T4-WS1: Workshop: ‘Socioeconomics of personnel’ as an evolving research program

6 September 2019, 15:00–16:30

Martin Schneider, Paderborn University

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.


From personnel economics to a political economy of work

David Spencer, Leeds University Business School

Personnel economics has helped to broaden labour economics. But its development has been at the expense of genuine interdisciplinary dialogue and the communication and integration of ideas from heterodox economics. Its rise within business schools has also been implicated in the spread of ‘bad’ management that is detrimental to the well-being of workers. The presentation considers the limits of personnel economics and the prospects of developing an alternative approach to the study of HRM that is rooted in the broader political economy tradition.

Socio-economics versus personnel economics in industrial relations research

A critique and a proposal for a socio-economic mode of explanation

Werner Nienhüser, University of Duisburg-Essen

Based on a critique of restrictice assumptions in personnel economics, this presentation outlines a socio-economic mode of explanation. It suggests that any explanation should include assumptions about three theoretical mechanisms: pursuit of utility, power, and sense-making.

Can nudges increase employee performance?

Evidence from two field experiments

Kirsten Thommes, Paderborn University
Christin Hoffmann, Brandenburg University of Technology

This presentation discusses findings from two experiments showing that nudges can improve the performance of truck drivers but that intrinsic motivation interacts with nudges and monetary incentives. Intrinsically motivated drivers did not deteriorate in performance after being nudged (experiment 1). they further improved in performance under gain contracts whereas less motivated drivers only responded to loss contracts (experiment 2).

‘Why can’t we go on as three?’

The Macro-Micro-Link revisited

Wenzel Matiaske, Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg

This presentation argues that a socio-economic explanation of the organization of work and labour relations is advised to remember the macro-micro-link debate and the method of decreasing abstraction. Existing contributions in behavioral economics and micro economics tend to forget these traditional insights.

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