Exploring human resource management practices: an empirical study of the performing arts companies in Australia

Opara, S 2016, Exploring human resource management practices: an empirical study of the performing arts companies in Australia, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Management, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Exploring human resource management practices: an empirical study of the performing arts companies in Australia
Author(s) Opara, S
Year 2016
Abstract The purpose of this doctoral thesis is to explore human resource management systems and practices in the performing arts companies in Australia. This is in the context of the assumption that effective utilisation of HRM in an organisation can be a source of competitive advantage, provided that the policies and practices for managing people are integrated with the organisation’s strategic goals and objectives. Despite the growth of studies on strategic HRM in a range of industries and the economic contribution of the arts to the Australian economy, there has been no study available exploring how performing arts companies manage their human resources. This study aims to fill that gap.

This is a qualitative study comprised of two phases: the first phase was a set of semi-structured interviews with eight key industry stakeholders, designed to capture their perspectives in regard to the practice of HRM in the performing arts. Phase 2 investigated the HRM practices of three case organisations: a micro dance company, a medium-sized theatre company, and a large musical theatre company through key informant interviews and company documentation.

The study suggests that there are considerable barriers to the effective adoption and implementation of HRM in the performing arts. In particular, the research identified four major features that impact on HRM practices in the arts sector. These are: firstly, the precarious nature of employment, due to the short-term and project focused work. Secondly, the reliance on often limited government funding, supplemented by philanthropy, sponsorship and Box office takings, leading to short-term and long-term financial insecurity and limited capacity for long term planning. Thirdly, limited resources and high levels of casualisation which leads to low income, poor working conditions, lack of training and few opportunities for career development. Fourthly, despite these difficult conditions, the sector appears to attract a highly motivated and committed workforce including not just performers but also managers and administrators and the sector appears to rely on their passion, commitment and shared endeavour.

In relation to the practice of HRM, the findings suggest a personnel, administrative, cost focused and compliance-based approach, with little evidence of vertical or horizontal integration of HRM policies and no evidence of strategic HR practice. This was prevalent even in the large arts company suggesting that the sector context described above outweighs the usual advantage of organisational size and increased resources. Moreover, strategic HRM theory might be of less relevance in a sector where the nature of the work and the workforce leads to careers being seen in the context of the industry not the organisation. The performing arts workforce moves in and out of arts companies sometimes as employees sometimes as independent contractors. This has implications for HRM practice in individual companies and HRM theory in that building commitment to the company through HR is more challenging as managing costs is paramount in this sector.
This study also makes a theoretical contribution in that it challenges Lepak and Snell (1999) who argue that companies apply different HR strategies to different sections of the workforce by investing in employees who have strategic value and taking a cost focused approach to those employees that do not have strategic value. This study found that the very employees that provide the most strategic value to performing arts organisations i.e. the performers themselves are often in the most precarious position receiving little if any investment. The study also extends the work of Bowen and Ostroff (2004) by demonstrating how confused and inconsistent management messages can undermine HRM practices even in micro organisations.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Management
Subjects Human Resources Management
Keyword(s) HRM
Performing arts
Creative arts
Industrial relations
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Created: Fri, 26 May 2017, 14:02:50 EST by Adam Rivett
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