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Human resource management : A critical approach - Semantic Scholar

To put it another way, the methodological tail may end up wagging the theoretical dog. The third concerns the relevance of research to practice. As models become complex and specialised, there is a risk that the results are of less apparent substantive relevance to practice. This might involve adding a new mediating or moderating variable to an existing model, for example. As a result, the research rarely generates major theoretical advances — rather, it chips away, on the assumption that knowledge is cumulative and progressive, and that each new piece of research puts in another piece of the jigsaw.

This is not of itself illegitimate — indeed there are compelling arguments for this approach — but the problem is that as this kind of work becomes more and more prevalent, there would seem to be less and less room for major theoretical advances. That is, it is presented in a form that seeks to emulate the conventions of the physical sciences and to present findings in mathematical terms, and to highlight neutrality and precision.

Consequently, papers that conform to the norms of scientific representation tend to be afforded greater legitimacy than those represented in other ways Harley and Hardy, The increasingly dominant approach to HRM research that I have mapped out above poses a significant challenge to critical and progressive scholarship. It would seem for the most part to be devoid of opportunities to advance theory in significant and interesting ways, especially outside correlational theorising. It also appears to have limited potential to inform practice.

Moreover, its rigour is of a rather narrow and limited kind. The obvious question this raises is what the preferable alternative would be. It is easy to criticise any body of research. A much more difficult thing to do is to put forward an alternative. This article does not pretend to propose anything approaching a definitive roadmap for future HRM research, but it poses a numbers of questions and possible responses that form a starting point for discussion. In the discussion that follows, I consider some possible prescriptions for dealing with the problems mapped out above.

Perhaps the focus on performance has contributed to the apparent obsession of mainstream scholars with quantification and precision.

HR Basics: Human Resource Management

It seems likely that this explains in part the current direction of research, and indeed some critics have argued that the focus on performance is so fundamentally problematic in theoretical and methodological terms Legge, ; Fleetwood and Hesketh, that it should be abandoned. Regardless of the views of critics, it seems unlikely that the current focus on performance will disappear in the foreseeable future.

Moreover, there are good reasons for critical scholars to engage with issues around performance. If HRM research is to be relevant to practitioners, then surely issues of performance need to be addressed. From a pragmatic point of view, research that focuses on performance seems more likely to attract government and industry funding than that which does not.

Perhaps the problem lies not with the focus on performance as such, but with the fact that this performance focus has been at the expense of a broader range of concerns. It seems clear that in the mainstream research, the human experience of work has become incidental — a means to an end — rather than a matter of concern in its own right.

That is, researchers should dispense with complex analysis, with incremental theoretical gains and with the associated ways of presenting research. Again, this does not seem a sensible thing to advocate. In first place, such an approach is unlikely to be displaced in the current institutional environment, and moreover nor should it be. The real problem here is that this approach has largely squeezed out other forms of work, to the point where it seems the normal and natural way to conduct research in the field of HRM.

The methodological narrowness of the dominant approach restricts the kinds of questions that are asked — those that can be assessed through the quantitative operationalisation of variables — and thus the kind of knowledge that is created. A further inference might be that social psychological theory has no place in HRM research. Clearly, this is difficult to sustain. The problem, however, is that this kind of theoretical explanation has become more or less the only explanation, rather than one of a number of explanatory frameworks, at least in papers published in highly ranked management journals.

The problem is not with the form the dominant approach takes per se. Like any approach, it has strengths and weaknesses. Where the problem lies is with an apparent belief on the part of many that the dominant approach is the best approach and that it should be preferred to others, to an extent where one particularly narrow approach appears to have become dominant almost to the exclusion of others. What then is the alternative? The argument being put forward here is not particularly radical.

It is simply a call for greater substantive, theoretical and methodological pluralism in research. That alternative approaches are possible within HR research is clear. For example, while much of the more critical research on HRM is conducted using qualitative methods and a broadly realist methodology, there is also a stream of critically oriented research that utilises survey data and statistical analysis e. To argue for greater pluralism is easy, but is there really any prospect of the current narrowing of the field being reversed?

Surely there are forces at work that are much bigger than the desires of individuals or small groups to change the status quo. It is beyond the scope of this article to provide a detailed account of how we came to the current situation, but a number of factors can be identified. In the first place, HR scholarship has historically been particularly influenced by two disciplines — psychology and economics — both of which might be seen as seeking to mimic the physical sciences and which have a strong emphasis on positivist ontology and epistemology. The legacy of this disciplinary influence is reflected in the fact that positivism is regarded as the legitimate — or certainly the most legitimate — position underpinning research.

