The Importance of Sustainable HRM

Over the recent years, globalisation and technology development have caused dramatic changes for organisations which have transformed Human Resource Management (HRM). The focusing of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and increasing pressure of competitiveness and flexibility of organisation have significantly influenced HRM strategies and practices.

Managing a global workforce in MNEs has become more complex due to the demographic change, value change, internationalisation or lack of quality in some education systems. This has raised great interests for practitioners and researchers highlighting the need for more sustainable HRM.

The importance of sustainability in HRM practices can be considered from two separate aspects: the importance of managing people and the notion of sustainability. Valuable human resources have been identified as critical for organisational success. Large amount of researches have been carried out related to HRM and organizational performance. HR professionals have been influenced by resource-based views such as human resources are rare and inimitable, and building profits by putting people first. Brewster (2002) points out that ‘the capabilities and the knowledge incorporated in an organization’s human resources are the key to success’. (p. 126) However, highly qualified employees seem to face increased work-related stress, work-life conflict, health problems, new employment relationship or lack of employability.

Sustainability has been picked up as a perspective to analyse the implications of these developments on HRM. Key topics could be related to recruiting and retaining top talent, developing critical competencies, motivation, incentives for exceptional performance, employability, lifelong learning, demographic trends, aging workforces, employee health, safety, quality of life, work-life balance, justice, ethics, and CSR. Concerning the relevance of sustainability for HR professionals, Boudreau and Ramstad (2005) argued that:

‘Sustainability is not a fringe issue. Corporate heavyweights like Shell, British Petroleum (BP), and DuPont, as well as the United Nations and the International Labor Organization (ILO), all are embracing sustainability. [. . .] Sustainability rarely appears in strategic HR plans, and its implications for strategic HRM have received little attention. As organisations increasingly embrace sustainability, however, so must HR.’ (p. 130)

The significance of organisational sustainability has assumed more importance now since many organisations are facing the difficulties between competing demands on short-term profit or long-term organisational sustainability. In this situation, it requires organisations to consider on investing in attracting, developing and retaining skilled employees and focusing on efficiency and effectiveness in HR practices. As detrimental for organisation to survive and be successful in the long run, it could be suggested that they use an efficient way to manage current employees and maintain a durable access to future employees. Sustainability is regarded to be critical and strategic potential for HRM.

– Irene Yu


Boudreau J.W., Ramstad P.M. (2005) Talentship, talent segmentation, and sustainability: a new HR decision science paradigm for a new strategy definition. Human Resource Management 44(2):129–136

Brewster C. (2002) Human resource practices in multinational companies. In: Martin J.G., Karen L.N. (eds) The Blackwell handbook of cross-cultural management. Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 126–141


Join the conversation at: