Ethics in Human Resource Management

Keywords: causes of illness at workplace, workplace illness causes

This report mainly focuses on providing a critical analysis of ethics and HRM. It further shows the issues to be considered to ensure fairness and justice in the employment relationship. It examines that how changes in the nature of the work are causing illness. The focal point of this report is to examine the real causes of stress and illness in the workplace and evaluation of their solutions.

Through entire study and findings, it is concluded that although the changes in the nature of work cause stress and illness, still these can be eradicated by adopting appropriate measures like good management style, training, mentoring, health and safety measures, planning and time management.


Human Resource Management is the systematic and effective management of people to achieve the desired objectives. To gain a strategic edge, it is very important to manage the ‘people’ resources productively. This will help to attain the strategic goals as well as the satisfaction of the individual employee needs. All the Human Resource practices are based on ethical foundation. It is the responsibility of the employers to maintain health and safety of their employers in the workplace.

The main objective of this report is to provide a critical analysis of ethics and HRM and examine the real causes of illness in the workplace and evaluate their solutions.

This report helps in undertaking a search in analyzing the ethics to be used in HRM for ensuring employee health and safety. Thus, it mainly focuses on finding the causes that increase illness in the workplace and it proposes various ways to eradicate illness. Moreover, workplace’s culture should be developed in such a way that it should allow flexibility, security, autonomy, recognition, participation and involvement to employees in order to create a stress free atmosphere.

Ethics and HRM

According to Winstanley, Woodall and Heery (1996), ‘Ethics is a special branch of philosophy that focuses on the questions related to morality, that is concepts such as good and bad, right and wrong ; fairness and righteousness’. Business ethics deals with the degree and extent of morality to be used in business (George & Zoe, 2010). Morals, standards, values and ethics have becoming more complex in the present modern society and the concept of absolutes is taken away by ambiguity. As per Pitt (2007), ‘Human Relations Management is concerned with a variety of ethical issues to be dealt with for making decisions related to businesses’. Before making the decisions, the various alternatives catering to the needs of the business must be checked and their effects on the lives of the employees must be considered. Nowadays the relationship between ethics and HRM is becoming a major issue to be taken care of. A significant turning point has been experienced by ethics and Human Resource Management.

The business ethics mainly put attention on the social and ecological responsibilities of the companies within the society. Ethics are now becoming one of the most important internal concerns for the companies. Previously, the interests of the employees were not taken into consideration but now it has become one of the main responsibilities of the company to ethically manage its human resources (Christian & Andra, 2009). Now it’s the era of ethical leadership. Acts of its employees towards a business perspective to his moral character is a litmus test. Relationship between business and its employees is based on employment contract. The principle of ethical selection is followed by an ethical organization for hiring prospective employees. As per this principle an organization should only hire a person who is expected to contribute the maximum towards increasing the long-term value of the business (Glenn, 2001). According to this principle, factors like gender, age, nationality and religion are not relevant for hiring a person.

The ethical issues which are reflected in the case are:

Safety and health: Much of the work in the industries and companies is hazardous. All this is because of the use of heavy technology. Nowadays there is much use of machineries and high temperature based production processes. In addition, there is more dependence on chemical compounds. All these aspects increase injuries, illnesses and accidents in the workplace. For instance, the job of a bullfighter or bomb disposal expert (De Cieri & Kramar, 2008). New sources of accidents and illnesses are increasing day by day. Risk is present in every job but its frequency differs from job to job.

Face to face ethics: These types of ethics arise due to human element in the activities in the workplace. No work is possible without employees.

Corporate policy ethics: The use of more technology in the workplace has replaced the labor in the workplace. This has made hundreds of persons jobless. The managers are responsible for making policies and their successful implementation. The ethical content of these policies has massive impact throughout the company. It should be such that it can be able to send right signals to every person in the company (Shuttleworth, 2004).

