HRM practices

| July 12, 2019


“Differences as well as similarities can be observed when a comparison is made between firms established in the Gulf, Japan, and countries in Western Europe with respect to HRM practices such as recruitment, training, promotion, career development, etc. Evaluate structural, institutional, legal, economic, social culture, corporate culture, and other factors that can help explain such similarities and differences in HRM practices found in companies operating in the above three regions.

Would the findings suggest that the World is converging or diverging with respect to the practice of HRM? Explain your position”.


Title: Human resources management



This paper explores the concept of career development planning with references to three regions: Western Europe, Gulf, and Japan. Three company case studies are selected to represent each of these region in the comparison of similarities and differences in career development strategies. They include British Airways (Western Europe), Emirates Airlines (Gulf), and Japan Airlines (Japan).

The analysis of career development efforts of these companies show that there a global trend towards convergence in career development activities of different firms. This convergence is occasioned largely by dramatic social changes, though there are many other confounding factors. Specifically, technological, economic, legal, socio-cultural, and corporate-cultural factors have greatly influenced the trend towards the boundary-less protean career in each of the three regions under investigation.


Human resources management is a key element in any organization. No company can achieve its strategic objectives without harnessing the potential of its workforce through prudent HRM practices. Many similarities as well as differences emerge whenever a comparison is made between firms established in Japan, Gulf, and countries in Western Europe with regard to human resource management practices such as recruitment, training, career development, and promotion.

This paper sets out to evaluate the institutional, legal, economic, socio-cultural, and other factors that can facilitate an explanation of such differences and similarities in HRM practices that are found in Japan, Gulf, and countries in Western Europe. The underlying aim is to determine whether the findings suggest the world is diverging or converging with respect to HRM practices. To derive this answer and offer sufficient explanation, three companies are selected as case studies from Western Europe, Gulf, and Japan, namely British Airways, Emirates Airlines, and Japan Airlines respectively. In each of these three companies, focus is on training and career development.

Career development in Western Europe

One of the core elements of HRM practices not just in Western Europe but across the world is employee training and career development. There is abundance of literature that highlights trends in training and career development in corporate Western Europe as well as other parts of the world. In a study focusing on Western Europe, Bosch (2007) explores the notion of standard employment relationship (SER). According to Bosch (2007), a new SER is emerging in major companies across Western Europe, and that this type of employment relationship is undergoing an evolution.

In Western Europe, there is a tendency by large corporations to put into consideration the cultural aspect of flexibility when offering training and career development opportunities to employees. This element of flexibility is partly anchored in the cultural foundations that emphasize the need for equal access to the employment system for both men and women (Bosch, 2007). This flexibility is also geared towards creating an ideal social environment in the workplace, where there is ample internal flexibility.

The need for flexibility among both local and foreign employees has paved way for the emergence of what Crowley-Henry (2007) refers to as the Protean Career. The protean career is mainly pursued by foreign residents working and residing in Western Europe whose origin is the First World. The training and career development programs and opportunities provided to such people enables them establish local links in host countries. This links are sometimes emerge out of local working contracts or are simply derived by virtue of being installed in a locality for a long duration of time.

In one study, Crowley-Henry (2007) explored the career-related experiences and motivations of 20 expatriates working and living on a permanent basis in France and Germany. The strong links that such employees established in their host country are nurtured by such factors as home ownership and children that are born and/or schooled in the new country. The foreign employees also find it easy to settle permanently in their careers because of the social and cultural support provided in the training and career development programs of the host country.

In light of this evidence, it may be true to argue that in Western Europe, the available training and development programs and opportunities have greatly contributed to the emergence of the so-called international careers. The literature suggests that in Western Europe, social, cultural, and legal factors play out to create an appropriate lifestyle and subjective career anchor for all employees, including those from foreign countries. In such a situation, it becomes easy for such employees to determine the direction of their career. Such a society is viewed as one that contributes immensely to the inculcation and propagation of traditional careers that transcend national boundaries. In this same light, Crowley-Henry (2007) points out to a change of trend characterized by preference for protean career concepts.

On the issue of a newly established standard employment relationship (SER) in Western Europe, it is imperative to analyze recent debate, particularly with regard to training and career development.  Traditionally, SER has been understood to mean a stable, dependent, social protected, full-time job of which basic conditions of pay, social transfers, and working time are regulated by labor and social security laws or by collective agreement. The key elements of SER in this regard include the job’s stability, its full-time nature, and the social standards associated with the permanence of the job. With a permanent, full-time employment, a family is guaranteed of a wage, and consequently, a sufficient level of social protection. Moreover, with a stable job, a long-term relationship is maintained between the employee and employer.

