Literature Review Human Resources

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This literature review will seek to research, analyse and evaluate two areas in human resource management (HRM) relating to Ethics and HRM, and Employment relations.

Review 1 - Ethics and HRM

The study of ethics in Human Relations Management (HRM) seems fraught with a plethora of historical and contemporary theories which seek to find clarity in an ever changing and challenging business environment.

This review will identify the challenges faced by human resource professionals in ‘the honouring of duties owed to employees, stakeholders, and society in the pursuit of long-term wealth creation’ (Caldwell, Hayes, Bernal and Karri, 2008: 153) and will conclude that ethical HRM requires an understanding of the theories and principles; the organisational will to integrate these into their organisations strategic human resource management (SHRM) and the need to become a strategic partner in the management of the organisation.

Ethical stewardship

Smith and Hindman (2007: 16) claim that ‘Most people want to do the “right thing”. This is true in business as well as in life.’ To consider that this statement has merit, suggests that the debate over the theories and principles of ethics in HRM, can be seen to provide an understanding of how to achieve the best ethical outcome of a given situation.

Winstanley and Woodall (2006: 9) clearly state that ‘Ethical reasoning is the ability to draw on relevant theory and frameworks to make more explicit the alternative interpretations and responses that could be made to inform decision-making’.

Caldwell, Truong, Linh and Tuan (2011: 178) suggest that the responsibility falls in no small part, to the human resource professionals (HRPs) who ‘must encompass the moral perspectives of ethical stewardship and the unique contributions of transformative leadership’. Caldwell, et al. (2011) asserts that a key to long-term wealth creation is the alignment of the organisations strategic human resource management (SHRM) to their goals, values and priorities coupled with congruent and effective leadership.

Smith and Hindman (2007: 21) suggest that the challenge for the human resource professional is to determine ‘how to create a set of employment policies that provide increasing standards of living, fair treatment and adequate job security for employees, while at the same time providing adequate profits for the firm?’

Reason would suggest that this is not enough. Ethical relativism suggests that morality is relative to the norms of each individual’s culture. Schumann (2001: 93) produces an argument ‘that the theory of ethical relativism should be rejected and that it is meaningful to search for universal moral principles’. Schumann (2001) asserts that his moral principles framework incorporating five basic ethical rules or principles, would provide managers guidance, whilst pursuing profits. And yet, Winstanley and Woodall (2006) argue that there are still no universally agreed upon ethical frameworks.

Much debate centres on the ethics of organisations human resources. Greenwood, (2002) goes further to suggest concerns regarding the naming of human resources suggesting that this can place staff in the same position as office equipment.

Employees are much more that the wheel that turns any organisation. Friedman (2009: 229) identifies ‘… human capital as the critical value driver of corporate reputation’. This reminds us that organisational ethics can impact upon the organisations internal and external stakeholders.

Winstanley and Woodall (2006:5) provides a strong case for the ethical ‘rearmament’ of HR professionals, by suggesting practical ways in which the exercise of ethical sensitivity and awareness might become a legitimate reference point alongside the prevalent recourse to arguments justifying ‘the business case’, strategic fit’ and ‘best practice’.

Mathenge (2011: 8) makes the observation that ‘A tension often exists between a...
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