Managing our ‘human resources’ at work: Where’s the wellbeing?

Professor David Guest (image courtesy of King's College, London)

The obsession of human resource management (HRM) research to link with performance over the last thirty years, is yet to prove that such an association makes a big influence. HRM strategies that ask what an organisation can get out of workers is also stalling, and is more likely to backfire in the contemporary (Western) employment relationship.

Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing visitor, Professor David Guest (King’s College, London), suggests a new response is needed; one that produces a positive employment relationship with outcomes desired by both employees and organisations.

During his 1 March presentation (delivered to a packed house at Griffith’s Nathan and Gold Coast campuses), David posed alternatives to this performance-HRM approach:

“We need to focus on mutual benefits for stakeholders, the employment relationship as an integrating framework, and worker wellbeing as a primary goal. …Employee-centred HRM that supports psychological, physical and social wellbeing … [can ] build upon existing [HRM research]…antecedents…including Warr’s Vitamin-; Walton’s conditions for High Quality of Working Life-; and Bakker, Demerouti and Schaufeli’s Job Demands-Resources Models.”

Professor Guest further highlighted the benefits of replacing the dominant (and assumed) causal link between HRM practices which focus on employee ability, motivation and opportunity (AMO) to result in high performance outcomes, with a wellbeing focus:

“By focussing on employees, [a wellbeing-centred] approach allows [researchers] to incorporate a social exchange perspective at a collective level – the employment relationship – and individual level – workers’ psychological contract, issues of trust; [all of which] implies a positive employment relationship. It also offers a realistic perspective that recognises the legitimacy of the main stakeholders – potential differences, and shared, areas of interest, mutual gains (including performance) etc..”

Professor David Guest presents an alternative to the HRM-performance paradigm during a 1 March, 2016 seminar.
Professor David Guest presents an alternative to the HRM-performance paradigm during a 1 March, 2016 seminar.

In concluding, David suggests that for researchers, “the challenge [lay] in identifying HR practices that invest in employees, provide interesting work, a positive social and physical work environment, two-way communication between the employer and employee/s, and organisational support through the likes of flexible working arrangements, performance management, and inclusivity.”

“The changing external context,” he adds, “presents threats to workers’ wellbeing and workers’ commitment to organisational goals. Current HRM research is both ignoring workers’ concerns and failing to significantly progress the field. It is recommended that research…takes into account the internal and external contexts of work.”

Contact the Centre for access to a recording of this seminar: wow@griffith.edu.au.