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Questioning 'ethical' HRM

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journal contribution
posted on 02.11.2017, 06:12 by Greenwood, Michelle R.
The development of an ethical perspective of Human Resource Management is still in its early stages. It arises in part from concern of some writers with uncritical acceptance of soft HRM as 'ethical'. Many have voiced concern about the double-edged sword of soft HRM. This paper adds to the debate by highlighting the often-overlooked yet fundamental distinction between engaging employees and acting in the interests of employees. The assumption of a direct and positive relationship between engagement of employees through soft HRM practices and the ethical treatment of employees within mainstream HRM literature is a dilemma. It is problematic not just because it may be inaccurate but, more importantly, because it may be misleading. The concern is that, rather than being necessarily ethical, soft HRM may in fact be unethical. The following paper is divided into four sections. First there is a brief overview of the various perspectives of HRM and the development of an ethical perspective of HRM. Next the depiction of HRM policy and practices as either 'soft' or 'hard' is established. The dual nature of HRM in modern organisations is explored and concerns about soft HRM practices are identified. Subsequent, the fundamental problem within the HRM literature of the conflation of employee engagement and ethical treatment of these stakeholders is identified. The need for the separation of these two constructs is established. Finally the potential implications for HRM as an ethical practice are raised.


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Monash University. Faculty of Business and Economics. Department of Management

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