Purpose ‐ This research aims to answer the call for more empirical research on identity theory by exploring the role and impact of human resource management (HRM) policy, and the gap between HRM policy and practice, on organizations and their employees. It looks at the
role that soft policy plays in obscuring hard practice and considers the impact of unions and HRM role on policy. Design/methodology/approach ‐ This study uses survey data collected from the senior members of the HRM function in 189 large Australian organisations. Findings
‐ The research found a gap between policy and practice with soft policy being used more often than soft practice. It found that a gap between policy and practice has a negative impact on outcomes. Strategic HRM (SHRM) positively impacts on the implementation of soft practices reducing
the gap between policy and practice and impoverished HRM that lacks resources, power and time, has a larger gap between policy and practice. Unions did not improve outcomes by minimizing the gap between policy and practice. Research limitations/implications ‐ This paper used
survey data from HRM managers, who whilst being the best single source of information, may have distorted their responses. Further research is required to confirm these results using several data sources. Practical implications ‐ Managers and HR functions should increase both
soft policy and soft practice and ensure there is no gap between policy and practice. To achieve this, organizations should ensure that the HRM function is both strategic and effectively resourced. Originality/value ‐ This research makes a theoretical and empirical contribution
to debates on the role that HRM rhetoric plays in organizations. It also adds value to SHRM research and practice.