Business and Management INK

Understanding HR Managers’ Role in Shaping Fair Organizational Policies and Practice

July 9, 2024 278

In this article, researchers Katie Geradine and Ishbel McWha-Hermann reflect on the connection between global crises, social inequalities, and the role of human resource managers in the workplace. This topic is the inspiration behind their research article, “In search of decent work: Human resource managers as custodians of fair reward in international NGOs,” found in The German Journal of Human Resource Management, formerly Zeitschrift für Personalforschung.

We conducted this research in the context of a world responding to an increasing number of global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. What was evident from these global crises was the pressing need to address social inequalities and the increasing importance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a roadmap to peace and prosperity for people and planet. As human resource (HR) scholars we were interested in understanding how HR managers contribute to delivering SDG 8, ‘Decent Work and Economic Growth’, where they have a critical role to play.

For us, a key component of decent work is fair reward and it was through this lens we wanted to explore our research. We choose to investigate fair reward within the International NGO sector because of their direct contribution to delivering the SDGs through their programmatic activities and therefore, the assumption that this contribution should extend to their internal policies and practices. However, previous research has shown their reward practices have not always aligned with their social mission because of the historic way pay has been structured, with national and international staff being paid on (often substantially) different salary and benefits scales and packages. This is due to the historic need to offer attractive packages to bring needed skills to challenging locations, and to remunerate aid and development workers for the hardship inherent in the work.

These days a lot has changed within the INGO sector, and in many cases these large packages are no longer appropriate. Furthermore, there is increasing recognition that they may undermine national employee wellbeing and engagement at work, potentially reinforcing historic and symbolic power dynamics. 

In response to this changing landscape many HR managers in international NGOs are exploring new ways to structure reward. However changing pay systems is difficult and we wanted to understand why and how HR managers are pushing for change. We therefore spoke to HR managers to find out what influences them to enact fair reward in their organizations, and how they behave in order to shape fairer policies and practices.

For us the most surprising, but also encouraging, finding was HR managers’ commitment and determination to shaping fairer reward despite contextual challenges. Our participants saw this to be their responsibility, as custodians of fairness in their organizations. Our research finds clear parallels with common good HRM, and we demonstrate the dynamic and strategic ways HRM can impact societal grand challenges. For HR professionals our research shows that they can have an impact in driving forward fairer policies and practices despite restrictive contexts, but also sometimes capitalize on external contexts to give legitimacy to pushing forward fairer reward agendas.

Overall, we found a complex interplay between the individual HR manager and their context. We found 3 roles which HR managers adopt in order to shape fairer reward. Each role used different strategic and fairness enactment behaviors to navigate contextual constraints and shape fairer reward policies and practices. We encourage you to read our research to see if there is a role you can identify with or adopt if you face similar challenges!

Ishbel McWha-Hermann (pictured) is a senior lecturer in international HRM at the University of Edinburgh Business School. She teaches in the HRM and IHRM areas and has an interest in diversity and social justice. She is a chartered member of British Psychological Society (BPS) and has amassed nearly 50 different research publications. Katie Geradine is an HR consultant at NatWest Group, a banking institution operating out of Edinburgh, Scotland. She received a bachelor's degree from the University of Southampton and later studied international human resource management at The University of Edinburgh.

View all posts by Ishbel McWha-Hermann and Katie Geradine

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