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Alienation: An old concept with contemporary relevance for human resource management

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 07:53 authored by O'Donohue, W, Nelson, L
Purpose: This study aims to re-examine the concept of alienation, particularly from the perspective of existential psychology. While research interest continues to centre on links between human resource management (HRM) and organizational performance, such as in studies by Beer et al. (1984), Huselid (1995), Becker and Gerhart (1996) and Guest (2011), there is a growing interest in individual attributes such as employee well-being in addition to organizational performance, as mentioned in studies by Macky and Boxall (2007), Wood and de Menezes (2011) and Guest and Conway (2011). In this paper, we focus on issues related to the individual, and in doing so we suggest that HRM theory needs further development, as pointed out by Guest (2011).

Design/methodology/approach: This is a paper in the tradition of critical theory that draws on both classical and modern research in the business and psychology literature. It outlines the development of the concept of alienation from its classic articulation by Marx through to the perspective offered by existential psychologists such as Blauner (1964). How alienation, thus, defined might manifest in the workplace is then discussed, as are its links to other concepts associated in the literature with positive and negative work experiences is presented.

Findings: We argue that alienation needs to be addressed at two levels, namely, at the systemic level, in terms of factors external to the individual such as work and organizational systems and processes, and in terms of factors internal to the individual’s “state of mind”. We offer strategies for management to consider counterbalancing the negative effects of residual feelings of powerlessness, meaninglessness, isolation and self-estrangement that systemic change is unable to eliminate.

Originality/value: The paper refocuses attention on the individual within the context of HRM, the effects of alienation and other outcomes of positive and negative work experiences such as work engagement and job burnout.


Publication title

International Journal of Organizational Analysis










Emerald Publishing Limited

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

Copyright 2014 Emerald

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives


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