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The International Journal of Human Resource Management

For a Special Issue on

The dark side of contemporary human resource management practices

Manuscript deadline
31 August 2024

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Special Issue Editor(s)

Justine Ferrer, Deakin Business School, Deakin University, Australia
[email protected]

John Molineux, Deakin Business School, Deakin University, Australia
[email protected]

Wouter Vleugels, HEC Liège, University of Liège, Belguim
[email protected]

Maike Andresen, University of Bamberg, Germany
[email protected]

Matthijs Bal, Lincoln International Business School, University of Lincoln, UK
[email protected]

Anthony McDonnell, Cork University Business School, University College Cork, Ireland
[email protected]

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The dark side of contemporary human resource management practices


Human resource management (HRM) involves many different decision-making processes within the organization, made throughout the employee life cycle. The deployment of these processes in organizations is often enacted through individual practices, or through systems or bundles of practices that are intended to operate in synergy to align and fit with organizational strategy (Boxall & Macky, 2014; Boxall & Purcell, 2016). The rhetoric surrounding the developments in HRM, and the associated practices, serve the intended purpose of enhancing the employee experience, through higher engagement, autonomy, involvement and feeling valued, resulting in greater employee performance (Boxall & Purcell, 2016). We see this, for instance, in high-performance work systems (HPWS), where employees are empowered to work autonomously towards the organizational goals (Boxall & Macky, 2014; Boxall & Purcell, 2016). The language adopted by HR is overwhelmingly positively formed (Baruch & Vardi, 2016; Fineman, 2006). Although most HR practices are purposefully designed to work as a positive force within organizations there may, however, also be a darker side in that they can result in adverse consequences (intended or unintended) for one or more key stakeholder group(s).

Adverse outcomes emerge when the adoption of HR practices or systems bring with them negative consequences for an individual within the organization, other groups of individuals within the organization, the organization itself, or the society/environment at large. For example, these may emerge when the return on investment of HR practices is non-existent or questionable at best, which is for instance often the case with performance evaluations (e.g., Murphy, 2020). However, adverse outcomes also exist when the primary intended outcomes of HR practices are achieved but at the cost of other outcomes that are deemed more valuable by one or more stakeholder groups within the organization. A common example is downsizing which may impair employee well-being in the form of job insecurity or work stress (e.g., van Dierendonck & Jacobs, 2012).

Although HPWS may bring employee empowerment that supports the employee to perform at a higher level whilst driving organizational performance and productivity, adverse outcomes are a stark reality (Elorza et al., 2022; Mauno & Kinnunen, 2021; Oppenauer & Van de Voorde, 2018). Research encompassing the dark side of HRM includes counter-productive work behavior and conflict, absenteeism, loss of productivity, work intensification and overload, higher stress, and negative well-being outcomes (Han et al., 2020; Mauno et al., 2022). These adverse outcomes are considered the ‘hidden cost’ in an organization’s drive towards increased performance (Mauno & Kinnunen, 2021), which is argued by Fineman (2006, p. 278) as driven from an inequality in power derived from ‘the paradoxical process of management taking action to empower others, when that is itself an exercise of power’.

Similarly, the viability of person-organisation (PO) fit as a guiding framework in HRM, especially within recruitment and selection, is increasingly questioned (Billsberry & Vleugels, 2023). For many, PO fit is regarded as synonymous with bias and discrimination in employment and labour market sorting (e.g., Rivera, 2015), and is thought to be harmful to organizational diversity, equity and inclusion (e.g., Petersen & Dietz, 2005). More broadly, concerns exist that PO fit may serve to reinforce the established social order and orient organizational members toward a dominant system of values, beliefs, and practices, eventually resulting in adverse outcomes such as power hierarchies, greed, and organizational corruption (e.g., Rosenblatt, 2012). There may also be unanticipated negative effects on individual behavior post-hire, in that high levels of PO fit have been linked to a significant reduction in contextual work performance (Vleugels & Flatau-Harrison, 2023).

Furthermore, there has been significant debate around the dark side effects of reward management (e.g., Frey et al., 2013; Lombardi et al., 2020). For example, performance evaluations along with high performance expectations, may be creating adverse HR outcomes for employees that feel pressured to perform at a higher level and with greater supervisory expectations, contributing to stress and negative well-being responses (Topcic et al., 2016). More recently, adverse HR outcomes are commonly seen in technologies adopted for HRM, analytics, artificial intelligence, automation, surveillance, and monitoring. The intention has been to disrupt the HRM function in positive (i.e., productive) ways to enhance performance and efficiencies (Graham, 2021), however, the implications are not always positive (Andresen & Nowak, 2015; Holland et al., 2022; McDonnell et al., 2021).

Progressing our understanding of this dark side of HRM provides opportunity to test the assumptions, the language, and the rhetoric in HRM. The examples provided demonstrate that adverse HR outcomes of contemporary HRM practices are a significant phenomenon not only for the employees but also for the organization. Moreover, these adverse HR outcomes may emerge even when the intention in implementing HRM practices is for the betterment of the organization and the employee. Less considered, but increasingly so important, is how contemporary HRM practices may impact at a societal level.

Purpose of the special issue

This special issue seeks to engage with scholars across a range of communities and disciplines with a shared interest in HRM, and how we can make workplaces better and more sustainable for all.

The purpose of this special issue is to provide better understanding of both the intentional and unintentional (or unanticipated) side of contemporary HR practices. Our aim is to better identify, explore, and document the manifestation of adverse outcomes of contemporary HRM practices and/or bundles/system, in addition to its causes and boundary conditions through novel conceptual and empirical work.

Illustrative research questions

Below, we highlight some possible research questions. Please note that these represent illustrative research questions only; submissions do not need to be constrained by these topics or suggestions.

Manifestation of adverse HR outcomes

  • What are the different conceptualizations/definitions and types (e.g., psychological, economic, intentional/unintentional) of adverse HR outcomes?
  • How do adverse HR outcomes develop and manifest over time?
  • How should we measure adverse outcomes of HRM practices, and how should the cost of HRM practices be weighed against its benefits?
  • How do combinations of HR practices and/or HR systems contribute to dark side effects?

Causes of adverse HR outcomes

  • What factors shape adverse HR outcomes at multiple levels?
  • What is the influence of organizational strategy (e.g., stretch goals) on creating adverse HR outcomes?
  • How does organizational culture (e.g., internal competitive behaviors) influence adverse HR outcomes?
  • How can the tensions that exist in HRM practices be better managed to lessen the adverse outcomes on different stakeholder groups?

Boundary conditions of adverse HR outcomes

  • How do different types of institutional and/or societal factors serve as barriers for or facilitate the emergence of adverse HR outcomes?
  • Are there any specific leadership behaviors that reduce the prevalence of adverse HR outcomes?
  • Do factors such as personal resources (e.g., resilience) or organizational resources (e.g. supervisor support) mitigate the impact of adverse HR outcomes?

Submission Instructions

There are numerous avenues for advancing research on the dark side of HRM. We encourage and welcome submissions of insightful and novel conceptual and empirical work, building on a variety of methods (conceptual, quantitative, qualitative, or mixed) that can help shape our understanding of intentionally adverse or unanticipated consequences of widespread contemporary HR practices. Submissions will be evaluated based on whether they make a significant contribution to advancing scholarly understanding about the dark side of contemporary HRM practices. The editors are ready to discuss ideas for contributions at all stages.

Authors should submit full manuscripts by the due date. Authors should indicate upon submission that the manuscript is intended for this special issue, please select 'The dark side of contemporary human resource management practices'

It is anticipated that this special issue will have a December 2025 publication date

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article