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Human Resource Management Ethics


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Human Resource Management Ethics


In the contemporary world, the competition for limited resources such as the market for the produced goods and services, space for expansion and talented workforce has been on the rise more than ever before. This has made the world to appear like a jungle, where only the corporations that have the necessary competitive skills are deemed to survive and develop, while the rest are declared bankrupt and eventually eliminated from the market. For this reason, most business owners are determined in embracing and implementing various strategies that can enhance the competitive edge of their corporations, including conducting extensive market research and development, encouraging innovation, product differentiation, effective human resource management, as well as embracing technology as part of the organizational culture. In this connection, strategic human resource management plays a great role as far as the achievement of most of the aforementioned aspects is concerned. Precisely, the morality of human resources and their adherence to the established organizational ethics greatly influences the overall corporate performance (Macklin, 2007. Through his philosophy on categorical imperative on ‘means’ and ‘ends’, Emanuel Kant stipulated that the organizational management should always treat employees as an “end-in-themselves” and not as a means, a tool, or a resource. By so doing, a human resource manager is perceived to be a morally good person. This paper pays high attention to the analysis of whether human resource managers can ever treat employees as ends in themselves and not as means, tools or resources in order to be morally ethical.

Moral Philosophy, Kantianism, “Means Versus Ends” (2nd Categorical Imperative)

Categorical imperative is the major philosophical concept that Emanuel Kant taught in his deontological moral philosophy, and it entails a set of requirements that a motivation or a maxim must meet in order for an action to be perceived as a moral obligation. Precisely, when categorical imperative is established, it automatically becomes an individual`s moral duty to perform the action under any circumstances. During the process of performing any action, the core motive of an individual should always be a duty, which he or she can decipher by using his or her reasoning. The ability of human beings to reason is both objective and universal for humanity, and this is what deciphers human beings from animals. Kant explained the philosophy of categorical imperative in three formulations, which are not limited to the formula of universality and the law of nature, the formula of humanity, and the formula of autonomy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2016).

The aspects of means and ends is explained in Kant`s second formulation. According to Kant, every rational action does not only set before itself a principle, but an end as well. Moreover, most ends tend to be of subjective kind, and this is due to the fact that they are only pursued if they are in accordance to some particular hypothetical imperatives which individuals choose to adopt. Apparently, Kant encourages individuals to categorically pursue ends in order for the latter to be objective. Moreover, Kant derived the second formulation from the first one, especially by claiming that the source of all rational actions is the autonomous will and treating it as a subjective end is equivalent to denying the possibility of freedom in general (Audi, 2015). Precisely, according to Kant, individuals are always an end in themselves rather than merely a means to some other end.

Core elements of human resource management

Human resource management entails a myriad of aspects. For example, human resource management must take into consideration the aspect of talent development for the employees. Talent development is the process of changing an organization, its stakeholders and more importantly enhancing the knowledge and skills of its employees using unplanned and planned learning. Nurturing talents of the employees greatly helps an organization to achieve and maintain a competitive edge, which is a rare resource in the present competitive world (Durai, 2010). In addition, HRM also involves applying management functions and principles for development, recruiting, maintaining, and remunerating employees in a just manner (Bolton & Houlihan, 2007. Moreover, HRM is also responsible in staffing or the recruitment process, and this involves a number of aspects including identifying job vacancy, creating job advertisement, receiving job applications, interviewing potential applicants, and hiring the best suited. Additionally, HRM is also responsible in the administration of benefits such as the allocation of employee vacations, retirement programs such as pensions and 401 (k) plans.

What makes HRM ethical? Can HRM ever treat employees as “Ends-in-themselves” and not as means, a tool, or a resource?

Human resource managers cannot manage to ever treat employees as ends in themselves especially in this competitive world. Instead, HRM, to a large extent treats employee as means, resources or tools of accomplishing the set organizational goals and objectives. Precisely, most HRM asserts a moral right of owning and controlling employees right after the hiring process, to such an extent that they have set up supervisory measures in order to ensure that the employees do relax at any time during the working hours. The employees are not given the autonomy to do actions that they personally perceive to be ethical. According to Kant`s philosophy of categorical imperative, it is unethical for individuals to use the humanity of themselves or others as means of attaining a particular goal (End). In order to illustrate the means versus ends dictum, Kant gave an example of the slave owner. Precisely, the slave owner tends to assume the moral right of owning another person as a slave and uses him or her to cultivate agricultural fields of the owner (slave used as a means) in order to ensure that the goal of gathering a good or sufficient harvest is achieved (the end goal of the owner) (Fieser, 2017). According to Kant, the behavior of the slave owner to own another person violates the categorical imperative due to the fact that the ownership denies the basis of having free rational action especially to the slave. Precisely, this form of ownership denies the status of the enslaved person as an end in themselves. Similarly, the fact that human resource managers effectively take the right to own an employee immediately after recruiting him or her, denies the employee`s status as an end in themselves. The employees have to adhere to the rules and regulations that have been established by the human resource managers and have to complete the delegated roles in timely manner failure to which they face punitive measures such as suspension, fines, and to the worst, being fired.

However, in some situations, human resource managers tend to treat employees as ends in themselves, though this does not last for long. For example, in some organizations, HRM give employees a certain level of freedom to do what they think is best to the company, and this means allowing the employees to do what they deem necessary without even being monitored. In addition, some HRM involves employees during the decision-making process, including inviting them to make their contribution concerning an issue before the final decision is made. Other organizations effectively and justly compensate, appraise employees` performance, train and develop employees` talents, and administer numerous benefits to the employees (Bolton & Houlihan, 2007). To a large extent, these actions of the human resource managers shows that they treat employees as valued assets of an organization rather than means, resources, or tools of an organization. By focusing on such behaviors of the human resource managers, one can support the analogy that the latter treat employees as ends in themselves thereby adhering to the Kant`s second formulation of categorical imperative, which calls for individuals to adhere to the perfect duty of using the humanity of themselves or others as ends rather than means to attain some targeted end goals.


It is, therefore, evident that human resource managers cannot manage to ever treat employees as ends in themselves but instead treats the latter as means, resources or tools of achieving some desired ends. However, based on Kant`s second formulation of categorical imperative, it is immoral or unethical for some individuals treating others as means or tools of achieving some ends. Most HRM violate this philosophy by treating employees as means of achieving the set organizational goals and objectives. Generally, it is justified to conclude that in the present times, it is very hard to find morally good human resource managers.


Audi, R. (2015). Means, ends, and persons: The meaning and psychological dimensions of Kant’s humanity formula. Internet Resource

Bolton, S. C. & Houlihan, M. 2007. Searching for the human in HRM: theory, practice and workplace contexts, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Durai, P. (2010). Human resource management. Chennai: Pearson.

Fieser J., (2017). The Categorical Imperative. Retrieved from,

Macklin, R. 2007. The Morally Decent HR Manager, in: Pinnington, A. et al., Human Resource Management-Ethics and Employment, (eds.), Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2016). Kant`s Moral Philosophy. Retrieved from,