inherent ambitions and emotions. Soft HRM encourages employees to actualize their potential through practices such as:

Hard HRM, in contrast, does not prioritize employees’ need for self-actualization. Instead, it treats personnel as a resource that exists solely to help the company meet business goals. HRM often encompasses:

  • One-way communication between management and employees
  • Employee evaluation systems based on positive and negative performance
  • Low salaries and high turnover 
  • Autocratic hierarchical leadership system

Why should HR leaders care about soft HRM and hard HRM?

HR leaders must consider both soft and hard HRM to determine which aspects of each method fit the company’s needs. While Millennial employees often gravitate to organizations that embody soft HRM, elements of hard HRM may be necessary for companies to reach profit and productivity goals. Thus, it’s essential to consider which individual practices work pragmatically for each organization. 

What can HR leaders do to incorporate soft HRM and hard HRM?

Industry, business goals, and company values determine how an organization fits HRM to its needs. HR leaders can incorporate these practices to reap the benefits from both soft and hard HRM:

  • Set the direction.  An HRM strategy can serve as an anchor within a shifting job market. Aligning the HRM strategy with the business strategy can help HR leaders determine which hard or soft HRM practices to implement. Also, a checklist can help HR leaders decide in which direction to navigate the HR ship.  
  • Always consider the budget. Whatever approach HR leaders take must be budget-based. Ultimately, the company has to have a high return on investment to make the chosen HRM method worth it. 
  • Consider the industry. Each industry is different and undergoes its own evolution. For example, while soft HRM has spread like wildfire in the high-tech industry, this people-oriented approach has not taken hold as quickly in the manufacturing industry. HR leaders can look to competing businesses and current trends and ask: What are applicants and employees expecting from their employer and position? Usually, integrating a combination of soft and hard HRM can entice applicants, boost retention, and help achieve business objectives. 

How can soft HRM and hard HRM improve company culture?

Soft and hard HRM represent two opposite ends of the spectrum. Implementing just one of these methods isn’t realistic. Employees want to be treated as humans, not robots, and companies still need to focus on achieving business success. However, tailoring an approach that integrates the beneficial components of both soft and hard HRM could help companies nurture a culture that values the success of the individual, as well as the success of the company.