HR and Ethics. A relationship that is work in progress
In this ever-changing business world, the role of HR has become significantly imperative due to the increasing focus on aligning people of the organisation with the overall business strategy, particularly in an era when unethical behaviour is not tolerated. However, considering the complexity of the HR profession, it has been questioned what the role of HR is. With the changing future of work, this question has become more prevalent considering the influence of factors such as globalisation, automation and generational changes. Various scholars have claimed that HR professionals should be undertaking four distinct roles of administrative expert, strategic business partner, change agent and employee champion, which consequently leads to a role-conflict for HR professionals, hence influencing their decision-making within organisations, particularly in ethical situations. Using Ulrich (1997) model as a benchmark, this thesis aims to explore the relationship between HR and ethics, focusing on the role-conflict that HR professionals experience in organisations, along with the best practices they use to cope with the role-conflict in ethical situations and the influence of these best practices on the future of HR. Employing a qualitative method approach, this study uses in-depth semi-structured interviews with top-tier HR professionals working in organisations who are continually striving to build their ethical stance. The sample of this study was particularly important, as it was crucial to choose HR professionals who would make strong subject matter experts and provide rich and in-depth perspectives with regards to working in HR. The findings indicate that though there is a visibility and recognition of role-conflict within the profession, it wasn’t regarded as a strong issue compared to what was reflected in the literature. Furthermore, support from the organisation leaders and a strong organisation culture along with following a fair, and consistent process allows for the role-conflict to be diminished, particularly in an ethical situation. The thesis also found that the profession is increasingly becoming more strategic, with the operational HR duties delegated to the line managers, and hence illustrating the emergence of two new roles of ‘mentor’ and ‘analyst’. The study contributes to the existing literature by proposing a new model for the HR profession by considering the various roles they are required to undertake and the significance for all the roles to work concurrently with each other for HR to truly succeed. Several implications such as re-training and a creation of an independent body for HR professionals, along with a strong organisational culture that allows HR to thrive, and the recognition of them gaining a seat at the management table are discussed, followed by an overall conclusion of what the future of the HR profession is.