Employee Relations: It’s the duty of the HR manager to maintain objectivity in hiring, discipline, promotion, training, retention, termination and compensation (Ken & Joanne, 2010). All this lies at the core of human resources. HR should make it sure that the company policies should follow anti-discrimination legislature and polices of the integrity of performance reviews to make sure that the evaluation process remains fair with all the jobs (Ken & Joanne, 2010).

Communication: Another duty of the HR Department is to keep informed everyone in the organization on relating to the various legal and ethical issues. HR prepares various communication vehicles to advise employees of the company’s code of ethics and no-tolerance policies such as documents, seminars, and informal meetings (Hughes & Bozionelos, 2007). Increase in competition, locally or globally, need that organizations should be more adaptable, flexible, agile, and customer focused to succeed (Markiewicz, 2007). And with this change in the environment the human resource professional needs to be a strategic partner, an employee sponsor or advocate and moreover, a change mentor within the organization. Grove (2009) suggests that ‘in order to succeed a business driven HR function with a thorough understanding of the organization’s big picture may be more important to be able to influence decisions and policies’. In general, today’s human resource manager’s focus is on strategic personnel retention and developing talent (Teasdale, 2006). A recent study (Grove 2009) found that human resource professionals, coaches, counselors, mentors, and succession planners will help to motivate organization’s members and their loyalty. Human Resources Manager will also promote and fight for values, ethics, beliefs, and spirituality within their organizations in the management of workplace diversity, specifically.

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Insecurity and risk: Another ethical issue that is depicted in the case is insecurity and risk present in the job. This has arisen because of the changes in the macro-economic environment and mass un-employment (Makin & Winder, 2009). All this happens because of business restructuring and stripping out of the costs due to redundancy, outsourcing, contingent contracts and systems of rewards in the employment (Grawitch, Trares & Kohler, 2007).  Another problematic element of the shift to greater risk and insecurity for workers is that what is happening when other stakeholders have to act on the same insulation from risk (Rodney, Matrina & Anne, 2008). Undoubtedly, a key element of economic life in recent years has been a transfer of risk from those who finance business i.e. banks, institutional investors, shareholders, taxpayers and the Treasury to those in gainful employment (Teasdale, 2006). The moral question here is whether this shift is fair, or compatible with the rules of distributive justice. It could be suggested that the transfer is unfair because the investors are in a stronger position to risk-sharing by employees and that this has happened, crudely, it is the exploitation of the change in the bargaining power by the strongest party in industrial relations (Teasdale, 2006).

Surveillance and control: It is major ethical concern these days. The right of the employing agency to enter into the subjectivity of the worker to control and manipulate, is taken for guaranteed (Pitt, 2007). Whether the use of psychometric tests for selection or promotion of employees, culture change programs that seek to challenge assumptions on the job or competence-based HRM, which seeks to promote compliance with attitudes and behavior, the assumption is that it is lawful for the employer to trespass on worker’s autonomy. Such misconduct will never be complete, but the trend for a large complex HRM is to invade privacy of employees. While new forms of work organization can be effective in increasing productivity, but possible adverse effects on the welfare of workers should be considered when evaluating these initiatives (Christian & Andra, 2009).

A wide range of human relations management activities is concerned with various ethical issues, both on the part of upper-level for management of business and management decisions of low-level regarding treatment of the individual employees (Winstanley, Woodall & Heery, 1996).  This can be devastating to individual employees and the communities in which they live. Managing decisions must be honestly done by taking into account all the factors, including social responsibility as well as stockholder concerns.  HR manager should consider various options for business needs and take the decision that is best for company and employees as well as it will have an impact on employees’ live.  

Issues involved in considering rights, responsibilities, fairness and justice in the employment relationship:

There are many issues which are needed to be considered to have good and faithful employment relationship as it has impact on the whole society and economy as a whole.

Good Faith: There should be positive relationship between employer and employee. Good faith means to deal with honestly, openly and without misleading each other. It also requires parties to actively and constructively creating and maintaining a productive relationship (Glenn & Klaas, 2001). Such behavior makes sense. Workers with positive relationships are more likely to enjoy the benefits of sustainable, decent work. Employers also benefit productive employee. On the other hand, an employment relationship may be affected if it is based on distrust and there is doubt or lack of communication.

