HRM has an ethical dimension; that of exercising concern for the interests (well-being) of employees, bearing in mind Schneider’s (1987: 450) view that ‘organizations are the people in them: … people make the place’. Beer et al (1984: 13) emphasized that: ‘It is not enough to ask how well the management of human resources serves the interests of the enterprise. One should ask how well the enterprise’s HRM policies serve the well-being of the individual employee’ (original emphasis). Ulrich (1997: 5) argued that HR professionals should ‘represent both employee needs and implement management agendas’. Boxall et al (2007: 5) pointed out that: ‘While HRM does need to support commercial outcomes (often called “the business case”), it also exists to serve organizational needs for social legitimacy’.
Ideally an ethical approach would involve:
- treating people equally in terms of the opportunities for employment, learning and development provided for them;
- treating people according to the principles of procedural justice (Adams, 1965 and Leventhal, 1980), ie the ways in which people are managed are fair, consistent and transparent;
- treating people according to the principles of distributive justice (Adams, 1965 and Leventhal, 1980), ie rewards are distributed to them according to their contribution and they receive what was promised to them;
- treating people according to the principles of natural justice, ie individuals should know the standards they are expected to achieve and the rules to which they are expected to conform, they should be given a clear indication of where they are failing or what rules have been broken and, except in cases of gross misconduct, they should be given a chance to improve before disciplinary action is taken;
- taking account of the views of employees on matters that affect them;
- being concerned with the well-being of employees as well as the pursuit of commercial gain;
- offering as much security of employment as possible;
- providing a working environment that protects the health and safety of employees and minimizes stress;
- acting in the interests of providing a reasonable balance for employees between their life and their work;
- protecting employees against harmful practices at work, eg bullying, harassment and discrimination.
But ethical behaviour on the part of employers may not be regarded as important and certainly does not necessarily happen. It was asserted by Winstanley and Woodall (2000: 6) that ‘the ethical dimension of HR policy and practice has been almost ignored in recent texts on HRM, where the focus has shifted to “strategic fit” and “best practice” approaches’. Grant and Shields (2002) stated that the emphasis typically placed on the business case for HRM suggests a one-sided focus on organizational outcomes at the expense of employees. It is interesting to note that overall ethical considerations are not mentioned in the 2009 version of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Profession Map – does this mean that the professional institute for HR practitioners in the UK attaches no importance to ethics?