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Unpublished Paper
Use of Hard and Soft Models of HRM to illustrate the gap between Rhetoric and Reality in Workforce Management
RMIT Business Working Paper (1999)
  • Carol Gill, Melbourne Business School

At the rhetorical level many organisations espouse the "soft" version of Human Resource Management (HRM) that focuses on treating employees as valued assets and a source of competitive advantage. However, organisational reality appears "hard" with an emphasis on the quantitative, calculative and strategic aspects of managing a "head count". The dichotomy of soft and hard HRM (termed Developmental Humanism and Utilitarian Instrumentalism) has been identified by Legge (1989) in her critique of the normative model of HRM. Noon (1994) suggests that this dichotomy in HRM manifests itself as a gap between rhetoric and reality. Truss et al.'s (1997) study involving eight in depth case studies confirms this gap. Whilst this study found that there were no pure examples of soft or hard HRM, "the rhetoric adopted by the companies frequently embraces the tenets of the soft, commitment model, while the reality experienced by employees is more concerned with strategic control, similar to the hard model". It is necessary to expose the gap between rhetoric and reality so that organisations can clearly review the effectiveness of their human resource strategies, human resource functions can clearly identify their role and the pluralist needs of employees be met. This study uses hard and soft concepts of HRM to explore the gap between rhetoric and reality in Australian organisations using annual reports to assess rhetoric and existing workforce surveys to assess reality. The outcomes of this study support the findings of Truss et al. that organisational rhetoric is soft and reality is hard. Frequently organisation initiatives initially appear soft, however, when they are examined closely they are hard, with practices of empowerment, involvement, communication and training generally restricted to the improvement of bottom-line performance. Further research is required to examine the antecedents and consequences of this gap for organisations and employees.

  • HRM Strategy,
  • hard model,
  • soft model
Publication Date
November, 1999
Citation Information
Carol Gill. "Use of Hard and Soft Models of HRM to illustrate the gap between Rhetoric and Reality in Workforce Management" RMIT Business Working Paper (1999)
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