HR Strategies

Topics: Evidence-based medicine, Management, Decision making Pages: 15 (8870 words) Published: August 18, 2015
doi: 10.1111/j.1748-8583.2011.00173.x


Becoming an evidence-based HR practitioner
Denise M. Rousseau, Carnegie Mellon University
Eric G. R. Barends, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Human Resource Management Journal, Vol 21, no 3, 2011, pages 221–235 Evidence-based HR (EBHR) is a decision-making process combining critical thinking with use of the best available scientific evidence and business information. We describe how to get started as an evidencebased HR practitioner. Actively managing professional decisions is a key aspect of EBHR. Doing so involves making decisions, especially consequential or recurring ones, using practices supported by high-quality research. We present a step-by-step set of approaches to becoming an evidence-based HR practitioner: from getting started, through everyday practices and continuous learning to integrating EBHR into your organisation. In offering guidance for evidence-based practice, this article underscores the connection between effective practice and organisational research. Contact: Denise M. Rousseau, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890, USA. Email:





he complexity and fast pace of today’s organisations often lead to knee-jerk business decisions, fad chasing and guesswork regarding ‘what works’. Busy HR managers may put on autopilot critical choices affecting the future of their firms, their employees and the public. The HR practitioner does have a way to learn how to make better-quality decisions and use HR practices that actually work – becoming an evidence-based HR (EBHR) practitioner. This article is a primer on the what, why and how of evidence-based HR practice. It is written with the HR practitioner in mind as well as the HR student and consultant. In celebration of HRMJ’s 21 years of publishing academic research which pays particular attention to policy and practice, we describe how practitioners can use research in their day-to-day management activities. The issues we address can also apply to HRM scholars seeking to make their research more accessible to practitioners.

EBHR is motivated by a basic fact: faulty practices and decision making abound in HR. Companies persist in using unstructured interviews to try to assess a job candidate’s fit, even though there is little evidence that typical interviews can do that (Stevens, 2009). HR departments often pursue one-size-fits-all standardisation in their policies, despite considerable evidence that programmes promoting flexibility benefit people and firms (Rousseau, 2005). In all honesty, can you answer ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Do you know the scientific evidence for ANY of the HR practices your company uses?’ Recent surveys of HR practitioners lead us to suspect that the frank response from many readers is ‘no’.

Blind faith has no place in professional practice. The fundamental problem is not so much that a practitioner lacks scientific knowledge (though that is an issue). Rather, the key problem is the absence of a questioning mindset. Thinking critically is what good professionals do. Wondering what works, what does not and why is the first step towards improving practice. Critical thinking means actively exploring alternatives, seeking understanding and testing assumptions about the effectiveness of one’s own professional decisions and activities. HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT JOURNAL, VOL 21 NO 3, 2011


© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Please cite this article in press as: Rousseau, D.M. and Barends, E.G.R. (2011) ‘Becoming an evidence-based HR practitioner’. Human Resource Management Journal 21: 3, 221–235.

Evidence-based HR practitioner

The opposite of critical thinking is imitation, reliance on copycat practices from other companies, while ignoring widely available scientific findings regarding what works and what does not. Most insights from HR research...

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