Methods of Human Resource Accounting - Historical Cost Approach - Replacement Cost Approach - Opportunity Cost

1. Historical Cost Approach

This approach was developed by William C. Pyle (and assisted by R. Lee Brummet & Eric G. Flamholtz) and R.G. Barry corporation, a leisure footwear manufacturer based on Columbus, Ohio (USA) in 1967. In this approach, actual cost incurred on recruiting, hiring, training and development the human resources of the organisation are capitalised and amortised over the expected useful life of the human resources. Thus a proper recording of the expenditure made on hiring, selecting, training and developing the employees is maintained and a proportion of it is written off to the income of the next few years during which human resources will provide service.

If the human assets are liquidated prematurely the whole of the amount not written off is charged to the income of the year in which such liquidation takes place. If the useful life is recongnised to be longer than originally expected, revisions are effected in the amortisation schedule. The historical cost of human resources is very similar to the book value of the other physical assets. When an employee is recruited by a firm, he is employed with the obvious expectation that the returns from him will far exceed the cost involved in selecting, developing and training in the same manner as the value of fixed assets is increased by making additions to them. Such additional costs incurred in training and developing is also capitalised and are amortised over the remaining life. The unexpired value is investment in human assets. This method is simple to understand and easy to work out. It meets the traditional accounting concept of matching cost with revenue.

It can provide a basis of evaluating a company’s return on its investment in human resources. But it suffers from the following limitations:

    • It takes into account a part of the employees acquisition costs and thus ignores the aggregate value of their potential services.

    • It is difficult to estimate the number of years over which the capitalised expenditure is to be amortised.

    • It is difficult to determine the rate of amortisation. Should it be increasing, constant or decreasing one?

    • The economic value of human resources increases over time as the people gain experience. But in this approach, the capital cost decreases through amortisation.

2. Replacement Cost Approach –

This approach was first suggested by Rensis Likert, and was developed by Eric G. Flamholtz on the basis of concept of replacement cost. Human resources of an organisation are to be valued on the assumption that a new similar organisation has to be created from scratch and what would be the cost to the firm if the existing resources were required to be replaced with other persons of equivalent talents and experience. It takes into consideration all cost involved in recruiting, hiring, training and developing the replacement to the present level of proficiency and familiarity with the organisation.

This approach is more realistic as it incorporates the current value of company’s human resources in its financial statements prepared at the end of the year. It is more representative and logical. But it suffers from the following limitations:

    • This method is at variance with the conventional accounting practice of valuing assets.

    • There may be no similar replacement for a similar certain existing asset. It is really difficult to find identical replacement of the existing human resource in actual practice.

    • The determination of a replacement value is affected by the subjective considerations to a marked extent and therefore, the value is likely to differ from man to man.

3. Opportunity Cost –

This method was first advocated by Hc Kiman and Jones for a company with several divisional heads bidding for the services of various people they need among themselves and then include the bid price in the investment cost. Opportunity cost is the value of an asset when there is an alternative use of it. There is no opportunity cost for those employees that are not scarce and also those at the top will not be available for auction. As such, only scarce people should comprise the value of human resources.

This method can work for some of the people at shop floor and middle order management. Moreover, the authors of this approach believe that a bidding process such as this is a promising approach towards more optional allocation or personnel and a quantitative base for planning, evaluating and developing human assets of the firm. But this approach suffers from the following limitations:

    • It has specifically excluded from its preview the employees scarce or not being ‘bid’ by the other departments. This is likely to result in lowering the morale and productivity of the employees who are not covered by the competitive process.

    • The total valuation of human resources on the competitive bid price may be misleading or inaccurate. It may be due to the reason that a person may be an expert for one department and not so for the other department. He may be valuable person for the department in which he is working and thus command a high value but may have a lower price in the bid by the other department.

    • Under this method, valuation on the basis of opportunity cost is restricted to alternative use within the organisation. In real life such alternative use may not be identifiable on account of the constraints in an organisational environment.