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Dynamics of Employment Relations and HRM in Nonprofit Organizations

Special issue call for papers from Employee Relations

Dynamics of Employment Relations and HRM in Nonprofit Organizations

Kunle Akingbola, Alina Baluch, Carol Brunt, Ian Cunningham, Guest Editors

Papers Due for Submission: February 1, 2019

Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) are inherently complex, labour intensive and dynamically intertwined with their external environment in more ways than organizations in other sectors. Although these characteristics are evident in the systems and processes of the organization, it is perhaps in the domains of human resource management (HRM) and employment relations that these characteristics and their consequences are particularly least understood. Also, although what we know about HR practices and employment relations in nonprofits is slightly better than before, our understanding is still scant at best.

To begin to unravel the systems, processes and outcomes that underlie and drive the employment relations and the HRM mix in NPOs, we must first explain the role of contextual and institutional factors. The system-level interactions in the contextual environment (Colbert, 2004) coupled with the expectations of the institutional context (Baum and Oliver, 1991) likely combine the core elements that could drive the relationship between employment relations and social mission. Akingbola (2013) noted that there are three distinct sources of resources and capabilities of NPOs: structural, institutional, and values, all of which are embedded in the unique system-level and social mission interaction of nonprofits (see Baum and Oliver 1996; DiMaggio and Anheier 1990; Hansmann 1980). This suggests that employment relations are likely to reflect the characteristics, determinants, dimensions and emergent management practices that could shape not only the social mission, but also the adaptive strategy as well the social exchange relationship between employees, volunteers and NPOs (see Golensky & Walker, 2003; Kim, 2005).  In a way, it also suggests that the link between employment relations, HRM and organizational effectiveness have implications for human capital and the social capital of employees in NPOs (Akingbola, 2014). 

The dynamics of employment relations and HRM in NPOs raise extensive questions for research and management. The theorization of strategic HRM in nonprofit has emerged very recently (Akingbola, 2013a; 2013b: Ridder & McCandless, 2010; Ridder, Piening, & Baluch, 2012; Ridder, Baluch, & Piening, 2012). Moreover, our knowledge of HR practices (Guo, Brown, Ashcraft, Yoshioka, & Dong, 2011; Selden & Sowa, 2011) and the challenges that employment relations in NPOs nonprofits must manage is slowly emerging in research and practitioner literature (Cunningham & James, 2009; Cunningham, 2010; Cunningham, Hearne, & James, 2013). However, there is still a significant gap in our understanding. For example, how do nonprofits in different cultures and contexts foster employment relations that support the social mission of the organization?  What is the role of interaction in the external and internal environment in the emergent employment relations?  Also, what is the role of individual behaviour and teamwork in employment relations in nonprofits? These and other numerous questions highlight the yet to be explored overlapping angles and dimensions of employment relations and HRM in NPOs.

This special issue will help us to continue to gain new insights in management, applied nonprofit practices and organizational theory including the critical perspectives on employment relations and HRM in NPOs. It will provide a forum for quality research and conceptual papers that advance our understanding of the relevant body of knowledge and explain the interactions between employees, management, the organization and society in NPOs.  The special issue aims to bring together theoretical and empirical articles that examine and map the contours of employment relations in NPOs including papers that address the challenges and dimensions of employment relations in small nonprofits that constitute the largest number of organizations in the sector in many countries (Clark, 2007; Independent Sector, 2013; McMullen & Schellenberg, 2003).  The term nonprofit in this special issue includes the third sector, voluntary sector, NGO and the social economy organizations. 

Overall, this special issue seeks to advance themes such as: the relationship between the environment and NPO HRM; social relations and NPO employment relations; context of SHRM in NPOs; practices, processes and interactions that influence employee behaviour in NPOs. Examples of research questions that might be addressed under these themes include:
•    How do nonprofits in different cultures and contexts manage and deploy human resources?
•    How do nonprofits effectively manage human resources across borders? Is it possible to maintain equity?
•    What is the role of the interaction between the external and internal environment in the formulation of HR practices? What bundles of HR practices are likely to be combined?
•    Given that we particularly lack knowledge of organizational behaviour at the individual and team levels in NPOs, what is the role of individual behaviour in teamwork?
•    How might HR practices result in undesirable consequences for employees, such as work intensification, stress, and other negative effects on employee wellbeing?
•    How does context influence employee-managerial relations, employment conditions and the nature of work in nonprofits? What is the impact thereof on the sustainability of the nonprofit workforce?
•    What is the role of and relationship between control and autonomy in nonprofit work?
•    How do power dynamics shape employment relations in nonprofits?
•    How does the gendered dimension of work in NPOs influence employment relations?
•    What role does diversity play in shaping employment relations?
•    What role does HRM play in shaping the values of employees as socially engaged citizens?
•    What is the relationship between the organization and labour unions? How does a unionised environment impact on HRM in nonprofits?
•    How are forms of consumer-directed care influencing HRM/employment systems in nonprofits?
•    How might the learning from HRM benefit management practices in other sectors and the development of relevant management and organizational theories?

The issues and perspectives that will be examined in the special issue are relevant to researchers and managers across international boundaries. The insights and evidence about nonprofits’ HRM and employment relations will illustrate the national and the international dimensions of the issues and experience of the organizations. The Guest Editors encourage researchers and practitioners from around the world to submit their work.

Submission deadline

Full manuscripts should be submitted by February 1, 2019. Manuscripts must be submitted through the online submission portal of Employee Relations Journal
Please ensure you select this particular Special Issue when submitting your paper.
The guest editors will undertake an initial review of manuscripts and selected papers will then undergo the double-blind review process.