Workplace health and safety: The purpose of workplace health and safety is to protect the health and safety of health and safety of all in a workplace (Markiewicz, 2007). Grawitch, Trares and Kohler state that ‘Effective management of health and safety in the workplace is not only good business, but it is a requirement under the law’. Employers have an obligation to ensure that the way in which business is conducted has no adverse effects on health and safety of themselves, their workers or anyone who enters the workplace. The occupational health and safety plan need not be complicated. It should be simple, practical and easy to implement. As a result of the implementation of health and safety of the business processes can also benefit from significant productivity gains and cost savings (Makin & Winder, 2009).

Occupational health and safety is a discipline with broad scope, with many niche areas. In its broadest sense, it is diverted towards promoting and maintaining the highest degree of physical, mental and social well-being of workers in all occupations; preventing workers from the adverse health effects caused by their working conditions; protection of workers in their employment from risks resulting from factors adverse to health (George & Zoe, 2010). In other words, the occupational safety and health include social, mental and physical well-being of workers, which is the whole person. On the other hand, poor working conditions can also affect workers’ living environment. This means that occupational hazards can have harmful effects on workers, their families and others in the community and the natural environment around the workplace. It has been estimated that the indirect costs of an accident or illness can be four to ten times greater than direct costs, or even more. Occupational disease or accident can have so many indirect costs for employees that are often difficult to measure them. One of the most obvious indirect costs is the human misery caused to families of workers, which cannot be compensated with money (Ken & Joanne, 2010).

Management Commitment: Strong management commitment and involvement of employees are necessary for a successful health and workplace safety program.Effective management addresses all work-related risks, not just those covered by the standards of government, and communicate with employees (Rodney, Matrina & Anne, 2008). Workers in every profession can be faced with a multitude of risks in the workplace. Business addresses health and safety in a wide range of risks in the workplace accident prevention in the most insidious dangers, including toxic fumes, dust, noise, heat, stress, etc. The prevention of occupational diseases and accidents should be the goal of occupational safety and health programs instead of trying to solve the problems after they have already developed (Teasdale, 2006).

Changes in the nature of work:

There has been a dramatic change and growth in the workplaces. The workplaces have gone through a remarkable revolution over the last two decades as a result of globalization, democratization and innovations i.e. both technical and creative. The swift growth has brought momentous changes in the structure of the labor market and in the organization of the work resulting in changes both within and outside the framework of the employment relationship. The type of employments has been changed now. Workers are now more engaged and employed in atypical, conditional and contingent employment relationships like casual employment, use of contract work, and the rise of the use of vague and disguised employment (Hughes & Bozionelos, 2007). The work environment is now changing fastly. The employment is now becoming unstable, less secure and more concentrated. The trend of the collective bargaining has now been shifted towards individual negotiations (Shuttleworth, 2004). All these factors are resulting causing the employee to be sick as a result of more work pressure, less secured job and more responsibilities.

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The trend is shifting towards privatization and the seniors who are more experienced are being replaced by the freshers or the younger graduates who are less experienced and they are more often engaged in the employment that is non-permanent ( Markiewicz, 2007). In the real terms, the average rate of the pay is also decreasing, or it’s standing still from the last five years (Markiewicz, 2007). For instance, in the media industry, all these changes have resulted in having a negative effect on the editorial content’s quality and as its consequence it is jeopardizing the role of the media as a watchdog for the society and it ultimately puts effects on the mental health of the employees as well (George & Zoe, 2010).

Moreover, more layoffs, longer working hours are there. There is lack of physical activities and poor seating as well. These factors are the biggest sources of stress.

