, Volume 111, Issue 1, pp 97-108
Date: 07 Sep 2012

Ethics and HRM: Theoretical and Conceptual Analysis

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Despite the ongoing consideration of the ethical nature of human resource management (HRM), little research has been conducted on how morality and ethics are represented in the discourse, activities and lived experiences of human resource (HR) professionals. In this paper, we connect the thinking and lived experiences of HR professionals to an alternative ethics, rooted in the work of Bauman (Modernity and the Holocaust, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1989; Theory, Culture and Society 7:5–38, 1990; Postmodern Ethics, Blackwell, Oxford, 1991; Approaches to Social Enquiry, Polity Press, Cambridge, 1993; Life in Fragments, Blackwell, Oxford, 1995) and Levinas (Otherwise than Being, or, Beyond Essence, Duquesne University Press, Pittsburgh, PA, 1998). We argue that the study of HRM and ethics should be contextualized within the discourses used, the practices and activities of HR professionals. Through the analysis of interview data from 40 predominantly Canadian HR practitioners and managers we experiment with Bauman’s notion of ‘moral impulse’ to help us understand how HRM is both a product and perpetuator of moral neutralization in organizations. We suggest that HRM as it is practiced is concerned with distancing, depersonalizing, and dissembling, and acts in support of the ‘moral’ requirements of business, not of people. However, we also recognize that HR practitioners and managers are often confronted with and conflicted by actions and decisions that they are required to take, therefore opening possibilities and hope for an alternative ethical HRM.

An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10551-012-1532-y.