Approaches to Industrial Relations

Definition: The Industrial Relations or IR shows the relationship between the management and the workmen within the industry and the role of a regulatory body to resolve the industrial disputes.

IR is perceived differently by a different group of behavioral practitioners and theorists. Some believed that IR is related to the Class Conflict while some perceived it in terms of Mutual Co-operation and still others perceived it in terms of Competing Interests of various groups. On the basis of these perceptions, there are four popular approaches to Industrial Relations. These are:

Approaches to IR

  1. Unitary Approach: The unitary approach is based on the notion that all the members of the organization Viz. Managers, workers, and other staff have a common set of objectives, purposes and interests and, therefore, work in unison towards the accomplishment of shared goals. Here, the conflict is seen as a temporary divergence which is caused due to the poor management or the negligence on the part of the employees to understand and mix with the organizational culture.

    The unitary approach is based on the assumption that the overall profitability of the firm could be increased if everyone in the organization has the common interest/purpose and works unanimously towards its completion thereby establishing the harmonious relations. Here the strikes are considered as destructive.

  2. Pluralistic Approach: The pluralistic approach is just the opposite of unitary approach which is based on the assumption that an organization is an alliance of powerful and divergent sub-groups (management and trade unions), having different competing interests are mediated by the management. The management and the trade unions (association of workers) are the powerful sub-groups that may not agree with certain terms and conditions prevailing in the organization and to resolve those management tries to mediate the interest of both the groups.

    During mediation, if the management pays less attention to the needs of the workers then they form unions in order to protect their interest and influence the management decision. The unions so formed helps in balancing the power between the management and employees. Thus, it is based on the notion that the conflict between the management and the employees is inevitable and is viewed as instrumental in the innovation and growth.

  3. Marxist Approach: The Marxist approach is based on the basic assumption that the conflict is regarded as the product of a capitalist society. This means that conflict arises not just because of the rift between the employee and the employer, but also because of the division in the society between those who owns the means of production (capitalists) and the ones who have only labor to offer. The ultimate objective of the capitalists is to increase the productivity by paying possible minimum wages to the workers due to which the latter feels exploited.

    To overcome such situation workers form unions so as to safeguard their interests. These trade unions are considered as a weapon to bring about a revolutionary social change that focuses on improving the overall position of the workers in the capitalist system and not to overthrow. Unlike the pluralist approach, the Marxist believes that the state intervention via legislation and industrial tribunals work in the interest of the management and do not ensure a balance between the competing groups. Thus, according to this approach, the pluralist supports the capitalism, and the unitary approach is anathema.

  4. Human Relations Approach: The Human relations approach is propounded by Elton Mayo, who is a humanist and believes in the positive nature of the employees. According to him, given human initiatives from management, the employees positively listens and responds properly to them and hence there is no room left for the conflict to arise. But however Marxists and Pluralists did not appreciate too much stress on the positive nature of the workers.

Thus, these approaches to industrial relations must be properly understood by the HR managers as these offer a solid foundation for much of the role of human resource management.


  1. PDQ Staffing Reply

    Great blog! Detailed explanation on approaches to industrial relations. Thanks for sharing helpful information.

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