Human Resource Management is the discipline of organizational management which pertains to administration of all forms of personnel in an organization (Deckop and Deckop, 2006). Human Resource Management encompasses processes from recruitment of an employee to compensation management of the personnel and promotion decisions of employees to development of skill-set of the workforce. Human Resource Management practice does not rest only with Human Resource department within the organization; rather Human Resource functions are also performed by all personnel who are in some form of leadership or supervisory role (Simmons-Welburn and McNeil, 2004). The discipline of human resource is relevant to all forms of organizations and the entire personnel within the organization. In other words, Human Resource Management is all encompassing. Hence is the importance of the discipline. Human Resource Managers in simple terms are the connecting interface between personnel and the organization (Koster 2007).
Organizations are driven by goals and mission. An organization is not a living organism on its own, and the majority of the times organizations are oblivious of the needs of the employees. All personnel within the organization is focused on fulfilling the functional requirements of their job roles. Therefore, line managers, supervisors and functional heads very often remain oblivious to the satisfaction level and needs of the staff. HRM function is entrusted with the task of fulfilling the need of being sensitive to employees’ needs. The role of ethics within the HRM framework arises from the same need of being sensitive to employees’ needs. Ethical implications in the discipline of Human Resource Management are essential, because HR professionals are entrusted with highly sensitive tasks which entail significant professional responsibility. HR professionals are entrusted with the task of selecting only a few individuals among thousands of applicants. HR professionals also make decisions regarding promotion and professional growth of organizational staff. Reviews of HR professionals play the critical role in the determination of career success of a large number of personnel. For the aforementioned reasons, HRM is considered as the area of business with most profound ethical issues (Sims 2007).
Ethical considerations in the area of HRM are not only beneficial to employees rather they serve organizational needs, as well. Inadequate consideration for ethical issues eventually leads to detrimental impacts on the organization (Simmons-Welburn and McNeil, 2004). Unethical HR practices may seem to benefit short-term goals of the organization, however, they are highly damaging to sustainability of the organization. Furthermore, ethical HR practices create amicable working environment within an organization which are conducive to higher productivity and efficiency. This is because ethical HR practices ensure that the rights of ownership, management and employees are adequately balanced. This creates a harmonious working environment within the organization which directly leads to motivated performance by all organizational members (Durai 2010).
The subject of ethical practices in HRM has been the centre of attention of business researchers during the latter half of the twentieth century. Various theories have been proposed for the role of ethics in Human Resource Management. These theories are classified under several heads; namely, Justice Ethics, Virtue Ethics or Utilitarianism, etc. The focus of this paper is on the category of ethics in HRM termed as Kantian Ethics. Kantian Ethics were proposed by the prominent philosopher Immanuel Kant. Immanuel Kant believed that ethical consideration not only comprises of the way a person treats other around him/her, but also on the way a person treats himself/herself. The key stance of Kantian ethics is that ends do not justify the means. The methods used to reach an ethical objective should also be ethical (Cornelius 2001).
The thesis of the paper is that implementation of HRM is unethical in contemporary organizational environment. The paper critically evaluates the thesis in the light of research evidence and theoretical framework. In view of Emmanuel Kant, HRM is unethical because it reduces human beings to instruments which are manipulated (Davila and Elvira, 2008). Therefore, Kant believes those human beings are exploited under the practice of Human Resource Management which is unethical.
The foremost argument in evaluation of the hypothesis is that the discipline of HRM not only rests on the principle of promoting well-performers, but it also states that poor performers should be castigated (Jackson and Mathis, 2007). Therefore, it is considered ethical in HRM to lay off a worker which does not meet arbitrarily set standards even though the worker may have a dependant family to support (Simmons-Welburn and McNeil, 2004). It is not uncommon in an organization to layoff a large number of workers because they are not longer needed without any prior warning (Durai 2010). Even though, such an act maybe considered unethical from a humanistic perspective, yet under HRM discipline such actions are ethical as long as the organization fulfils its contractual terms by paying severance package. No wonder it is generally said in business that ethics and profits do not go together (Parker 1998).
