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The Employee as ‘Dish of the Day’: The Ethics of the Consuming/Consumed Self in Human Resource Management



This article examines the ethical implications of the growing integration of consumption into the heart of the employment relationship. Human resource management (HRM) practices increasingly draw upon the values and practices of consumption, constructing employees as the ‘consumers’ of ‘cafeteria-style’ benefits and development opportunities. However, at the same time employees are expected to market themselves as items to be consumed on a corporate menu. In relation to this simultaneous position of consumer/consumed, the employee is expected to actively engage in the commodification of themselves, performing an appropriate organizational identity as a necessary part of being a successful employee. This article argues that the relationship between HRM and the simultaneously consuming/consumed employee affects the conditions of possibility for ethical relations within organizational life. It is argued that the underlying ‘ethos’ for the integration of consumption values into HRM practices encourages a self-reflecting, self-absorbed subject, drawing upon a narrow view of individualised autonomy and choice. Referring to Levinas’ perspective that the primary ethical relation is that of responsibility and openness to the Other, it is concluded that these HRM practices affect the possibility for ethical being.



Journal of Business EthicsSpringer Journals

Published: Nov 1, 2012

DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1437-9

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