Real causes of illness in the workplace and evaluation of their solutions:

There are many real causes of illness of workers in the workplace. Some of them can be:

Workload: The very first cause of illness in the workplace can be the increasing workload on the part of employees. It is causing stress. Employees are often found in stress when the workload is too high or too less. It’s the responsibility of the manager to divide the work properly among employees based on the priorities (Makin & Winder, 2009). Targets should be challenging but should be kept realistic. Before making a shift in the responsibilities, its impact should be known in advance. Furthermore, the cost resulting from the stress must be taken into consideration (Teasdale, 2006). More care to be taken when increasing the workload of any worker or when there is a need to hire more people. Moreover, there should be a balanced workload with control over the tasks to be performed.

Persuasive uncertainty: When the workers are confronted by new rules, requirements and the procedures, there will be an increase in the level of illness. It’s the duty of the manager to check what’s going on at regular intervals and convey each piece of information to the staff (Grawitch, Trares & Kohler, 2007). In this way, stress can be controlled and this will ultimately result in increasing the productivity. In some companies, the manager writes out the new information in a memo so that it can be conveyed to the employees and the facts can be reviewed (Grove, 2009). Moreover, information given in this way is appreciated by the staff members. This will help in reducing mental illness.

Mistrust and unfairness: Mistrust and unfairness can also be the cause of illness in the workplace. These will keep everyone in the workplace on the edge, create bad attitudes, and will decrease productivity (Pitt, 2007). Misunderstanding can be avoided through an open line of communication and by knowing what and how the staff members are thinking about the decisions. It’s manager’s duty to consistently build trust and treat everyone equally. This helps in reducing illness in the workplace.

Lack of control: The employees should be given an opportunity to say regarding the things those affect them as if they have no say, and then there will be more chances of workplace illness. All the employees should be given a sense of being in control. The managers should involve employees in both operating as well as administrative decisions. And the frontline employees must know what they are talking about. All this will result in increasing productivity and reducing the stress levels. The managers who are efficient and effective understand that controlling stress and illness are leadership responsibilities and these are as important as any other management functions (Glenn & Klaas, 2001).

Lack of communication: When the communication system is not good, this will result in lack of understanding, bad performance and less productivity with stress (Rodney, Matrina & Anne, 2008). The communication system should be two way so that the employees can be able to receive full information and give suggestions and in this way, there will be no stress.

No appreciation: Lack of appreciation will also lead towards illness in the workplace. If the employees do not get feedback on what they are doing, not being appreciated for good performance, they will feel mentally stressed and this can be one of the causes of illness (George & Zoe, 2010). To overcome this, the managers should appreciate the good work from time to time. This will create a feeling among the employees that are valuable for the company and they will feel happy and stress free.

Poor relationships: Poor relationships with colleagues can also be the factor of illness. If the employees are treated with discrimination then there can be chances of stress.

Unclear policies and no sense of direction: If the policies are not clear to the employees and they are not in the written form, then these can cause stress among employees. The policies should be enforced properly and communicated in a clear way. The policies can be reinforced in a number of ways from time to time like memos, personal meetings, bulletin boards, articles, small group discussions, etc. the employees should be informed about the business direction and the significant changes (Grawitch, Trares & Kohler, 2007).

Contributory factors with regard to sickness: There are many factors causing sickness among the people. The reasons can be tiredness or unappreciation or they can have the travel difficulties. For instance, a person who is suffering from diarrhea or dysuria is very unlikely to come to work from home if he has to drive for 50 miles to get there, whereas another person who is working from home or working in an office which is close to toilet may continue the work for long (Hughes & Bozionelos, 2007). Moreover, the workers who are positively motivated they can simply take easy and simple remedies. If there is a bullying environment in the workplace or the manager is over-enthusiastic, then taking sick leave for a minor illness thinking that the power balance has become unequal in the favor of manager? Other sources of workplace illness can be layoffs, absenteeism, alcoholism, lack of motivation, bad decisions, petty internal policies, harassment, lack of equipment, lack of autonomy, etc.

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Ways to reduce illness in the workplace:

Preparing Education Programs: To overcome illness, the employees should be educated about the causes, symptoms and treatment and it should be ensured that all the individuals should have early treatment. Employers can provide assistance by ensuring that every person in the organization from the top down has received full information about all the issues related to mental health and illness (Christian & Andra, 2009). Stress management training and counseling services should be implemented in the workplace to eradicate stress. This will help the employees in better management of work during pressure. This will help them to learn techniques like time management, leadership skills, assertiveness, relaxation, etc. The employee must learn how to relax in case of stress.

