Can HR ever be ethical?

Following on from last week’s post What is HRM? I asked the students for their opinions on whether HR can ever be ethical. If you are interested in the background to this lecture, please refer to last year’s blog post.

Yes, HR can be Ethical

This year there was a much clearer swing towards ‘yes’, although, as with last year, most of the yes answers were qualified ones, i.e. that HR can only be ethical when certain conditions apply. Unlike last year, three of the fifteen ‘yes’ answers were absolutely certain that HR is ethical, exemplified by this comment,

‘I think it’s ethical all the time’

The remaining responses falling into this category were yes followed by an ‘if’ or a ‘but’. Two started without the yes with something akin to, ‘In order for HR to be ethical it needs to….’. In total these answers posited a wide range of conditions to be met if HR is to be ethical including allowing everyone to contribute, having strong policies, procedures and values, and considering impact on different stakeholders. A handful of responses (5) noted that ethics are dependent on points of view of the ‘ethical standpoint’ of HR, the company owner or general business culture, and in particular;

‘It can be ethical if is used in the correct business culture that is people focused rather than results driven.’

Maybe HR can be Ethical

I put five responses which weren’t clearly a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ into the maybe category. The main thrust of these answers is that HR ‘tries to be ethical’ but is prevented from doing so because of company goals. Therefore, HR can never be 100% ethical. For example;

‘Although Human Resources tries to be ethical, it’s impossible for it [to] be 100% since they’re hired by the company.’, and;

‘HR tries to be ethical but will never manage 100%, this is often because HR can be company focused over employee’

No, HR can’t be ethical

This year only three answers fell into the clearly ‘no’ category. However, two of these followed on from the ‘maybe’ category that HR could never by ‘fully ethical’. The reason proposed here however was that not everything is within HR’s control, and thereby it is ‘impossible’ for HR to be ethical. One answer added that HR was, ‘too complex to be fully ethical’.

This leaves just one answer which is true ‘no’. I think this is my favourite answer, because it addresses (one of) the elephant(s) in the room which HR is still struggling to resolve while espousing ethical principles;

Can HR ever be ethical? ‘Not whilst the gender pay gap is still about’.

Thanks to the all the students who took part in this exercise and agreed for their comments to be put on the blog.

If you are interested in a humourous take on this week’s topic, check out this comic!

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