What is it about?

The springboard for my commentary is Godard’s (2014, p. 7) concern that “the growing psychologisation of employment relations means that there is less and less possibility for actually understanding these relations.” In other words, attention is being pulled away from conceptualizing the nature of the employment relationship. In the spirit of the provocation series, I will argue that this particular problem is perhaps even worse than Godard conveys because it is magnified by the turn away from human resource management (HRM) toward organizational behavior (OB) among many scholars and business schools, at least in North America.

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Why is it important?

Work and employment are very complicated subjects that can only be understood through rich, diverse multidisciplinary approaches to understanding a broad range of concepts, behaviors, practices, levels of analysis, outcomes, and institutions whose importance might only be apparent from particular perspectives. In other words, we need a multi-perspective field that not only brings together diverse scholarship, but also scholars. Moreover, meaning comes through difference. So students need to be presented with multiple perspectives, even if the goal is only a deeper understanding of one perspective. Consequently, when any approach crowds out others, we need to be concerned, and this is what appears to be happening with the psychologization of employment relations.

Perspectives

In the Center for Human Resources and Labor Studies at the University of Minnesota, which is part of a major U.S. business school, most of my colleagues are OB scholars. I have nothing but respect for the scholarship and the teaching done by them and others in the HRM and OB fields. Of course, we have different focal interests as well as methodological and conceptual tendencies, but I see that as a big plus, not as a problem. There are innumerable examples where our research has been enriched by interacting with others outside of our usual paradigms. The problem, as I see it, is not with psychological-based research, but with psychologization as a trend that can lead to largely unitary perspectives (with apologies for the intentional pun) becoming the sole approach to understanding the very complex world of work and employment relationships.

Professor John W Budd
University of Minnesota System

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This page is a summary of: The psychologisation of employment relations, alternative models of the employment relationship, and the OB turn, Human Resource Management Journal, January 2020, Wiley, DOI: 10.1111/1748-8583.12274.
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