With the reform of labor unions at the grassroots level in China, labor unions are exerting an increasingly positive influence on enterprises. In particular, under the current situation of increasing work pressure of employees and more labor disputes in enterprises, the roles of labor unions in improving employees’ emotions and behaviors and enterprises’ labor relations have attracted more and more attention. Unlike the tripartite industrial relationship model of “government-enterprise-employee （union）” in Western countries represented by the United States in which labor unions directly represent employees’ interests, the industrial relationship in China is characterized by a four-party model of “government-enterprise-employee-union” in which enterprise labor unions try to coordinate the interests of enterprises and employees. Under this circumstance, human resource management practices （HRMPs） and labor union practices restrict one another and cooperate with each other, forming a coupling relationship of mutual influence and interdependence, and achieve results that are difficult to be achieved by a single subject. However, theoretical research on this phenomenon lags behind management practices.
Following the procedure of construct domain specification, this study first explores the importance of the phenomenon and the conceptual definition of the construct of the coupling relationship, and then uses the qualitative research method of the grounded theory to identify the three components of the coupling relationship: mutual recognition, coordination and supervision. Specifically, the coupling relationship has the foundation of mutual recognition with the institutional guarantee of government laws and regulations, as well as the interdependence of HRMPs and labor union practices. The coupling relationship also has a wide range of agendas for coordination, integrating resources in many aspects such as managing labor relations, developing employee care, promoting corporate culture, improving employee participation, enhancing employee capabilities, and facilitating corporate innovation. Besides, the coupling relationship has the unique value of correcting each other and achieving sustainability through mutual supervision between the two, such as the participation of labor unions in the formulation of human resource management policies, the supervision of labor unions on human resource management to protect employees’ legal rights and fulfill contract obligations, and joint participation in collective negotiation.
This study makes several main contributions: First, it explores the construct of the coupling of HRMPs and labor union practices in Chinese enterprises, promoting indigenous studies on the relationship between the two types of practices. Second, it initially reveals the contents of the coupling relationship including mutual recognition, coordination and supervision, thus providing new insights for enterprises to improve HRMPs with the help of labor union practices, and offering guidance to improve operational efficiency for grassroots labor unions. Third, it promotes the integration of knowledge in the field of human resource management and industrial relations research, which is conducive to understanding and resolving labor conflicts. This provides practical implications for Chinese enterprises to build harmonious labor relations, thereby to safeguard employees’ interests and promote enterprises’ development simultaneously.