One of common form of unethical behaviour in contemporary organizations is to impinge on the rights of weaker groups by the dominant group. Also, in several instances the management allies with the ownership of the company to exploit operational level staff. Several managers tend to consolidate power by promoting those workers who are their ally and likely to strengthen their position. Majority of the organizations tends to give preference to their profitability and reputation over wellbeing of employees. For instance, if some employee reports sexual harassment by a member of senior management, the organization will prefer to silence or to get rid of the employee rather than to take action against the culprit (Simmons-Welburn and McNeil, 2004). The reason is to look after the interest of the organization instead of upholding employees’ rights (Koster 2007).
Interestingly, several organizations prefer that the employees are not aware of their rights in the first place (Simmons-Welburn and McNeil, 2004). On the other hand, it is the responsibility of every organization that its employees should be clearly made aware of ethical principles in all disciplines. The functioning of any organization is a sum of individual decisions made within the organization. Once these decisions are made ethically, the organization can expect to uphold principles of ethics in all areas. Contemporary organizations are driven by the precept that implementation of ethics compromises profitability. For this reason, employees are considered merely a tool rather than a human being with emotions. In practice, scientific principle of management is most widely followed where workers are utilized akin to machines without much of a consideration for their motivation and intellectual input. The approach of management in the majority of the organizations is, in fact, to distance themselves from personal obligation to the workers and only treat them as one of the factors of production (Sims 2007). It is not uncommon within such organizations that employees are not given approval for sick leaves. Employees in such organizations are simply making a choice between their personal wellbeing and their career.
The fact of the matter is employees are after all human. They can never be isolated from their human needs and emotions. True employees are among the factors of production, but this factor of production requires thorough consideration to a holistic wellbeing. The unethical aspect of Human Resource Management is exactly this. HRM’s approach to employees is that of maximizing output from employees without consideration given to spiritual and emotional wellbeing of the workers.
Implementation of HRM leads management and ownership of the organization to believe that they have very effectively fulfilled their responsibility towards employees, while they have only fulfilled their legal responsibility towards their employees. Legal responsibility is only a fraction of the total responsibility an organization owes towards its employees. In fact, legal responsibility is secondary to the moral principles which an organization is required to follow towards its workers. HR function merely exists to deduct payroll of the employees rather than looking after their professional development.
Deplorably oftentimes deductions made from employees’ accounts for retirement benefits, insurance premiums or social security are not submitted to the relevant body, instead they used by the organization for their own investment purposes, if not embezzled by HR staff (Cornelius 2001). This information is not known to employees until they approach one of these departments to claim for their funds. Greatest shock is received by retirees who approach social security to find they have not pension to collect after decades of toil (Storey 2007).
Values are the fundamental requirement for implementation of ethical standards. Ethical values are categorized as primary values, secondary values and peripheral values. HRM function, more often than not, pertains to only peripheral ethical values. Peripheral values are theoretical values. Such values are only limited to texts and not implemented in real life situations. Secondary values are those which are compromised in the majority of circumstances. In this manner, HRM becomes originator of unethical business practices in the organization (Parker 1998).
In this day and age, most of the organizations are run autocratically. Decision making authority is restricted to the top hierarchical levels of the organization with little or no say of lower level staff in decision making (Pinnington, Macklin and Campbell, 2007). Strategic decision making in organization works by taking the decision among top executives and then passing on the decision to lower hierarchy for execution. It is not considered necessary to have buy-in of employees in decisions, even though the execution of decisions needs to be carried out by them (Pinnington, Macklin and Campbell, 2007). Several researchers have pointed out that better execution is carried out by members of the staff, if the decision is taken with their input. Ideally, the entire organizational information ought to be shared with the organizational members, so as to obtain intellectual input from all levels. However, organizations resort to hiding information from their own employees. Especially, information pertaining to profitability of the organization is withheld from the employees. It is assumed that employees will demand higher salaries, bonuses and incentives, if they get to know about profitability of the organization. Line managers and Human Resource staff are intent on gaining maximum output from employees by paying them minimum possible amounts (Koster 2007).