The SER model differs from the other forms of employment because employees are paid not just for the days they are working but also for the time they are not engaging in work. The employees also get paid for the time they dedicate to their capacity for their current work, through on-the-job learning, health and safety programs, and further training. The objective of the contract is not just the activities of today and tomorrow, but also the lasting mutual obligations enshrined in these activities. The most common obligations include commitment to certain duration of employment, exclusivity of employment at a specific company, and rules of contract termination. The rationale for this approach is the move towards ensuring that an employee is not treated like a commodity; instead, he or she has to be regarded as an individual who has to live in a social setting and live up to certain deeply-rooted basic social expectations.

Towards this end, there is a widespread emphasis on training and career development programs that enable individuals plan their everyday lives, including leisure time. This explains the reason for the emergence of the protean career. With respect to career development, it is worthwhile to note that employees’ bargaining is greatly increased through social protection measures, for example dismissal protection. Such safeguards make employees confident of pursuing their career interests. At the same time, they feel ready for further training programs initiated by the companies they work for. Within the realm of career development, emphasis is also put on compensation for the employees’ willingness to embrace flexibility. This is mainly through extra pay for overtime work.

Case study of British Airways

British Airways is the largest scheduled international carrier in the UK. It is also one of the world’s leading global airlines. British Airways connects to some 300 destinations. During the 2009/2010 financial year, the company carried nearly 33 million passengers. The company came into existence in the early 1970s through the merger of BEA (British European Airways) and BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation).

In the early days of the corporation’s existence, the organizational culture was largely bureaucratic and militaristic (Grugulis, 2006). Most of the company’s senior pilots had been socialized in the military. The public company’s ethos emphasized only on moving people from one point to the other as opposed to the view of passengers as customers who were looking for a quality service. As a result, the company got a bad reputation and started facing stiff competition from new entrants in the market, particularly those operating at the national level.

This negative turn of events explains the dwindling fortunes of the company during the 1980s and the subsequent decision to embark on a cost-cutting drive. In this cost-cutting drive, 22,000 employees were retrenched. This move, though aimed at increasing profitability, created an organizational culture where change management efforts were driven by fear, low level of trust between staff and management, and lack of motivation. Competition from transatlantic airlines was a also a major factor in the trend towards a decline in profitability and the ultimate decision to undertake privatization.

The challenge of competition triggered a move towards the adoption of a long-term vision in which special emphasis was on employees’ career development and improvement of the quality of service given to customers. Some crucial programs were put in place following this strategic change, for example Putting People First. These programs were aimed at nurturing employee engagement, staff development, and a collaborative approach in all issues relating to industrial relations. It is because of these efforts that British Airways was transformed into a model of sustainability of work practices, a fact that is emphasized in management literature (Crowley-Henry, 2007; Bosch, 2007).

The indicators of customer satisfaction, particularly during the 1990s are largely a reflection of prudent management of human resources, particularly the issue of career development. Nevertheless, British Airways has had to make strategic choices in efforts to ensure that career development efforts are carried out in a manner that guarantees sustainability. For instance, in 2005, the company had to make a choice between business models: Low Cost Carrier (LCC) and Full Service Carrier (FSC) models (Bamber, 2009). The company chose to avoid a full-blown LCC model because of the need to balance cost-saving efforts with enhancement of service quality, international alliance membership, customer loyalty campaigns, and the use of primary airports.

Moreover, trade union resistance to all cutbacks has been persistent at British Airways (Wright, 2011). This resistance has manifested itself in debilitating disputes that have threatened to interrupt the company’s operations. The low-cost carrier model, in effect, has failed to blend well with the development of sustainable career development strategy, largely because of the high risk of triggering labor disputes a drop in employee morale and the subsequent negative impact on customer service.

British Airways employs elements of both human capital advantage and human process in its career development efforts. Human capital advantage entails recruitment and retention of outstanding human talent while human process advantage involves fostering cooperation and innovation within the workforce (Bosch, 2007). HRM literature provides crucial evidence on the high chances of successes that can be achieved through a blend of these two approaches (Grugulis, 2007). The case of British Airways shows that chances of success are significantly increased when the appropriate management style is adopted, particularly one that embraces consultation and negotiation.

Indeed, elements of negotiation and consultation have in recent times been an integral element of career development efforts at British Airways, particularly in an environment of frequent labor disputes (Chadwick, 2009). This shows that the company continues to embrace traditional collective bargaining approaches a central factor in the company’s HR function.

