Academic journal article Management Revue

Recent Developments and Future Prospects on Sustainable Human Resource Management: Introduction to the Special Issue**

Academic journal article Management Revue

Recent Developments and Future Prospects on Sustainable Human Resource Management: Introduction to the Special Issue**

Article excerpt

In this editorial the previous and current state of studies in the subject of sustainability are considered and the role of HRM examined. Particular attention is drawn to the range of definitions of 'sustainability' and to prior approaches to Sustainable HRM. The difficulties of studying the complexities of the topics especially the varying perspectives from geographical locations and from practice and academia are observed. Meanwhile the opportunities for academic research to add value to the world of practice are identified. The editors then outline the contributions by the authors of the three papers and an extended book review that make up the Special Edition. Finally, there are suggestions for the course of future research on this increasingly important topic - for academics, for practitioners and for humanity in general.

Key words: Human Resource Management, sustainability, Sustainable HRM, literature review (JEL: M12, M14)


Since the United Nation's World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED or 'Brundtland Commission') published its report in 1987 (WCED, 1987), the notions of sustainability and sustainable development have attracted increasing interest in the field of business and management and recently also of human resource management (HRM). The objective of the Brundtland report was to develop an agenda for global change and a common future for mankind and has been concerned with the question of how to advance societal and economic development without endangering natural living conditions for the majority of humanity.

Today, the political and societal sustainability debate focuses more than ever around the challenges arising from, the natural, social and financial resources of the world being insufficient for a third of the current population of human beings, to have the material standards of living of the richest people who, possibly, make up barely 1 0% of the overall numbers. Second, the debate also relates to resource-intensive lifestyle of industrialized countries and our contribution to resource depletion. Third, the sustainability debate at the corporate and HRM level deals with practices and strategies that produce significant impact on an organization's natural and social resources and environments which then influences the organization's and HRM's future management conditions and business environment.

Businesses being wasteful with resources (natural and human among others) might have made sense when there appeared to be a limitless supply. For example, many people 'benefiting' from the asset bubble of property and commodities in the first decade of the 21st century did not worry about the unsustainability of continuing large scale consumption of goods, services and debt until the financial and economic crises started in 2007. The consequences of such consumption without balancing renewal or reproduction had widespread implications for current and future generations especially in Europe and the USA. HRM contributed to the bubble through rewards given for short term illusions of performance which turned out to not reflect the reality of value creation and for plundering pension resources of current and former employees so that the remainder is insufficient to meet the pension commitments. But now that we have more clarity of the global limits and restrictions businesses seem to be more willing to look at sustainability.

The recent interest in integrating the idea of sustainability into mainstream economic thinking is therefore not surprising although, in the past, actors seem to become aware of the relevance of sustainability thinking in particular or, perhaps only, in situations of a serious crisis or resource shortages (see Ehnert, 2009a). Situations of crisis or resource shortages, however, are no guarantee for sustainable business behavior. On the contrary we also observe that in times of crisis and focus upon immediate survival then sustainability is discarded which means that current generations of decision-makers in organizations endure at the cost of overusing resources thus depriving those who follow after. …

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