More recently, as documented by Godard , the field of HRM has increasingly been colonised by industrial and organisational psychologists who have brought with them many of the practices discussed above. Kaufman also makes an argument about the deleterious effects of the colonisation of HRM by psychology, although his argument that this approach should be supplanted by one based on economics would seem likely to replace one narrow approach with another. In addition, there is the fact that management scholarship emerged in the US and spread from there.

Human Resource Management: A Critical Approach

There are also much broader changes in economy and society, which are reflected in the academic world, in which there is increasing rationalisation in a Weberian sense. In the face of such an environment, it is tempting to feel like there is no real prospect for substantive, theoretical or methodological pluralism in HRM research.

Moreover, given the power of social norms, many academics would not even question that this was the correct course of action. While not wishing to downplay the importance of the current institutional environment, it is clear that change is possible. The dominant approach, which we now tend to regard as normal or natural, is itself a relatively recent phenomenon. It is not that long ago that many leading journals published a much wider range of papers, including essays.

It seems plausible to argue that those of us involved in the academic enterprise can have some influence on outcomes, while also recognising that the impact of the actions of individuals and groups is not likely to lead to dramatic or rapid change. Most obviously, authors have a role to play. If we are concerned about the apparent narrowing of HRM research, surely we have a responsibility to publish papers that provide alternatives to the dominant approach.

This is challenging in the current institutional environment, where hiring, tenure, promotion and remuneration are increasingly linked to particular kinds of results. Indeed, it might well be deemed irresponsible to counsel early career scholars to challenge the current model, as this could have consequences for their careers. For more established academics, however, there are far fewer reasons not to do so. This would mean writing and submitting papers that challenge the current norms of scholarship in HRM.

The challenge here is to produce papers that do not conform to the norms, but which are theoretically and methodologically rigorous and which put forward genuinely new arguments. Clearly there is a risk in doing so, to the extent that rigour appears so often to be conflated with statistical rigour, with the potential for papers that are not statistical to be discounted as lacking rigour.

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It is possible, however, to find papers that are theoretically and methodologically rigorous and published in highly ranked journals, but that diverge in important ways from the dominant approach to HRM research either in terms of using statistical analysis to explore alternative theorisations e. Alvesson and Karreman, Journal editors also have a role to play. Editors are as much constrained by institutional pressures as any other members of the academic community, and few could plausibly argue that they are not concerned to some extent with their journals' impact factors.

To this extent, there is pressure on editors to publish papers that conform to the prevailing norms and that are thus likely to be cited highly.

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Editors can use their positions to challenge the status quo and to argue for more pluralism in approaches e. There is also a role for educational institutions, and for academics in their roles as teachers and doctoral supervisors, to foster plurality in methodology and theory. Surely, however, our responsibility as educators is also to ensure that students are exposed to a wide range of methods and theoretical frames, so that they are able to approach research from a variety of perspectives.

These may seem like rather limited prospects for change. The contributions in this special issue begin such an endeavor by addressing HRM critically and engaged along five important characteristics:. This special issue features four articles, four notes, as well as a four book reviews. Below, we give the reader a brief overview of the different contributions. To start with, Mogensen takes a critical look at the authentic individual at work. It is, however, not authenticity as such which is at stake, she argues. Rather, the concept seems to distract the discussion from a more relevant and interesting discussion.

Mogensen both identifies with — and distance herself from — critical management studies, as she argues that the focus on control and identity should be replaced by a focus on work tasks and work coordination. According to Mogensen, this would provide an opportunity for critical management studies to get closer to the everyday practices and challenges of the modern employee.

In the second paper, Stjerne distances herself from the rational perspectives that currently dominate analyses of selection processes in HRM literature and develops an aesthetic perspective on selection. Stjerne bases her analysis of aesthetic selection in a practice-based study of selection decisions in the Danish film industry. Although her analysis is built on empirical data from the film industry, it is argued that the findings go beyond the film industry and have more general applications for both theory and practice.

The paper argues that the rational selection theories are supplemented or partly replaced by an aesthetic element, which is a non-rational and non-measurable part of the selection process, and Stjerne argues with conviction that such an aesthetic experience is an immanent part of any selection decision. It does not imply that the aesthetic experience is and will be the same for all selection decisions.

On the contrary, it will always be contextual, but aesthetic experiences necessarily influence any selection decision. The third article, by Taskin and Ndayambaje, is based on a textual analysis of nine popular HRM textbooks English- and French-language. The textual analysis has a particular focus on one specific HRM practice: Performance evaluation.