In efforts to develop careers and give quality service to customers, British Airways continues to maintain a mixture of the human process and human capital approach. This decision is understandable, considering the company’s vision of recruiting and retaining the best pilots on the one hand and developing a high level of customer consciousness among staff members on the front-line service on the other. To achieve this goal, the company has put in place a High-Performance Leadership program with the aim of identifying the most talented leaders. Moreover, the company operates the Owning Our Future program, in which employees are given an understanding of the airline’s business strategy.

Career development in Gulf countries

            From the outset, it is evident that many Gulf companies are aware of the time-tested career development practices of their foreign counterparts, particularly in the Western world. Generally, these companies tend to go beyond the mere affirmation of this awareness by implementing these career development practices (Wilkins, 2008). Many of the career development trends employed as well as challenges encountered in these countries are similar to those of Western Europe and Japan. For example the threat of skill obsolescence as a result of rapidity of technological change reverberates across all the three regions and HR managers have to devise ways of dealing with such problems in order to chart the best career paths for their employees.

            Nevertheless, many companies in the Gulf region, for example in the United Arab Emirates, have had to be impacted by the far-reaching influence of the Arab culture, Islam religion, economic environment, and government policies (Wilkins, 2008). With regard to the economic environment, the Gulf oil-driven economies have had to deal with the dwindling oil sector. This effect has been felt in the corporate sector, and is being felt even in way various companies are undertaking career development programs (Wilkins, 2008).

Al Bahar (2006) examines the way national culture has influenced the career development efforts of companies operating in Bahrain. In a study of 21 managers, two factors were put into consideration: organizational rationale and social rationale. The organizational rationale addressed the extent to which career development needs were being motivated by organizational needs. On the other hand, the social rationale addressed the extent to which the career development needs of the employees were being informed by the Arabian cultural mores. Al Bahar (2006) found out that the Arabian culture was a major factor in determine the career development efforts being undertaken by various companies operating in Bahrain. However, this factor is mediated by two main variables: sector of the economy and nationality of ownership.

Case study of Emirates Airlines

Emirates Airlines is one of fastest growing international airlines yet it is also one of the youngest, having been established in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) just 20 years ago (Sarabdeen, 2011). Emirates Airlines started off in the Emirati city of Dubai and its core focus was on attaining quality as opposed to quantity in the highly competitive and capital-intensive airline industry. Though the company was started by the government, the tendency was to look at it as a purely independent corporate entity. The rapid growth and high record for quality and excellence has earned the company many awards, totaling more than 400 all over the world (Furuya, 2007). Today, Emirates Airlines flies to more than 100 destinations spread across some 60 countries, and this network is fast expanding (Furuya, 2007).

At Emirates, HRM, particularly career development, is one of the most important pillars of success. Top executives acknowledge that the efficiency of employees depends on how well their careers are developed (Sarabdeen, 2011). It is also not lost on the managers that cultural, religious, economic, and legal factors come into play in determining the appropriateness and viability of different career development efforts.

The main legal factor is the fact that Emirates Airlines is a government-owned corporate entity (Sarabdeen, 2011). On this account, the airline has a competitive edge over all UAE airlines. This is mainly because it prides itself in having a separate terminal, and movement in and out of this terminal adds to the level of convenience for the company.  The economic factors also have a lot to do with government support, for example, further investments in buying additional aircraft whenever there is an economic boom. During recession, recruitment of additional employees is frozen. The main socio-cultural factor is the unique position of Dubai as a cultural hub that also prides itself in having a multicultural population. This gives Emirates Airlines a unique international exposure.

Technological factors have also played out in determining the trends the company uses achieving its career development goals. Technology has contributed to the emergence of the so called ‘boundaryless’ careers. Nowadays, the society is highly modernized, and the ever-improving information technology sector makes it possible for employees to maintain adventurousness in their careers. They are able to communicate with a wide range of specialists in various fields, thereby gaining the much-needed professional exposure.

In the context of a boundary-less career, one’s aspirations are not tied up within a particular organization, largely because industry-wide networks are easily nurtured through information technology channels. It is for this same reason that organizations are being restructured. For instance, at Emirates Airlines, the most preferred candidates are those who already have prior experience in the field of customer care. This implies that anyone who has worked in another organization in the customer care section can qualify to work for the airline.

At Emirates Airlines, there is also a lot of emphasis on ensuring that the right people are selected for work. In order for this goal to be achieved, efforts are made to analyze the skills of all candidates before career development decisions are made. Special attention goes to extroverted employees with an undying ambition to deal with new challenges. Efforts are also made to maintain group work among crew members, particularly those who hail from diverse backgrounds. All these requirements are put into consideration during the HR planning process in order to ensure seamless career progression in various careers within the company.

