On 19 December the CIPD held its second, annual Applied Research Conference, established to strengthen links between academic research and HR practice. This interdisciplinary conference concentrated on theoretical and empirical advances in a wide range of topics and centred on the ‘so what?’ question: the practical applications of research insight to organisational life and labour markets. This focus was warmly welcomed by delegates who said:

‘As a practitioner for 35 years, who has always looked for evidence to support HR strategy and practice, I cannot stress strongly enough how essential this is to the future of HR. I emphatically congratulate the CIPD on establishing this conference. This is just the beginning.’

 ‘Good conference. Strong on ideas. Also reassuring for most of the work that I'm (and other practitioners) are doing - It seems to be close to the cutting edge.’

 ‘A very important aspect of the CIPD's work. I will definitely attend again.’

The 2016 programme included thirty research papers in nine streams and featured keynote presentations from three leading academic thinkers: Jill Rubery, Denise Rousseau and Paul Sparrow. All of the sessions were chaired by renowned HR leaders, including the HR Directors of the BBC, Boots Opticians, Croner, Islamic Relief, Network Rail and the NSPCC.

Jill Rubery, Professor of Comparative Employment Systems at Alliance Manchester Business School, opened the day, arguing that ‘flexibility bites back’. The view that labour market flexibility has led to a UK ‘jobs miracle’ is narrow and short-sighted, she explained. There are hidden costs, not only for workers, but also for organisations and society. These include a loss of employee goodwill and knowledge and the societal costs of supporting low wages and variable hours’ employment.

Later in the day, Denise Rousseau, H.J. Heinz Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, also discussed employment contracts but from the perspective of idiosyncratic deals (or i-deals) that individual employees bargain for themselves. Denise showed that i-deals occur at all levels and can create problems for co-workers and organisations. She presented evidence that points to ‘dos and don’ts’ to make i-deals ‘win-win-win’ between employees, their employer and colleagues, or at least ‘win-win-no loss’, and a source of innovation in HR practice and policy.

Closing the day, Paul Sparrow, Emeritus Professor at Lancaster University Management School, looked at what HR needs to become in the 21st century. Paul’s prognosis for HR is a challenging one. To avoid being bit-part players, HR professionals need to fight for horizontal space in their organisations, relating closely to cross-cutting business critical issues such as productivity and innovation. The people agenda is huge but it has implications for what the HR profession focuses on and how it develops competencies.

Other papers delivered throughout the day covered cutting-edge research on:

  • employee well-being: financial well-being and the role of technology
  • diversity and inclusion: neurodiversity and working fathers
  • career development: role transitions and the careers of carers
  • the HR profession: HR configuration in small firms and ethics
  • learning and development: the use of social technology and L&D of volunteers
  • performance: appraisals and managing through austerity
  • employment contracts: outsourcing and co-ownership
  • employee engagement: employee surveys and morale
  • tensions in the HR role: working with subsidiaries and managing conflict.

A selection of papers from the 2016 conference are now available to download

The CIPD is looking at further ways of strengthening links between academic research and practice. The recent positioning paper, In search of the best available evidence, discusses some of these issues.

The 2016 conference was hosted by Westminster Business School at the University of Westminster and sponsored by the Human Resource Management Journal and the Journal of Organizational Effectiveness: People and Performance.

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At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.