Flexibility versus Commitment in Personnel Management

Eugene Kandel, Neil D. Pearson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper compares human resources (HR) policies embedded in the Japanese and U.S. management systems. We adapt a model from the literature on irreversible investment and use it to examine the trade-off between flexibility to adjust the labor force and higher productivity stemming from the greater commitment of the firm to its employees. In the model, two types of contracts with otherwise identical workers can coexist. One possibility is for firms to commit to a permanent employment contract that precludes dismissal at will. The alternative is a temporary employment contract that allows flexibility to adjust the firm's labor force during demand downturns, but involves higher labor cost per unit of output. Using an example, we illustrate the possible magnitude of the value of flexibility and suggest that adopting long-term contracts in the wrong environment can significantly reduce firm value. The model yields predictions for the optimal labor force composition and its relation to the characteristics of the firm's market. We also consider practices that develop to complement permanent employment. The predictions are then examined in light of evidence on the HR practices in Japan and the United States in the past 50 years and are found to be consistent with the stylized facts in the literature. J. Japan. Int. Econ., December 2001, 15(4), pp. 515-556. Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)515-556
Number of pages42
JournalJournal of the Japanese and International Economies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations


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