In the context of the boundaryless careers of the modern world, Emirates Airlines considers it a responsibility of the employees to ensure that they are up-to-date with the relevant skills. Some of the requirements in this regard are as basic as a high school degree and the need for all crew to be well groomed at all times whenever they are on duty.

However, the company takes a more proactive role, particularly in far-reaching matters, for example the challenges faced by employees who have reached career plateaus. Career plateau is the point in an employee’s career that is characterized by a very minimal probability of further enhancement and progression. At Emirates Airlines, employees typically jumpstart their careers at grade two, before progressing to become business class attendants. Later on, they become first class attendants, but this progression is based largely on their performance. Ultimately, the employee can become a Senior Flight Supervisor (SFS).

At the position of SFS, there is a high chance of falling into a career plateau. At this point, one of the ways of avoiding a career plateau is going through a career transition process. This may entail changing the career by moving from one’s country to another or by going down or up the occupational ladder through a demotion or promotion. In some cases, this career transition is planned while in other cases it is unplanned. Unplanned transitions may be occasioned by family issues, illnesses, or environmental factors.

The issue of work-family conflict tends to be closely addressed at the Emirates Airlines. It is considered an integral factor in facilitating a successful career development strategy. This is because conflicting demands are normally made on the employee by the work environment on the one hand and the family on the other. Crew members for the airline do not work in fixed hours, and sometimes they even have to travel away from their homes. Apart from adding to the work-family conflict, it can increase the employee’s stress level.

Two options are provided by the company in such a scenario. One may choose to be a down shifter or a flame-out tracker. A down shifter forfeits his hectic 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job to take on a less challenging job. In contrast, the flame-out tracker works hard to make a sufficient sum of money before taking some time off. A downshifter may take a job at the Emirates site office where he would have to work for many years before retiring. In this way, Emirates Airlines creates the impression of a company where career planning is taken very seriously to ensure that all employees fit into their desired job and career paths.

Career development in Japan

In Japan, the issue of career paths is seriously taken by corporate entities. As a consequence, career development is a dominant theme in literature that focuses on HRM trends in corporate Japan. Although the HR challenges faced in Japan in this regard are in many ways related to those encountered in Western Europe and the Gulf region, some differences are evident. For example, in Japan, the traditional seniority system is more entrenched in the corporate world than in the Gulf and in Western Europe (McCormick, 2006). This system is rapidly collapsing, thereby offsetting the traditionally established corporate leadership structure.

In terms of similarities with the other regions it is evident that Japan is experiencing a situation where permanent work is collapsing. Similarly, employee work ethics are changing just in the same way as the long-established corporate attitudes towards the workforce (Tatsuno, 2009). Tatsuno (2009) argues that these changes, coupled with dramatic social changes, are making many Japanese professionals to postpone their career decisions, with many of them opting out of lifetime employment.

According to McCormick (2006), changes in the world of business and technology have had a far-reaching impact on career paths of engineers and scientists working in the field of industrial research and development. In a comparison between Japan and Britain, McCormick (2006) found out that there were similarities as well as differences in employees’ coping strategies as well as the HRM challenges for companies. Of particularly significance in this study was the challenge of mismatch between available career opportunities and staff career orientations.

Case study of Japan Airlines (JAL)

Japan Airlines (JAL) was founded in 1951 under the name Japan Airlines Co., Ltd. The company started off as a domestic carrier before growing to become today’s only scheduled international air carrier for Japan (Carman, 2006). The company also operates on various domestic routes within the country. Being an international carrier, most of the career development challenges being encountered at JAL mirror those of other international air carriers such as Emirates Airlines and British Airways.

One of these challenges is the mismatch between the staff career orientations as per the education and training offered and the available career opportunities at JAL. In order to deal with this challenge, JAL has designed a human resources development cycle, which begins with education and training. During this stage, the company explores employees’ ambitions in relation to the available career paths. In the next stage, the employees are exposed to advice from supervisors and senior colleagues, with the expectation being on putting into practice the skills they have already acquired. At this same time, the employees go through a learning process with the goal being self-development.

Such an approach is considered necessary because of the nature of work at JAL, which requires specialist expertise of a high level in many fields. At the company’s HR Development Center, the specialized training is offered within the framework of the company’s goals and philosophy. One of the core aims of the HR development cycle is to ensure that employees grow their careers to the level where they can claim to have reached their full potential. In 2006, for instance, JAL carried out some 235 in-house training sessions in which 4,663 employees participated. Just like in the case of Emirates Airlines, the JAL employees were taken through group-based job and career training.

