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Differences between hard HRM and soft HRM

Differences between hard HRM and soft HRM

This article aims to explore some of the differences between hard HRM and soft HRM. Certainly, with the growth of digitalization, HRM has evolved from being just about keeping track of employee records to a strategic tool that could influence the success and failure of a business. HR managers carry out different responsibilities and may approach human resources differently. These responsibilities and approaches are commonly labelled as ‘hard HRM’ and ‘soft HRM’.


Understanding the differences between hard HRM and soft HRM can help organisations determine which one is more applicable to their unique circumstances and needs. Both have their own pros and cons and it is up to HR professionals to decide which works best for their company.


What does HRM mean?

HRM stands for Human Resources Management. It refers to the management of people in an organization. Managing people involves recruiting employees, developing them, and managing HR policies and practices as well. HR department has been traditionally focused on administrative tasks. However, with the growth of digitalisation, it has evolved from being just a basic function to take a strategic approach with a view to achieving competitive advantages.


Differences between hard HRM and soft HRM

As stated above, there are two widely known approaches to HRM. Storey (2001) labelled these as hard HRM and soft HRM. Hard HRM sees people as a resource that can be utilised as a means of achieving organisational goals. On the other hand, soft HRM encourages organisations to develop strategies to gain employee commitment.


According to Cambridge University Press (2022) hard HRM is an employee management system in which workers are regarded as a resource that needs to be controlled with a view to achieving maximum profits and competitive advantage. On the other hand, soft HRM is an employee management system in which workers are regarded as an important resource for a company’s growth. Therefore, they are looked after well, and their skills are continually developed.


Hard HRM focuses primarily on administrative tasks, while soft HRM focuses primarily on strategic concerns. Hard HR tasks are often more focused on immediate requirements and employee records, while soft HR tasks are often focused on the future development of employees and the organization.


Managers with a hard HR approach may not empower employees, while ones with a soft approach empower and motivate them to take responsibilities.  Performance appraisal in hard system focuses on making judgement about employees. Conversely, addressing people’s training and development needs is the focus of appraisal in soft approach.


Hard HR focuses on quantifiable data and information, while soft HR focuses on qualitative data and information. Quantifiable data, such as employee salaries or work hours, are often more easily analyzed and measured. Qualitative data, such as employee satisfaction or employee training, is often more difficult to measure.


Summary of the differences between hard HRM and soft HRM

Hard HRM or soft HRM? Which one is better? Well, neither of the two alone is useful in the real business world. They have their own advantages and disadvantages, and therefore, managers may need to use some elements of both to get the best results. Truss (2022) states that while the rhetoric of HRM is usually ‘soft’, the reality is almost always ‘hard’. It is not always an easy task to prioritise the interests of an organisation over those of its workers.


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Last update: 23 May 2022


Cambridge University Press (2022) Hard HRM, available at: (accessed 23 May 2022)

Storey, J. (2001) Human Resource Management: A Critical Text. 2nd Edition, Thomson Learning, New York.

Truss, C. (2022) Soft and Hard Models of Human Resource Management, available at: (accessed 22 May 2022)

Author: M Rahman

M Rahman writes extensively online and offline with an emphasis on business management, marketing, and tourism. He is a lecturer in Management and Marketing. He holds an MSc in Tourism & Hospitality from the University of Sunderland. Also, graduated from Leeds Metropolitan University with a BA in Business & Management Studies and completed a DTLLS (Diploma in Teaching in the Life-Long Learning Sector) from London South Bank University.

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