Academic journal article Management Revue

An Essay on Sustainable Work Systems: Shaping an Agenda for Future Research

Academic journal article Management Revue

An Essay on Sustainable Work Systems: Shaping an Agenda for Future Research

Article excerpt

This essay is based on a review of the following text, now recognized internationally as being of central relevance to studies of sustainability in contexts for HRM practice and research:

* Docherty, P., Kira, M., & Shani A. B. (eds.). (2009). Creating sustainable work systems. Abingdon: Routledge. pp. xxiii + 296, ISBN 978-0-415-77272-3.

The book reviewed here is a second (paperback) edition, and one that in turn develops on:

* Docherty, P., Forslin, J., Shani, A. B., & Kira, M. (eds.). (2002). Creating sustainable work systems: 'Emerging perspectives and practices. London: Routledge.


This review was drafted as the Rio +20 Earth summit was coming to a close. Its concluding document, entided The Future We Want, appears weak now in terms of the practical and measureable commitment displayed by international leaders to establish development objectives designed to support social, economic and technological growth that should benefit the world's populations and safeguard a natural environment such that future generations might prosper; or, as a minimum ambition, survive. The Rio earth summit took place against a background of acute and global economic uncertainty; indeed, representatives of some so-called 'developed' economies among the 20+ continue to preside over economic meltdown: the living standards of their citizens continue on average to decline. In their role as agents influencing whether we in fact get 'the future we want', the political leaders of the 20+ appear determined to prioritize short-term national interests over those of the planet and its future inhabitants. For example, they declare that access to drinkable water is a human right but have promised little of substance that might improve the situation of over a billion people in the world for whom easy access to water is routinely denied.


Against this background we should try to understand the importance of books such as Creating Sustainable Work Systems, edited by Peter Docherty, Mari Kira and A. B. (Rami) Shani. If we are to achieve sustainable social, economic and technological growth now and in future, people worldwide need to be in position to work and be managed sustainably. In order to achieve this position, management practitioners and researchers - the intended audience for this book - need first to understand what terms such as `working sustainably' mean, conceptually and in practice. This book guides us towards gaining such understanding, and the fact that it appears as a second edition - a noteworthy achievement for an edited volume of this type - is testimony both to its abiding relevance and to the foresight demonstrated by publishers (in this case, Routledge) in continuing to support such projects.

The main content of the book spans seventeen chapters organized into an Introduction and five Pam, the tides of which are: Focusing value frameworks, Focusing work and work systems, Focusing change in sustainable oigani~ationr, Focusing systems Future of sustainable work systems. Already we get a feel for the narrative being developed. Already, too, the rather idiosyncratic grammar used in these titles gives a flavor of the broad international provenance of the predominantly academic contributors to the book. The eighteen F:gures and nineteen Tables distributed across the chapters add a satisfyingly vivid dimension to the narrative and the (on average) two pages of references listed at the end of each chapter offer (in most cases) a reliable guide to international research in the field. In short, the book is ably edited and well presented: it stands the test of time.

Intoning the great American songwriter Burt Bacharach, the editors use their introductory chapter (What the world needs now....) to put the ensuing discussion in context. They focus initially on highlighting the demographic shifts impacting on developed economies such as Germany: a highly skilled and increasingly ageing workforce driving a (by global comparison) highly successful export-led economy. …

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