The Indian Journal of Social Work, Vol. XXI, No. 3, ( December, 1960 ) . ...
The Indian Journal of Social Work, Vol. XXI, No. 3,
A N A P P R O A C H T O T H E R O L E O F A P E R S O N N E L O F F I C E R
T R I B H U B A N N A T H SAHAY
Much discussion has taken place in the country on the role and status of a personnel
officer in industry. T h e various terms: labour officer, labour welfare officer, or welfare officer
become synonymous with the term personnel officer because a close analysis of the duties of
the two reveals that all are concerned with the "human engineering" aspect of the industry.
They indicate the presence of a "human specialist" in industry. A welfare officer becomes a
legal need in a factory which ordinarily employs five hundred or more workers under the
Factories Act 1948.
T h e need for a personnel officer in industry is based chiefly on two assumptions. First,
the personnel officer with his knowledge of 'human engineering' will help in obtaining good
relations between workers and employers supervisors and fellow workers, which is essential for
establishing a willing collaboration from, and satisfaction for, all concerned. Secondly, such
a willing collaboration will lead to a higher production which will fetch higher dividends to
the industry. Hence the necessity of a personnel officer in industry is realised by employers or
management in the quest of higher production. T h e writer assumes that the expenses of the
presence of a personnel officer will be borne by the employers of the industry because they are
the ultimate gainers from the higher production.
Mr. Sahay holds an M.A. degree and is an experienced Research Investigator.
T h e role of a personnel officer becomes workers; and 3. a part of the management
harder owing to the fact that he has to deal executives. This categorization is not frag-
with h u m a n beings. M a n is a psychological mented into water-tight compartments and
creature and apt to react to any change in at times they may seem overlapping. But
the environment. M a n as a factor of pro-
still they help us to see the integrated
duction differs from the machine because he personality of the personnel officer in parts
has sentiments and feelings and any change and then as a whole. In any industrial con-
ought to be viewed by the m a n , he reacts to cern the personnel officer is likely to be func-
the changes and gives definite responses. On tioning as any one of these or a combination
the other hand, the machine does not take of two or all.
notice of any change unless and until it is
(1) A Spokesman of Workers.
intimately related with its working procedure. industrial situations the personnel officer is
T h e personnel officer as a specialist in the supposed to be the spokesman of workers and
field has to recommend such changes, whose advocates their cases before management. He
reactions on m a n are likely to stimulate posi-
is to be on the guard t h a t the workers'
tive responses for higher production.
attitudes and their demands are relayed to
T h e duties and functions of a personnel the ears of management who frame policies.
officer vary widely from industry to industry. In many cases, in the event of any grievance
Each industry defines his duties and before the management the personnel officer
responsibilities to satisfy its own needs and argues from the workers' angle in order to
whims. A close analysis of the various duties avoid the changes of a partial decision. T h e
and functions of different personnel officers inscription of such a role to the personnel
working at varied industrial situations reveals officer is stipulated by two basic ideas:
that they are likely to fall under three heads:
(a) the management who is busy in framing
1. a spokesman of the workers; 2. a third-
policies regarding the running of industry is
party agency between management a n d likely to be more interested in the material
T R I B H U B A N N A T H SAHAY
2 9 4
aspects of production. In quest of higher out of the scene. T h e two come in direct
production management may adopt lopsided collision with each other. U n d e r such a pre-
policy which may adversely affect the text the relationship between management
workers. Hence the personnel officer as a and workers is put at stake and may inflame
h u m a n specialist is to watch such policies and at any opportune moment.
advise accordingly so that shortcomings may
Recent industrial developments hardly re-
be overcome in time. He is to serve as a commend such a role of the personnel officer.
'safety-valve' for the management. (b) In The role may fetch some dividends in the
the case of any intricate grievance the worker
near future but in the long run the outlook
may not be able to represent his case rightly. is grim. The trade union is inevitable for any
Besides t h a t management may also be likely industry which will flourish sooner or later.
to curve the decision according to its own Hence it is wise to have all the inevitables and
convenience. On either case justice is denied
then frame the structure of harmonious rela-
to the aggrieved party which may prove tions between the parties.
suicidal to the better understanding between
the two parties. In order to eliminate the
(2) A 'Third Party Agency' between
chances of any such happenings, the personnel Management and Workers.
—In some indus-
officer of the factory is supposed to argue the tries the personnel officer bridges the gulf
case of the worker and screen all the facts of
between management and worker and on this
the case before management, so that a just plank both the parties come to dissolve their
and h u m a n redressing to the problem may mutual differences and shake hands. T h e
personnel officer plays at once the role of a
conciliator, mediator and arbitrator to bring
Such a role of a personnel officer in any the disputants to a settlement. In order to
industry assumes the non-existence of any carry out his role fruitfully he has to win the
trade union of the workers. T h e personnel confidence of both the parties. Besides that
officer tries to fill t h e vacuum created by the throughout he has to illustrate an attitude of
absence of the trade union. T h e shrewd indifference towards the interests of various
management encourages such a role so that parties.
trade unionism in t h a t industry may not grow
rapidly. T h e attempt is to shift the faith of
In practice this role of the personnel officer
the workers from the trade unions and store is modified by the management to keep the
it with the personnel officer who is a m a n of cake in its own grip. T h e personnel officer
the management. T h e success of such a role remains an advisory body to the manage-
will depend on so many counter-reacting ment. He is to aid the management by his
factors and the extent to which the personnel expert advise, the acceptance of which
officer can play his role effectively.