Mentoring: Mentoring can also be very helpful to reduce stress and illness in the workplace. This will help to create strong bonds among colleagues and they can share their work related skills (Ken & Joanne, 2010). This can help to create awareness among employees related to the diversity which is very helpful to reduce stress. This will make the employees more confident as they can get to know more things which they previously don’t know. Moreover, it will promote team spirit.

Encourage exercise: Another way to keep employees healthy and fit is to encourage exercise. Employers should encourage their employees to keep physically fit. Doing exercise and taking a healthy and balanced diet will help employees to have more stamina and energy in the office (Markiewicz, 2007). Exercises can be of various types. For instance, tennis, ballroom dancing, swimming, jogging, cycling, etc. All these will not only promote fitness but also help to get relief from counter stress. The workplace should be clean for the wellbeing of the employees and the overall mental attitude of the employees. The employees should talk with each other so that they can discuss their problems and can reduce stress.

Duties of employers towards employees: To reduce stress and illness, it is the duty of the employer to treat each employee equally. Each and every employee should be involved in decision making so that they can feel that they are part of the organization (Grawitch, Trares & Kohler, 2007). Each employee should be well trained. The managers need to behave proactively to handle stress. They should be able to understand the signs and symptoms of stress. Employers should provide proper health and wellness programs to reduce stress in the workplace and to ensure health and safety. There should be no bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Workplace culture: The organizations need to set proper organization culture to reduce levels of stress in the workplace. Workplace’s culture should be developed in such a way that it should be allow flexibility, security, autonomy, recognition, participation, involvement, etc (Teasdale, 2006). All these factors are very important for a stable workplace and industrial relations. Consequently, there will be more employee satisfaction with more productivity.

Management style: Management style plays a vital role in ensuring good work environment. The management style should be such that gives encouragement to employees so that they can discuss problems with the managers freely. They should be provided with regular feedbacks and should be given freedom to express their ideas (Rodney, Matrina & Anne, 2008).

Planning and time management: Stress and illnesses can also arise from lack of proper planning. To get relief from stress, the employees should make a proper planning so that they can make work life balance (Hughes & Bozionelos, 2007).

In-depth training for managers: Further in-depth training for managers is essential. The managerial role may be one of the most stressful jobs within an organization. Managers are often exposed to many competing pressures and demands.  Managers who are skilled in managing the pressure not only are more effective role models, but also better able to recognize common signs and symptoms stress-related psychological disorders, to make confident risk assessment of staff and providing appropriate support (Glenn & Klaas, 2001). 


Eventually, ethics play a vital role in HRM. The management should consider ethical issues relating to health and safety of employees. There has been a vivid change and growth in the workplaces. The changes in the workplace are causing the employee to be sick as a result of more work pressure, less secured job and more responsibilities. Lack of communication, more workload, lack of appreciation, lack of autonomy are the another biggest sources of stress. Companies are dealing with these sources to eliminate stress in a prudent way but still there is need for more improvements.

Employers should provide proper health and wellness programs so that they could reduce stress in the workplace and to ensure health and safety and moreover, a good communication with their employees in order to have deep understanding with each other. Consequently, there will be more employee satisfaction with more productivity.


Through entire study and findings, the following recommendations are made:

  • There should be a balanced workload with control over the tasks to be performed.
  • Employers should provide proper health and wellness programs to reduce stress in the workplace and to ensure health and safety.
  • There should be no bullying and harassment in the workplace.
  • Stress management training and counseling services should be implemented in the workplace to eradicate stress.
  • The employees should talk with each other so that they can discuss their problems and can reduce stress.
  • The employees should be provided with regular feedbacks and should be given freedom to express their ideas.
  • There should be flexibility, security, autonomy, participation and involvement in the organization’s culture.
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