At Japan Airlines, there is an overt acknowledgement by the management to the effect that employees are the company’s most valued resource (Greer, 2008). By attaching such a high value to employees, the company has been able to undertake career development programs for the benefit of the employees. Towards this end, the company focuses not just on what the employees do at the workplace but also the contributions they make to society.

Interestingly, though, the career development efforts at JAL are undertaken as part of the company’s CSR strategy. This approach differs from the one adopted at both the Emirates Airlines and British Airways. Moreover, JAL’s approach is different in the way it focuses on safety education, establishment of a corporate culture, and training exchanges among various department within the company.

The most unique aspect of JAL’s career development strategy is the introduction of the Shigoto Genki Program (Carman, 2006). This program is aimed at encouraging employees on ways of taking the initiative and working to improve their own skills while at the same time making lifestyle choices that enable them to express their capabilities fully. In this undertaking, a lot of emphasis is put on training and education programs that strengthen the so-called ‘human-asset development (Carman, 2006).

In a way, the career development program at JAL does not seem to explicitly set out a framework of ensuring that employees in different fields achieve their career goals. This is particularly so if one makes a comparison with the career development program at Emirates Airlines. At Emirates, there is clearly stipulated career path for crew members. There is even a suggestion on what employees can do in their careers in order to overcome the negative impact of the so-called career plateau stage.

For JAL, the main areas of emphasis include acquisition of knowledge, enhancement of skills, and sharing of values such as quality and safety (Carman, 2006). These issues do not necessarily have a direct link with career progression. Whereas an employee may feel the need to know the importance of service quality to customers, such awareness may not appear useful to him or her if not anchored into specific aspects of a career development program. Similarly, the program also emphasizes on building a sense of unity and interaction during information exchange across the company, something that employees may not readily associate with career development.

The farthest that these aspects of JAL’s career development go in helping employees with career progression challenges is creating three pillars. These three pillars include a business program, the Shigoto Genki Program, and a training system. The business program is designed to enable employees undertake all the roles expected of them as they go through the various stages of career development. In the Shigoto Genki Program, employees are encouraged to evaluate the direction their careers are taking every few years. In this program, an employee is able to plan his life as he anticipates retirement.


In summary, it is clear that there are many differences as well as similarities in the comparison between firms established in Western Europe, Gulf countries, and Japan with regard to HRM practices. In the present paper, focus was on British Airways, Emirates Airlines, and Japan Airlines (JAL) in the analysis of career development in companies operating in Western Europe, Gulf, and Japan respectively. In this analysis, structural, institutional, economic, legal, corporate-cultural, and socio-cultural factors have greatly helped assess the differences and similarities in the HRM practice of career development in the three airlines. The findings of this analysis suggest that the contemporary world is converging with respect to the practice of HRM.

In Western Europe, Gulf, and Japan, a clear trend was seen to emerge, whereby there was widespread emphasis on career development programs that enabled individual employees plan their everyday lives, including leisure time. In this regard, a trend towards preference for the protean career appeared to be emerging in each of the three regions. Similarly, in all the three areas, employees’ bargaining power was being increased in order to give them a sense of belonging, thereby enabling to fully participate in career development efforts. In such a context, dismissal protection measures are increasingly being put in place in all the three regions in order to increase the employees’ sense of entitlement and belonging in their jobs and careers. In the protean career, the boundary-less nature of contemporary jobs is emphasized, whereby employees of airlines are able to work in diverse areas and departments, thereby increasing their chances of succeeding in different career paths.

Similarly, career planning efforts are an integral element of employment relations in all the three airlines. At Emirates Airlines, employees are provided with two main career choices: one directing them to become down shifters and the other directing them to become flame-out trackers. Each career path has its benefits as well as challenges. Similar career planning strategies are being carried out by Japan Airlines. The only major difference in this regard is that in Japan, there is a lot of emphasis on the negative ways in which pressures of technological change are impacting on the careers of engineers and other employees involved in technical aspects of the company’s operations.

In regard to changing career dynamics and choices, Japan Airlines has not ruled out the plausibility of the affected employees postponing crucial career decisions. Other changes that have been unavoidable both at Japan Airlines and at British Airlines include the collapse of the traditional seniority system, loss of permanent work, lack of lifetime employment, changes in employees’ work ethics and dynamism in corporate attitudes towards workforce.

The global trend towards this convergence in HR practices, particularly with regard to career development is occasioned by dramatic social changes as well as other economic, legal, socio-cultural, and corporate-cultural factors. These factors have agglomerated to create a mismatch between the available career opportunities and staff career orientations.



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