Workshop: ‘Socioeconomics of personnel’ as an evolving research program


  • Martin Schneider, Paderborn University

Few in the field of human resource management would deny the success of personnel economics since the 1990s as a research program. It has its own Journal of Economic Literature (JEL) classification code, M5. In Europe, an annual Colloquium on Personnel Economics (COPE) has been steadily growing since its inception in 1998.

However, some economists focus in their research on personnel issues without considering themselves “personnel economists”. Critical of the research program defined in particular by Edward Lazear (Lazear 2000; Lazear and Shaw 2007), they express their uneasiness with the “imperialistic” nature of a theory which claims to define the very field of personnel research (Kaufman 2012; Spencer 2013; Nienhueser 2017). Personnel economists themselves have softened the narrow official agenda defined by Lazear. In particular, it has been suggested that an economic view of personnel comprises personnel economics and employment politics (Personalökonomie und Arbeitspolitik, Sadowski 2002) and that results from behavioral and experimental economics can help magnify personnel economics’ explanatory power (Backes-Gellner, Bessey, and Pull 2008).

The  workshop brings together scholars who would like to discuss a socioeconomics of personnel: a research program with a broader spectrum of assumptions concerning human interaction and with a stronger sensitivity to market imperfections than personnel economics. The socioeconomics of personnel includes (among other topics) work on fairness considerations, non-selfish motivation, identity economics, power, and voice institutions. It studies outcomes such as worker health, job satisfaction, and wage inequality in firms and in societies. Overall, the socioeconomics of personnel is a personnel economics which embraces social norms in its assumptions and focuses on societal concerns in its research questions.

A first session of the proposed workshop brings together voices that review and critique the present state of personnel economics (Sadowski, Riach) and explore ways in which to expand its assumptions and models (Spencer, Nienhüser). A second session discusses empirical examples that either extend behavioral assumptions to incorporate social norms (Thommes/Hoffmann) or address personnel questions that matter to social outcomes (Schneider, Matiaske).

Based on the presentations, workshop participants may discuss more general questions related to the new research program: What are concepts and ideas from economics that need to be integrated into a research program that is more socially relevant than personnel economics? Is the label “socioeconomics of personnel” useful in inviting other disciplines? What are key behavioural assumptions of the socioeconomics of personnel? Do we need to focus on wider societal concerns than personnel economists have done or should we rather leave this job to labour economists, sociologists, and management scholars?


  • Backes-Gellner, Uschi; Bessey, Donata; Pull, Kerstin (2008): What Behavioural Economics Teaches Personnel Economics. In: Die Unternehmung 62 (3), pp. 217–234.
  • Kaufman, Bruce E. (2012): An institutional economic analysis of labor unions. In: Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society 51, pp. 438–471.
  • Lazear, Edward P. (2000): Economic imperialism. In: The Quarterly Journal of Economics 115 (1), pp. 99–146.
  • Lazear, Edward P.; Shaw, Kathryn L. (2007): Personnel economics: The economist's view of human resources. In: Journal of Economic Perspectives 21 (4), pp. 91–114.
  • Nienhueser, Werner (2017): Socio-economic Research in Personnel versus Personnel Economics. In: Forum for Social Economics 46 (1), pp. 104–119.
  • Spencer, David A. (2013): Barbarians at the gate: A critical appraisal of the influence of economics on the field and practice of HRM. In: Human Resource Management Journal 23 (4), pp. 346–359.