Jun 06, 2022 11 min read
Green HRM in Post Pandemic World: Opportunities and Threats
Dr Amit B Chakrabarti is an Assistant Professor (Strategy) with Indian Institute of Management Visakhapatnam
Amit B Chakrabarti
Amit B Chakrabarti
Green Human Resource Management (HRM) is fast emerging as a topic of research among academic circles. This is because it has been adopted by organizations from across the world at an extremely fast rate. The Covid-19 pandemic brought to the fore the utility of this initiative. However, there are fears that as companies aim to recover from the recent downturn, these initiatives may no longer be supported. In this short paper, I try to dispel these fears and argue that on the contrary, the pandemic may inspire firms to use GHRM in revitalizing their organizations.
Keywords: Green Human Resource Management; Sustainable Development Goals; Sustainable HRM; Covid-19
Fortune 500 companies across the world are under tremendous pressure to spearhead sustainability practices. What started as expectations for triple bottom line reporting is today led by the UN Global Compact and commitment to the seventeen SDG goals. To reach these ambitious targets every department and even every employee must contribute. In such a scenario, it is only natural that the Human Resource (HR) department be proactive and decisively contribute to the success of sustainability initiatives of the firm through what are popularly known as Green Human Resource Management (GHRM) policies. The success of GHRM can be gauged from the fact that it has become a growing field of literature in academic circles as well (Paulet et al., 2021).
The umbrella concept of GHRM, i.e., sustainable HRM is defined as ‘patterns of planned or emerging HR strategies and practices intended to enable the achievement of financial, social and ecological goals whilst simultaneously reproducing the HR base over a long time’(Kramar, 2014, p. 1084). GHRM on the other hand is defined as ‘those parts of sustainable HR management dealing with the needs that relate to environmental sustainability’ (Wagner, 2013, p. 444). As per Ehnert (2014), there are two ways in which HRM can impact sustainability: a) GHRM practices; and b) GHRM strategy. GHRM practices refer to specific policies adopted by the HR department in improving the sustainability efforts of the organization. This may include green recruitment & selection (pro-environment employer) (Paillé, 2019); green training (environment related training practices) (Yong et al., 2019); green rewards (for supporting environmental activities); green employee engagement (employees adopt company’s sustainable values in personal lives); and green performance management (sustainability related KRAs and KPIs) to name a few (Paulet et al., 2021). Meanwhile, GHRM strategy refers to the way the HR department supports the sustainability goals of the organization.
The Pandemic and its effect on GHRM
The post pandemic world provides new opportunities as well as threats to HR executives for the widespread implementation of GHRM strategies in organizations. On the one hand, the ‘new normal’ can lead to resource constraints that hamper sustainability initiatives. On the other hand, the pandemic may provide opportunities to creatively reuse and reassess existing infrastructure for focussed impact in this field. For instance, the recent COVID pandemic forced a large chunk of the workforce to work from home. Many HR departments realized the reciprocal interactions of the working life and private life of employees. In such a scenario, unless firms aim for green employee engagement and a green work-life balance, the concept of GHRM will not be viable (Muster & Schrader, 2011). Employees must not hesitate to extend the green practices they learn at the work environment in their private life as well. Only when organizations are able to elicit this total commitment from employees will GHRM be successful.
However, there is a section of scholars who fear that in a scenario where many businesses are struggling to survive due to the recession bought about by the pandemic, GHRM related objectives and initiatives may a take a backstage in the priorities of the top management. Thankfully, there are enough organizations in the real world to prove these scholars wrong. In fact, GHRM is being used as an agent for change and the revitalization of the organization in the post pandemic world by many (Cooke et al., 2020). Many organizations have played a vital part in the supporting the healthcare system of their countries in fighting the pandemic. The Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. is one of them. Be it manufacturing and transporting oxygen, setting up of vaccination drives, contributing monetary resources to the national covid fund, the company has been active on all fronts all the while ensuring that fuel supplies are not affected even to the remotest part of the country. It has challenged the boundaries of the organization in terms of what it should and should not do. This will hold the firm in good stead in days to come when the company thinks about diversification. They will realise that there is very little that they cannot do, all because of their capable human resources. Many organizations like IndianOil have also realised the power of technology, which was available from pre-pandemic periods. All this time it was woefully underutilised. As companies explore the potential of virtual workplaces, they will realise new benchmarks in efficiency. However, for HR professionals it leads to new challenges of social isolation and work intensification which must be addressed on priority (Cascio, 2000; Gao & Sai, 2020).
Although employee welfare has always been at the forefront of whatever a firm like IndianOil does, with Covid-19, it has been highlighted once again. The pandemic has exposed persistent inequalities across income, age, race, sex, and geographic location. With just eight years remaining until we reach 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals, the pressure on top performing corporates will only increase. Today it is foolish to expect that the Government will be able to successfully address all the problems facing our society. Big corporates must step up and obtain the legitimacy from society to conduct business by fulfilling their sustainability related promises. In this endeavour GHRM will remain the main weapon in the arsenal of corporates even in the post-pandemic world.
Cascio, W. F. (2000). Managing a virtual workplace. Academy of Management Perspectives, 14(3), 81–90.
Cooke, F. L., Dickmann, M., & Parry, E. (2020). IJHRM after 30 years: Taking stock in times of COVID-19 and looking towards the future of HR research. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 32(1), 1–23.
Ehnert, I. (2014). Sustainability and Human Resource Management Developing Sustainable Business Organizations. Springer.
Gao, G., & Sai, L. (2020). Towards a ‘virtual’world: Social isolation and struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic as single women living alone. Gender, Work & Organization, 27(5), 754–762.
Kramar, R. (2014). Beyond strategic human resource management: Is sustainable human resource management the next approach? The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25(8), 1069–1089. https://doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2013.816863
Muster, V., & Schrader, U. (2011). Green Work-Life Balance: A New Perspective for Green HRM. German Journal of Human Resource Management, 25(2), 140–156. https://doi.org/10.1177/239700221102500205
Paillé, P. (2019). Green recruitment and selection: An insight into green patterns. International Journal of Manpower.
Paulet, R., Holland, P., & Morgan, D. (2021). A meta-review of 10 years of green human resource management: Is Green HRM headed towards a roadblock or a revitalisation? Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 59(2), 159–183. https://doi.org/10.1111/1744-7941.12285
Wagner, M. (2013). ‘Green’ Human Resource Benefits: Do they Matter as Determinants of Environmental Management System Implementation? Journal of Business Ethics, 114(3), 443–456. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-012-1356-9
Yong, J. Y., Yusliza, M.-Y., & Fawehinmi, O. O. (2019). Green human resource management: A systematic literature review from 2007 to 2019. Benchmarking: An International Journal.
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