Contact Information

Kunle Akingbola  ([email protected])
Alina Baluch  ([email protected])
Carol Brunt ([email protected])
Ian Cunningham ([email protected])


Akingbola, K. (2013a). A model of strategic nonprofit human resource management. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 24, 214–240.
Akingbola, K., (2013b). Context and Nonprofit Human Resource Management. Administration and Society, 45(8).974-1004.
Baines, D., Charlesworth, S. and I. Cunningham (2014). Fragmented outcomes: International comparisons of gender, managerialism and union strategies in the nonprofit sector. Journal of Industrial Relations, 56(1), 24-42.
Baum, J. A. C., & Oliver, C. (1996). Toward an institutional ecology of organizational founding. Academy of Management Journal, 39(5), 1378–1427.
Baum, J. A. C., & Oliver, C. 1991. Institutional linkages and organizational mortality.
Administrative  Science Quarterly, 36, 187-218.
Clark, J. (2007). The UK Voluntary Sector Almanac. London: The UK Workforce Hub at NCVO.
Colbert, B. 2004. The complex resource-based view: Implications for theory and practice in strategic human resource management. Academy of Management Review, 29(3), 341–358.
Cunningham, I. (2008). Mobilising workers within interorganisational relationships in the UK voluntary sector. Industrial Relations Journal, 39(3), 191-211.
Cunningham, I., & James, P. (2009). The outsourcing of social care in Britain: What does it mean for voluntary sector workers?. Work, Employment & Society, 23, 363–375.
Cunningham, I. (2010). The HR function in purchaser–provider relationships: Insights from the UK voluntary sector. Human Resource Management Journal, 20, 189–205.
Cunningham, I., Hearne, G., & James, P. (2013). Voluntary organisations and marketisation: A dynamic of employment degradation. Industrial Relations Journal, 44, 171–188.
DiMaggio, P. J., & Anheier, H. K. (1990). The sociology of nonprofit organizations and sectors. Annual Review of Sociology, 16, 137–159.
Golensky, M., & Walker, M. 2003. Organizational change -- too much, too soon? Journal of
Community Practice, 11(2), 67-82.
Guo, C., Brown, W. A., Ashcraft, R. F., Yoshioka, C. F., & Dong, H.-K. D. (2011). Strategic human resources management in nonprofit organizations. Review of Public Personnel Administration, 31, 248–269.
Hansmann, H. B. (1980). The role of nonprofit enterprise. The Yale Law Journal, 89(5), 835–901.
Hemmings, M. (2011). "What problems you got"?: Managerialisation and union organising in the voluntary sector. Industrial Relations Journal, 42(5), 473-485.
Independent Sector (2013)  Scope of the Nonprofit Sector. Independent Sector. Accessed November, 2013
Hansmann, H. B. 1980. The role of nonprofit enterprise. The Yale Law Journal, 89(5), 835–901.
Kim, S. 2005. Three big management challenges in nonprofit human services agencies. International Review of Public Administration, 10(1), 85-93.
McMullen, K., & Schellenberg, G. (2003a). Job quality in nonprofit organizations. Ottawa: Canadian Policy Research Network.
Ridder, H.-G., Piening, E. P., & Baluch, A. M. (2012). The third way reconfigured: How and why nonprofit organizations are shifting their human resource management. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 23, 605–635.
Ridder, H.-G., & McCandless, A. (2010). Influences on the architecture of human resource management in nonprofit organizations: An analytical framework. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 39, 124–141.
Ridder, H.-G., Baluch, A. M., & Piening, E. P. (2012). The whole is more than the sum of its parts? How HRM is configured in nonprofit organizations and why it matters Human Resource Management Review, 22, 1–14.
Selden, S., & Sowa, J. (2011) “Performance management and appraisal in human service organizations: Management and staff perspectives,” Public Personnel Management, 40(3): 251.

Bio of Guest Editors

Kunle Akingbola
Dr. Kunle Akingbola is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Business Administration at Lakehead University and research associate in the Centre for Learning, Social Economy and Work, University of Toronto. His research focuses on the complex interactions that shape employee behaviour, HRM and change in nonprofit and healthcare organizations. Dr. Akingbola has published numerous book chapters and articles in leading international journals such as International Journal of Human Resource Management and Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations. Dr. Akingbola is the author of "Managing Human Resources for Nonprofits" (Routledge, 2015). He is currently an Associate Editor of the journal Nonprofit Management & Leadership.

Alina Baluch
Dr Alina Baluch is Senior Lecturer in Management at the University of St Andrews and Associate Director of the Centre for the Study of Philanthropy & Public Good. Her work focuses on employment relations and the unintended consequences of HRM in the voluntary sector. Alina's research has been published in leading journals such as Human Resource Management, Journal of Applied Psychology and British Journal of Management.

Carol Brunt
Dr. Carol Brunt is an Assistant Professor in the College of Business and Economics (COBE) at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and the Coordinator of the NonProfit Studies Program. Her research on the HRM practices of international NGOs has appeared in top journals including the International Journal for Human Research Management, the European Journal for Development Research and the Journal of International Development. Her book on the topic, Human Resource Management in International INGOs: Exploring Strategy, Practice and Policy, was recently published by Palgrave-Macmillan UK.
Ian Cunningham
Professor Cunningham's research interests include voluntary sector employment relations, sickness absence and disability management, employee involvement and participation and public sector employment relations during austerity. Professor Cunningham has published in a wide range of HR and public administration journals and has strong research links with scholars from Canada and Australia.