Can a bad person be a good Human Resources professional?

Association for Professional and Practical Ethics (APPE)

Flash Presentation: Can a bad person be a good Human Resources professional?

30th Annual APPE International Conference, February 25 – 27, 2021

Dr Lisa Grover FCIPD, University of Exeter, UK

Can a bad person be a good Human Resources professional?

In this presentation I argue that a good human resources (HR) professional also has to be a good person. This challenges the view that you can be good in one domain of life yet not in other domains (Badhwar, 2009). In this case, that you can be good at work as an HR professional, but not in other domains. Other domains could include at home, with family, at leisure, and so on . I draw upon the virtue ethics tradition to challenge this view. I argue that the idea of domain specificity is incoherent. For you to have the virtuous characteristics that make you good at work, you must also have those characteristics in other domains.

This topic is important because the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in 2018 published their ‘Professional Map’. This has ethical practice as a core behaviour for the HR professional. I apply virtue ethical theory to the concept of the good HR professional. I argue that if ethical behaviour is a fundamental requirement of the role of HR professional, then the character of the person is of central importance; a bad person cannot be a good HR professional. Demonstrating the significance of character is important practically for the profession because it informs approaches to topics including career planning, learning, development and recruitment.

There are few publications applying virtue ethical approaches to human resources professionals specifically. My research fills this gap, drawing upon the virtue ethical approaches to general business professionals and contributing a new case for applying virtue ethics to the particular business role of HR professional.


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Badhwar, N.K. (2009). The Milgram Experiments, Learned Helplessness, and Character Traits. Journal of Ethics: An International Philosophical Review, 13(2-3), 257-289,

BBC. (2019). Johnson defends Brexit plan and ‘row’ silence.

BBC. (2020). George Floyd: Adidas human resources boss quits amid racism row.

CIPD. (2018). Ethical practice.

CIPD. (2020). Ethical practice and the role of HR.

Doris, J.M. (2002) Lack of Character. Cambridge University Press.

Hinsliff, G. (2004, November 14). Boris Johnson sacked by Tories over private life. The Guardian.

Manley, D. and Wasserman, R. (2008). On Linking Dispositions and Conditionals. Mind, 117(465), 59-84. Swanton, C. (2016). A Virtue Ethical Theory of Role Ethics. Journal of Value Inquiry, 50, 687–702,

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