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!

Failing businesses owe multiple debts

It’s unfortunate, but not unexpected news that retail giant BHS has had to call in the administrators – an all too common trend among time served retailers. Of those who haven’t crumbled like C&A or Woolworths, many (WHSmith for example) have been close. Understandably, a common pressure placed on businesses to perform is that of its shareholders. They’ve made a financial investment which failure will see them lose, and conversely if the business is successful they may make significant gains. But what about other types of investments made in businesses – of time, of careers, of people? Retail workers don’t deserve to be mistreated, as has been the case in the past, or to be tainted with the mark of failed enterprise. They certainly do deserve our sympathy. Continue reading “Failing businesses owe multiple debts”

HR Students: Who to Follow on Twitter

I’ve never done any kind of “who to follow” or “best of” post before because there’s so many people on Twitter and other platforms sharing great content. However, it’s a question I’m increasingly asked by my students. They’re poised to embark on their HR careers and they want to know what’s happening out there in the real HR World. A number are also writing HR/social media dissertations and want to find out specifically about HR on social media. Continue reading “HR Students: Who to Follow on Twitter”

Rethinking Networking

One of the modules I teach involves the use of case studies to bring key Human Resources issues to life. A recent theme was learning and development, with one of the questions asking students to think about learning via networks. This generated some confusion. Isn’t networking about circulating a room, making uncomfortable small talk and handing out your business card? Where is the learning in that?  Continue reading “Rethinking Networking”

#CIPD15 Key Themes Day Two

@hrpotential‘s lowdown on the key themes of the second and final day of #CIPD15

The right network

Linking back to yesterday’s theme of diversity driving innovation, there was a lot to be said on day two about expanding networks. But wait a minute, we do that all the time right? Maybe so, but not with the right people. Continue reading “#CIPD15 Key Themes Day Two”

15 Shades of HR #CIPD15

First of all apologies for paraphrasing the title of what must be this century’s worst successful book, if not ever. Neither is it particularly original, but then what is? I’m more sorry that via the existence of this blog post I’m going to have to admit that I’ve read the darn thing, if only to see what all the fuss was about.  Continue reading “15 Shades of HR #CIPD15”

HR Use Your Brain

My day is hardly ever complete without reading and sharing a thought-provoking HR article on my Twitter feed. I have various reasons for sharing – mainly because I’ve enjoyed them and think my peers will too. Sometimes it’s because they have interesting new ideas that I might want to try or consider further. I don’t really use my feed as a platform to criticise or decry particular articles because this doesn’t really fit with my generally positive outlook. However, yesterday was different. Continue reading “HR Use Your Brain”

HR Wanderlust


This morning an email popped into my Inbox with the title, “Who Else Has Wanderlust?”. Fair dues to the marketers and the online activity monitoring software, it’s actually something I’ve been thinking about lately. It started with my Etsy obsession (which fits rather neatly with my shopping obsession), and the cute little necklace shown in the photo, which has been sitting in my favourite items ever since I opened my account a few years ago. Continue reading “HR Wanderlust”

The Office goes Back to the Future


While none of us have a crystal ball we’re pretty fond of trying to look ahead to what the future might hold for us. As far as organisations are concerned a competitive edge only comes with predicting what’s just around the corner. I’m pretty scathing when it comes to business buzzwords, but I actually quite like the term ‘Horizon Gazing’. I think it evokes an ethereal quality, staring out at the setting sun. In many ways this is what we might as well be doing if we’re trying to predict the future. Continue reading “The Office goes Back to the Future”

Top Tips from #PeopleAnalytics15


If you’ve looked at my blog and/or Twitter feed this week you can’t have failed to notice how inspired I was by #PeopleAnalytics15. With such a focussed agenda it was inevitable that things got a little repetitive as the conference progressed, but I found reassurance in the realisation that an effective people analytics function can be developed when adhering to a few key points. I realise there’s already quite a few posts of this type around, but I always find it helpful to crystallise your own thoughts and translate your learning to your own context. Therefore here are my top tips from the event.

Continue reading “Top Tips from #PeopleAnalytics15”