The purpose is to analyze whether HRM is as amoral as most critics suggest. The authors suggest that HRM is the bearer of a univocal political project marked by objectification and subjectification. Objectification is about how humans are reduced to consumable objects, and subjectification is how the production of subjectivity is in line with the company strategy.

In this way, the employee in the HRM textbooks become a normative foundation of the HRM theories and practices by being a resource that is and works to accomplish the strategy of the company. Taskin and Ndayambaje applies a phenomenological perspective to distance themselves from the most prevalent theories and critiques of management. The authors offer a different perspective to the normative foundation of HRM theories and practices, which both shows how humanity in HRM is currently constructed and develops the means to reflect upon it.

The paper focuses on a teaching model in three steps: Telling, challenging and engaging, which also structures the analysis of the teaching practice and how it has developed. The teaching practices of the authors has in accordance with the ambitions of the teachers developed to be more critical and engaged, and simultaneously developed students to become more responsible professionals.


  • Five Different Perspectives of Human Resource Management;
  • The FAST Mission;
  • Human Resource Management in a Global Context: A Critical Approach.

The paper also discusses how the teaching practice might be developed further. The note section is equally rich in contributions addressing the problematics around ways to manage the human. Pedersen relates resilience to habits and highlights that resilience is not a character trait of the individual, but a complex dynamic process.

Human Resource Management in a Global Context: A Critical Approach

Therefore, he finds that practitioners should focus on three features of habits that all stress the dynamic nature of habit which at the same time counters our commonsense view of habits as something stable. Pedersen uses the note to highlight the following features: Habits are dispositions, habits are plastic, and habits are social to underline the dynamic aspects of habits and how the three features of habit inform contemporary employee resilience. The main learning is that a theory of resilience has to take habits into account if it is to understand the complexity of what it means to create a resilient workforce, which seems to be a major purpose for HR and organizations at the moment.

In the second note, Moon focuses on undisclosed or off-reference-list reference checks. Moon illustrates this briefly by examples from a university institution. Moon criticizes the HRM literature for not addressing this, as it is an immanent part of recruitment in many organizations maybe even most organizations , and therefore ought not to be absent in the HRM literature.

Moon also discusses the paradox that the information is suppressed or hidden in a process, which ought to be transparent in order to be considered ethical and legitimate. Gerard finds that psychoanalysis is unique among the critical approaches to HRM, as it emphasizes experience, and the note is a rather convincing argument for this positive view on the critical potential of psychoanalysis.

The last note, written by Kirkegaard , makes an allegory between contemporary working life and elite sport. Kirkegaard does so by looking at the many and very explicit similarities between consultants and elite sport people. Kirkegaard has interviewed 25 consultants from the Danish department of an international consulting firm, where some of them has been within elite sports before they became consultants. The similarities are many, but Kirkegaard has a focus on the fact that both elite sports people and consultants are very focused on success, which means that performance management is essential in all aspects of their lives.

The point with the comparison is that the consultants cannot distinguish between personal and professional norms as it is all about performance and success. The note illustrates this by providing two personal narratives from the consultants and how performance management is an integrated part of their very being.

The Critical Perspective of Human Resource Management

His research is focused on HRM, professions and management. Theoretically the he is, among other things, interested in the relations between sensemaking and institutionalization e. A special interest is the tension between management as a profession and other professions in organizations. A recent project investigates the academic-practitioner gap within HRM-research and practice in Europe.

During the last 30 years Frans has contributed to research, practice and debate within HRM, organization theory and management in roles as researcher, consultant and manager. Generally, Per has a strong interest in the creative industries and the experience economy. Her he has pursued the relation between art, organizing and leading Art-Based methods particularly in and around the Art of Management and Organization community.

Within this field he is particularly interested in poetry as a research method. Frans Bevort. Human Resource Management. And they further elaborate that: CMS should seek to become more performative. Mogensen, this issue: How can critical HRM studies be inspired by the debate on critical performativity? The contributions in this special issue begin such an endeavor by addressing HRM critically and engaged along five important characteristics: A commitment to taking the accounts of stakeholders seriously; Being explicit about the research interest of the author or other stakeholder interests ; An interest in challenging conventional wisdom in the field as well as in the debates on the topic; A common interest in finding ways to develop a performativity in HRM that serves all the stakeholders involved as a minimum and not just the privileged and powerful; An in-depth interest in how humans are managed in organizations; e.

How is performance of humans measured and with what consequences Taskin and Ndayambaje, this issue? How are management programs used by participants Mogensen, this issue? Introducing the papers This special issue features four articles, four notes, as well as a four book reviews.