Human Resource Management Journal
Authors: Diana Winstanley
Authors: Jean Woodall
Subject Terms: Studies Human resource management Business ethics
Classification Codes: 9175: Western Europe 9140: Statistical data 6100: Human resource planning 2400: Public relations
Geographic Names: United Kingdom UK
The relative absence of debate about ethical issues within the area of human resource management is addressed. IT is argued that ethics is not about taking statements of morality at face value; it is a critical and challenging tool. The discussion starts with what should be familiar terrain: ethical arguments that uphold a managerialist position, such as ethical individualism, utilitarianism, and "Rawlsian" justice. Other theories are then introduced that broaden the field of ethical concern in an endeavor to be more socially inclusive: stakeholding and discourse theory. Copyright Eclipse Group Ltd. 2000
Until very recently the field of business ethics was not preoccupied with issues relating to the ethical management of employees. Apart from the development of ethical awareness among managers (Snell, 1993; Maclagan,
1998) and the ethical dimension of change management processes (Mayon White, 1994; McKendall, 1993), there has been little debate around the ethical basis of much HR policy and practice. The main debates in business ethics have centred around the social responsibility of business in relations with clients and the environment. They only touch on employee interests as one of several stakeholders or only to the extent that employees might suffer adversely in terms of health and personal integrity as a consequence of their role in producing the organisation's goods and services. The fact that the way in which employees are managed may invite ethical scrutiny appears to have been overlooked. Conversely the academic discipline of HRM has not been inclined to admit an ethical perspective, which recently struck some leading authors in the field as 'a curiously undeveloped area of analysis'(Mabey Salaman and Storey 1998: 15), though there have been some articles in professional and academic journals (Legge,1997,1998; Miller,1996a,1996b).
Three UK conferences on ethical issues in contemporary HRM in 1996, 1998 and 2000 have highlighted many evolving themes in this area, as reported in a special issue of Personnel Review (Vol. 25, no. 6,1996) and in Business
Ethics: A European Review (Vol. 6, no. 1,1997). This article seeks to go beyond either dissecting individual HR practices to identify whether they are moral or debating whether the totality of HR is 'ethical'. Instead, it seeks to raise the level of ethical debate by using a variety of frameworks and it argues that raising ethical awareness and sensitivity is the main task for both HR academics and professionals.
This article concludes by making a strong case for the ethical 'rearmament' of HR professionals, by suggesting practical ways in which the exercise of ethical sensitivity and awareness might become a legitimate reference point alongside the prevalent recourse to arguments justifying `the business case', 'strategic fit' and 'best practice'.
EARLIER WORKS ON ETHICS
On the whole, ethical issues have been of marginal significance to the unfolding academic debates around human resource management. The Harvard analytical framework for HRM (Beer et al, 1984: 16) was one of the earlier models to suggest that, as well as…