By Amanda Rose
Standards, values, morals and ethics have become increasingly complex in a postmodern society where absolutes have given way to tolerance and ambiguity. This particularly affects managers in HR, where decisions will affect people’s jobs and their future employment. This chapter explores some of the ethical dilemmas encountered in the workplace, discussing ethical behaviour and values that relate to HR. It looks at relevant ethical tools, such as utilitarianism and relativism in order to examine current practices in the workplace and their links to corporate social responsibility.
By the end of this chapter, you should be able to:
u Critically explore and evaluate the ethical nature of human resource management; u Identify and define current ethical and moral issues confronting HR managers; u Compare, contrast and critically appraise a range of approaches to ethical analysis; u Critically appraise the relevance and usefulness of philosophical analysis to HR practice. Introduction
Human Resource Management is a business function that is concerned with managing relations between groups of people in their capacity as employees, employers and managers. Inevitably, this process may raise questions about what the respective responsibilities and rights of each party are in this relationship, and about what constitutes fair treatment. These questions are ethical in nature, and this chapter will focus on debates about the ethical basis of human resource management.
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The ethical nature of HRM
‘All HR practices have an ethical foundation. HR deals with the practical consequences of human behaviour’.
‘The entire concept of HRM is devoid of morality.’
(Hart, 1993: 29)
Despite these moral appreciations of human resource management (HRM), there is a strong tradition in business that insists that business should not be concerned with ethics. As Milton Friedman, a vociferous proponent of this position, has put it:‘The social responsibility of business is to its shareholders. . . . The business of business is business’ (1970).
The core concern of business – proponents of the market economy argue – is in attempting to secure the best possible return on any investment. Any dilution of this focus will lead to the corruption of what is a finely balanced system. Businesses that seek to be ‘ethical’ as well as profitable will probably fail economically, following which the whole community may suffer. Rather, let the invisible hand guide the market and all will prosper. Like some evolutionary force, the best will always survive. Wealth will trickle down from successful enterprises, and humanity will be best served. Any constraint on the freedoms of the market – be they motivated by ethical angst or vote-seeking government policy – will just mess everything up. Notwithstanding the appeal of this position, a critique of business practice has continued to accumulate and assert itself, and to challenge the notion that business and morality have no meeting point. Concern has surfaced from a variety of sources: from consumer groups, political groups, religious and charitable organisations. Entrepreneurs (for example, Anita Roddick of The Body Shop (2000), academics and researchers (Winstanley and Woodall, 2000; Greenwood, 2002) and management professionals (Brown, 2003) have all expressed the view that standards of behaviour within business need to be evaluated, and improved.
A case can be made that negative consequences flow from poor ethical standards: u While short-term goals may be achieved through the cut-throat tactics of free market principles, in the long run business will survive better if good standards of conduct are maintained;
u Ethical business creates a positive environment in which to buy and sell, as corruption, poverty and lack of respect for the environment generate...