Ethics and social responsibility - do HR professionals have the ‘courage to challenge’ or are they set to be permanent ‘bystanders'?

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Parkes, Carole ; Davis, Ann J. (2013)

This paper considers the role of HR in ethics and social responsibility and questions why, despite an acceptance of a role in ethical stewardship, the HR profession appears to be reluctant to embrace its responsibilities in this area. The study explores how HR professionals see their role in relation to ethical stewardship of the organisation, and the factors that inhibit its execution. A survey of 113 UK-based HR professionals, working in both domestic and multinational corporations, was conducted to explore their perceptions of the role of HR in maintaining ethical and socially responsible action in their organisations, and to identify features of the organisational environment which might help or hinder this role being effectively carried out. The findings indicate that although there is a clear understanding of the expectations of ethical stewardship, HR professionals often face difficulties in fulfilling this role because of competing tensions and perceptions of their role within their organisations. A way forward is proposed, which draws on the positive individual factors highlighted in this research to explore how approaches to organisational development (through positive deviance) may reduce these tensions to enable the better fulfilment of ethical responsibilities within organisations. The involvement and active modelling of ethical behaviour by senior management, coupled with an open approach to surfacing organisational values and building HR procedures, which support socially responsible action, are crucial to achieving socially responsible organisations. Finally, this paper challenges the HR profession, through professional and academic institutions internationally, to embrace their role in achieving this.
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