HRM in Denmark and Norway

Strong managerial autonomy has never been a feature of Danish employment (Kristensen, 1992; Bevort, Pedersen, and Sundbo, 1995), in large part because the labor union movement, with delegates firmly entrenched even in relatively small enterprises (Slomp, 1995), has been too powerful to permit this. Instead, Denmark is distinguished by a closely linked institutional system of cooperation and negotiation (Bevort, Pedersen, and Sundbo, 1995). Changes in employment practices are subject to bipartite agreements, with the state functioning both as a mediator and a guarantor.

A recent survey conducted among European companies through the Euronet-Cranfield research program and covering the period 1991-1995, indicates no significant changes in the balance of power between unions and management in Danish firms. The 23 percent of firms reporting a decrease in local union influence are outweighed by the 77 percent either reporting an increase or no change (Nordhaug, 1997). The stability of the labor union influence in the Norwegian system appears to be even more entrenched than that of the Danish, with only 8 percent of the Norwegian firms reporting any decrease in local union influence in the period 1991-1995 (Nordhaug, 1997).

The institutionalized local pattern of cooperation has resulted in relatively informal employer-employee relations at the firm level, but this collaborative approach must not be confused with commitment, in the sense that individual employees uncritically identify with the aims of the firm and view their personal and professional competence development as being at one with these aims. On the contrary, there is still considerable identification with the worker collective, particularly among low-level male employees. In other words, there remains engrained in Danish as well as Norwegian worklife an assumption of divergent and conflicting interests between employer and employees at the firm-level and, therefore, an ongoing resistance to calculative practices.

In a comparison of the legislative environment for worklife in Denmark and Norway, Graver (1995) observed that in both countries there is a strong and pronounced framework intended to ensure that conflicts are resolved at the firm level. Labor unions are legally entitled to be consulted on issues relating to major structural changes, such as downsizing, outsourcing, and potential mergers. Graver (1995) concluded that there is a distinct Scandinavian model of employment law that is sufficiently general to permit personnel departments to experiment with and implement human resource management practices of the collaborative type. Concomitantly, the law preserves the rights of labor unions to withdraw their cooperation in the case of disagreement with the management. As Borgen (1995) indicated, the sense of security granted by the national framework of government- guaranteed agreements makes it possible for labor unions to involve themselves in the development of collaborative, firmlevel solutions designed to contribute to enhanced functional flexibility (Simensen and Isaksen, 1995; Gooderham and Nordhaug, 1997).

In summary, in Denmark and Norway, labor unions generally both possess and exert considerable influence on the management of firms. Together with the fact that individual rights of employees are strongly protected by laws and agreements, this means that the general autonomy of management is significantly restricted. At the same time, the legislative framework is so general that personnel departments are not burdened with having to oversee the mass of detail that their German and French counterparts have to deal with. Consequently, the personnel function has the opportunity to innovate in terms of collaborative practices.

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