Surviving Covid-19: The Role of Human Resource Managers in Shaping Organizational Responses to Societal Paradox

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This study examines the role played by Australian human resource (HR) managers in shaping organizational responses to the Covid-19 pandemic from the perspective of paradox theory. We argue that the Covid-19 crisis triggered a ‘societal paradox’ – protecting lives and the economy – that cascaded to organizations of all types. While studies suggest paradoxes cross levels of analysis, little is known regarding organizational responses to a societal paradox entailing interdependent and yet contradictory demands between socially significant objectives. We focus on HR managers because of their key role in providing Covid-19 advice and support. Using a combination of cross-sectional survey data (n = 680) and detailed semi-structured interviews (n = 43), we examine variations in HR managers’ experience of, and responses to, organizational tensions generated by societal paradox. We find that HR managers play a key role in shaping whether organizational responses ‘replicate’ the initial societal paradox, or ‘magnify’ existing latent paradoxical tensions in the organization. We show how applying a societal lens adds insight to paradox theory, elucidate the HR-related mechanisms that underpin variations in organizational experiences/responses and produce an inductive model to guide future studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)410-434
Number of pages25
JournalBritish Journal of Management
Issue number1
Early online date6 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jan 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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