Huhn, Gianna (2017). 'Human Development in Organisations: A Capability Perspective of the Workplace' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


With technological advancement and human progress our perception of standards of living have evolved. Building inclusive and decent societies has become a dynamic challenge for Human Development and human well-being. Employment and organisations are an integral part to societal change and human progress. However, companies are often constrained by profit goals and financial gains for share- and stakeholders alike. In this context workers are the drivers of organisations, often with limited opportunities to participate and foster dialogue in their employment. As societal perception of work has changed, workers’ demands for their employers and organisations have evolved. From Gen Y to low-skilled workers, economic inequalities are being addressed and work-life balance has become a focal point in employment. Job design, flexible work hours and general work benefits have become more prevalent in companies and are only few of the current responses to a shift in worker needs and demands. The aim for organisations is to improve employee well-being, decrease employee turnovers and increase overall satisfaction, and organisations are seeking to change accordingly. However, current methods and studies have proven to be effective in a limited setting and are highly context dependant. This paper evaluates if Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach offers alternative insight into improving quality of life and living standards of workers.

 The study is aimed is to evaluate Human Development and Human Capability Development in an organisational context through the lens of Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach. The paper is a single case study that is based on 30 semi-structured face-to-face interviews with workers and 10 semi-structured face-to-face interviews with team leaders to evaluate current approaches to Human Development and Human Capability Development in an organisational context. Selected interviewees are employed by a supplier company that produces engine parts for the automotive industry. The organisation is headquartered in Germany and the interviews were conducted at the production site in Wiesbaden, Germany.

The study addresses the following research questions:

  1. What is Human Development in an organisational context?
  2. What is Human Capability Development in an organisational context?
  3. What are current approaches to Human Development and Human Capability Development in organisations and are they effective
  4. Does Sen’s Capabilities Approach offer an alternative perspective on Human Development and Human Capability Development in organisations and what are its potential benefits?

The first two research questions are addressed through a conceptual and theoretical evaluation of current studies and contemporary academic research. Research question 2 and 4 are primarily addressed through the empirical element of the study and their answers draw from the interviews as well additionally collected material.

The paper follows the framework for Human Capability Development introduced by Jane Bryson for the New Zealand government and the UN’s definition of Human Development. It is designed to evaluate drivers and barriers to Human Development and Human Capability Development in organisations and analyses workers’ potential at an institutional, organisational and individual level. The primary list of capabilities is derived from Vizard and Burchardt (2007) and gives insight into what capabilities are valuable for workers.

The study contributes to the field of HRM, strategic management research, organisational theory, and follows the school of liberal thought. It contributes to the idea that the worker as a human being is more than Human Capital and human beings in organisations are more than organisational resources. Work offers meaning beyond means to an end and sees the worker as an end in him- or herself. The paper concludes with potential benefits that the capability perspective offers to facilitate the optimal realisation of workers’ potential and capabilities in organisations.

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