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Ethics and HRM: Theoretical and Conceptual Analysis


  • Nadia Gama
  • Steve McKenna


  • Amanda Peticca-Harris


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. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Suggested Citation

  • Nadia Gama & Steve McKenna & Amanda Peticca-Harris, 2012. "Ethics and HRM: Theoretical and Conceptual Analysis," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 111(1), pages 97-108, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:jbuset:v:111:y:2012:i:1:p:97-108
    DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1479-z

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Edward Barratt, 2003. "Foucault, HRM and the Ethos of the Critical Management Scholar," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 40(5), pages 1069-1087, July.
    2. Roberts, John, 2001. "Corporate Governance and the Ethics of Narcissus," Business Ethics Quarterly, Cambridge University Press, vol. 11(01), pages 109-127, January.
    3. Brunk, Katja H., 2010. "Exploring origins of ethical company/brand perceptions -- A consumer perspective of corporate ethics," Journal of Business Research, Elsevier, vol. 63(3), pages 255-262, March.
    4. Catherine Truss, 1997. "Soft and Hard Models of Human Resource Management: A Reappraisal," Journal of Management Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 34(1), pages 53-73, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:kap:jbuset:v:143:y:2017:i:3:d:10.1007_s10551-015-2802-2 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Carol Linehan & Elaine O’Brien, 2017. "From Tell-Tale Signs to Irreconcilable Struggles: The Value of Emotion in Exploring the Ethical Dilemmas of Human Resource Professionals," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 141(4), pages 763-777, April.
    3. Stéphanie Arnaud & David Wasieleski, 2014. "Corporate Humanistic Responsibility: Social Performance Through Managerial Discretion of the HRM," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 120(3), pages 313-334, March.


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