The above mentioned scenario breeds workforce which is de-motivated and dishonest with the organization. When workers feel that the organization is only concerned with its selfish objectives, then they adopt the same attitude towards their organization. Instead of putting their best effort into work, employees begin to find ways to delay work and to put minimum effort into work. Even if, such employees are forced to be physically present, they turn out to be mentally absent from their jobs. Tasks are performed to fulfil obligation rather than achievement of organizational goals. Turnover of employees is high among such organizations. Interestingly, the most useful members of the staff leave first because these are the ones which are able to secure jobs with greatest felicity. Also, talented human resource is least tolerant of work conditions where decisions are imposed and there is a perpetual sense of being cheated by their organization. High turnover of talented workforce is the beginning of a downward spiral for the organization (Cornelius 2001).
It is generally said that people attract circumstance and associates which resonates with their manner of thinking. This is also true of organizations. Unethical organizations attract unethical staff. Cases of embezzlement and fraud by employees are reported highest among those organizations which are themselves dishonest with their customers, creditors and, most importantly, employees. One possible explanation is that the sense of being cheated by the employer breeds feelings of injustice among employees. This instigates them towards fraud and cheating.
It must not be presumed that the paper states all organizations to be unethical in Human Resource Management practices. Such a stance would be immature. There exist organizations which are both ethical and moral in execution of HRM function. Ethical organizations create policies and procedures which promote ethical behaviour towards employees. The key aspect of such policies is that they are implemented indiscriminately. In such organizations, all organizational members are subjected to similar policies and principles irrespective of their hierarchical level. Promotion and demotion in such organizations is carried out irrespective of association with power groups. HRM function of such organizations also has in place recruitment criteria for hiring those workers who have a high regard for ethical behaviour. The purpose of such recruitment criteria is to ensure person-organization fit, and inculcation of ethical behaviour deep within organizational culture (Parker 1998).
This category of organizations is not hard to spot. They can be identified by their candid culture. Questions are not prohibited, unlike unethical organizations, and workers are encouraged to seek clarification regarding their compensation levels. Employees are encouraged to ask such questions because it gives an opportunity to management to show growth path to the staff. Once employees are communicated that they can shift to a higher level of pay if they contribute positively to the organization, then employees will work extremely hard to improve bottom-line of the organization. Both ownership and employees have benefited with such an approach. The organization has attained a win-win scenario.
For organizations which have an ethical HRM in place, occupational health and safety of employees is extremely important (Simmons-Welburn and McNeil, 2004). These organizations realize that trained human resource is a very valuable resource of the organization, and it needs to be taken care of. Well being of the employees is, therefore, top most priority because the organizations genuinely care for its members. Trade unions become redundant in such instances since the organization itself is focused on welfare of its employees (Storey 2007).
Implementation of Kantian ethics is the key differentiation aspect of such organizations. Actions are not justified only through the end; rather means are also considered important. HRM policies of such organizations will prohibit deceiving or lying to employees for the sake of profitability, since means are as important as the ends (Simmons-Welburn and McNeil, 2004). Kant also stated that lying to a person is total disrespect for human dignity and independence of thought. Employees should be treated with complete respect according to Kantian principles(Sims 2007).
The objective of the research is not to determine whether the discipline of Human Resource Management is inherently ethical or not. Rather, the investigation was focused on revealing the truth behind the myth that an organization cannot be both ethical and profitable. Several contemporary organizations can be found which are both ethical in its HRM practices and profitable. The key point is that employees of an organization are among its most valuable resource. This resource is different from machinery, assets and other resources since it is governed by emotions and cognition. If any organization mismanages this resource through unethical practices of HRM, then it will inevitably lead to the downfall of the organization (Storey 2007).
To sum up, it is possible for an organization to adopt both ethical HRM practices and still make handsome profits. Once the employees of the organization are viewed as a valuable resource rather than an expense item on the balance sheet, they can be engaged to contribute towards growth and profitability of an organization. The key is to create a set of ethical HRM policies based on ethical values of an organization. This creates a culture where both employees and the organization work for each other’s benefit. A virtuous cycle is created with a win-win situation. It is important that only short-term gratification should not be sought by management and ownership of the company. Long-term attainment of organizational goals is achieved along with implementation of ethical HRM practices in the organization (Koster 2007).
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