Personalisation, austerity and the HR function in the UK voluntary sector

Cunningham, Ian (2016) Personalisation, austerity and the HR function in the UK voluntary sector. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 28 (14). pp. 2017-2035. ISSN 0958-5192 (

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Using the customer orientated bureaucracy (COB) concept, this qualitative study investigates changes to the Human Resource (HR) function’s status in eight Scottish voluntary organisations delivering public services at a time of contradictory government calls for greater customer service (personalisation) and cost control (austerity). HR attempts to build and sustain social orders that encourage worker commitment to customer service, leading to business facing and ‘business partner’ strategic roles in areas of recruitment and skills. The study, however, challenges the ability of unitarist ‘business partner’ HR roles to resolve emerging organisational tensions concerning industrial relations, worker concerns over their own security, lack of opportunities to up-skill and service quality. It further questions whether the HR function can be strategic in this and other COB contexts as it can be powerless to resolve workplace tensions because its own status is undermined by budget cuts by government and it faces challenges to its expertise from internal and external actors such as consultants and customers.


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