depends upon the intelligence of manage-
ment. In other words, the personnel officer
In an industry where there is already a trade
has to sell his ideas to management depend-
union in effect the success of the role ing on the merit of t h e case. Such a role of
is questionable. T h e trade union and the the personnel officer is accentuated by the
personnel officer are p u t in a juxta-position, management chiefly on three assumptions:
the latter posing many of the functions for the
(a) the personnel officer as a third party may
former. T h e trade union envisages the per-
be in a better position to win the confidence of
sonnel officer as the biggest hurdle in its way
the workers. In doing so, he can contribute
and may try to turn every stone to knock him.. positively towards harmonious relationship
AN APPROACH TO THE ROLE OF A PERSONNEL OFFICER
2 9 5
between the workers and the management;
The success of such a role by the personnel
(b) even as a third party he remains the man officer depends much upon the attitude,
of the management and so the management management possesses towards it. It is greatly
can successfully carry out its policies with the influenced by the duties and functions
cooperation of the workers through the imputed to him and the manner in which he
personnel officer; and (c) to avoid the con-
is allowed to carry them out. He should be
flict between the personnel officer and the line empowered with sufficient flexibility in his
management persons of the organization, the jurisdiction to deal with other parties. In its
existence of which may hit hard upon the rate absence the personnel officer may become a
of production by the line authorities.
simple carrier of ideas from one party to the
other. Above all, management support him
The personnel officer is sometimes put in by reposing confidence in him so that his
a very precarious position while playing such capacity in the organization may not be
a role in any industry. He is always exposed belittled.
to delicacies of two sorts: (a) he has strictly
to stick to the policies framed by management
(3) A Part of the Management Execu-
which is always suspected and critically tives.
—A personnel officer is intimately
viewed by workers. Any deviation by him associated with management executives of
from the basic policy may be suspected as a many industries. He shares the responsibility
revolt by management and may be a of framing personnel policies of industry and
challenge to his existence in industry; and is made responsible for its execution and
(b) on the other hand while advocating the administration. He is armoured with proper
policies of management he may be dis-
authority by management to execute its
appointed to accumulate the confidence of policies. He is considered as a part and
workers and thus making his role a marplot.
parcel of the management executive body
In a factory where a trade union is in responsible for the personnel field, the extent
existence his role becomes more stiff. He has of which is defined by the top management
to always remain alert that he does not share people. All the problems of his jurisdiction
any of the functions of the workers' organiza-
is referred to him and he has the authority to
tion while discharging his responsibilities. If deal with them for good. In every situation
any misunderstanding between him and the he represents management and his every
trade union is reared, he may become an action is considered as the action of the
object of contempt for the other party. The management.
trade union may suspect him as its rival and
The management of an industry who is
may put all possible hurdles to make his always anxious to steer a scientific approach
functions untenable. In such a situation the to the problems arising in industry institute
personnel officer may become impotent to specialised bodies with proper skill and
carry out few of his functions.
authority to dispose of them. This role of the
Generally advisory functions of a personnel personnel officer is stimulated because of
officer are encouraged by the workers' orga-
the following advantages: (a) the man who
nization. First, the trade unions have little frames the policy possesses a better insight of
suspicion about his intentions because his job its details and hence he can execute and
is advisory. Secondly, they find an easy access administer the same most effectively. Besides
to management's mind through him. He is that, his experience of execution and
considered as a skilled messenger between administration contributes towards framing of
management and workers.
an improved policy; (b) in case the workers
T R I B H U B A N N A T H SAHAY
2 9 6
and the trade unions deny to co-operate with can no longer counsel the workers and his
him, his utility in the industry is p u t to every action be adjudged critically and
jeopardy. T h e management may not like to unsympathetically. M a n y a time he may
risk his skill in that manner. (c) the skill and
be evaluated as one of the spear-heads of
training of the personnel officer can be used by
management to penetrate through the
management to an appreciable degree of workers' interests. Amidst such environment
effectiveness at many spots, such as grievance the personnel officer may sometimes find it
handling, collective bargaining, running of h a r d to proceed on the principles of h u m a n
various joint committees, etc.; and (d) over relations in order to bring his action into
and above, the onus of looking after the effect.
dynamic h u m a n needs, such as those of
T h e success of such a role of the personnel
canteen, water, latrines and urinals, etc., can officer depends much upon his own behaviour.
be attributed to him. In his respect he can be
He has to count much upon the impressions
as good as a line m a n .
which he creates on the workers by his just
W i t h the status of an executive the a n d considerate actions. To a considerable
personnel officer feels himself much secure extent he has to rely on the co-operation ex-
than in any other situation. This encourages tended by the line m e n in executing his
him to take risks a n d initiate new plans for orders. A great deal depends upon the
the betterment of industry. He deals with attitude that management adopts towards his
workers and trade unions with authority and actions.
confidence. He remains aware of his distinct-
The Roles in Practice.
—As already m e n -
ly defined duties and functions for which he tioned above, the ambit of the actions of a
is likely to be alone responsible to manage-
personnel officer is circumscribed by each and
ment. He has little opportunity to shift it to every industry in its own manner to fit into
its own situation. T h e r e are many factors
Besides that the trade union and the which react together to shape the role of a
workers also get a clear-cut understanding of
personnel officer. Few of them are given
the role of t h e personnel officer. T h e r e below: (a) the attitude of the management
remains little scope to suspect his intentions towards the workers and their needs; (b) the
which are likely to be those of management. economic situation of industry and its returns
He is never considered as a rival of the relative to other industries; (c) existence of
workers' organization. T h e workers also have a trade union; (d) status of the trade union;
a confidence and zeal to discuss the problems (e) the relation between the trade union and
with him for a final package.
the management; (f) legislative frame-works
While wrapped up in such a role in indus-
in existence; (g) the nature and extent of
try, the personnel officer is likely to gain little h u m a n problems arising in the industry; and
confidence from the workers which is against
(h) the composition of the ownership of the
the basic principles of h u m a n relations. He