Accueil » 47-4 ( 1992) » Une étude empirique sur les rôles de base des services de ressources humaines

Une étude empirique sur les rôles de base des services de ressources humaines

Christiane Labelle et Lee Dyer


Cette recherche concerne un sujet peu étudié dans la littérature en gestion des ressources humaines. Il s'agit des rôles de base d'un «service» de ressources humaines. Théoriquement, un certain nombre de rôles fondamentaux lui sont attribués par divers auteurs, aussi bien aux États-Unis, au Canada, en France qu'en Grande-Bretagne. Cependant, il n'existe pratiquement pas d'études empiriques pour appuyer ces rôles tels que conçus. La présente recherche a permis, dans un premier temps, de développer un modèle servant à circonscrire le domaine concernant les rôles des services de ressources humaines. Un questionnaire portant sur six rôles considérés fondamentaux d'après ce modèle a par la suite été élaboré et administré à un échantillon de 264 organisations américaines de divers secteurs industriels.


This research investigates a neglected area: the basic roles played by personnel/human resource departments. These organizations refer to the administrative unit - called for instance "human resource department" or "personnel and labor relations department" - which provides services to managers and employees in various areas such as recruitment and hiring, wage and salary administration, labor relations, and so forth.

A number of basic roles are proposed by human resource management textbooks in such countries as the United States, Great Britain, France and Canada, but there is practically no empirical study to support their claims. The few empirical studies that exist on the subject tend to be limited to a few roles (e.g., strategic, vs operational or marketing vs production) without a clearly defined theoretical framework behind. This lack of research is surprising when considering the vast amount of normative articles on the subject. This shows that, so far, the interest for the subject has come primarily from the practitioners.

But the literature may be misleading without clearly defined concepts. For example the department roles, i.e. the "entity's" roles (macro level) tend to be confused with those of the professionals (micro level). Thus, there is a need to fill a gap both in theory and in practice.

As a first step towards this goal, this research proposes a challenge response theoretical model to help indentify basic roles. Basic roles constitute dynamic responses that help HR departments adapt to their environment. They are called "basic" because it is thought that only a few key roles are essential to the entity's survival. The model in Figure 1 shows that the departments exist to answer at least three basic types of needs: (1 ) roles towards the organization (or business roles) (2) towards clients (service roles), and (3) towards HR management as a specialized activity in the organization (functional roles). Two roles were identified for each dimension.

A questionnaire measuring the six roles identified was developed and administered to a randomly selected sample of 1000 organizations in various industries. A total of 264 questionnaires (26,4 %) was used in the analysis. The largest representation in the sample comes from manufacturing (61,6 % or 162 companies), followed by finance (11 % or 29 companies). Transportation and utilities (10,6 % or 28 companies), services (6,8 % or 18 companies), retail and Wholesale trade (6,1 % or 16 companies), and organizations in the primary sector, such as agriculture (3,8 % or 10 companies) accounted for smaller proportions in the sample. Exploratory factor analysis (common factor model, principal axis factoring, VARIMAX rotation) was chosen because the concepts are not well known.

Six factors (or basic roles) emerged from factor analysis. Some (strategic and operational roles) were close to the roles anticipated, while the others (service to line managers, service to employees, and quality management) differed partly and one was left uninterpreted. A reliability coefficient (Cronbach Alpha) was calculated for the five roles retained. The results are as follows: 0,89 for the strategic role, 0,88 for the operational role, 0,83 for both service to employees and quality management roles, and 0,75 for service to line managers.

These results are considered acceptable at this stage of knowledge development. The article concludes with a discussion on theoretical and practical issues regarding the study of personnel/human resource department roles. In particular, the study of roles has been useful in another study in identifying various types of HR departments based on a configuration of roles (or relative emphasis on roles).

Such studies will eventually contribute to the development of a theory on HR departments. From a practical point of view, a better knowledge of HR department types will facilitate subsequent studies on their effectiveness. For instance does a particular type of HR department with a given configuration of roles (e.g. strong on operational, strategic, quality management roles) more effective than one with another configuration (e.g. strong on operational, service to employees, and quality management)? or to what extent is a given type of HR department more appropriate given a particular context (e.g., organization strategy)? Evaluating HR department's contribution is already an area where practitioners hope to receive some guidance from academics. It is clear, thus, that much more remains to be done both in theory and in practice.