Jaap Paauwe

Jaap Paauwe's fascination with the welfare of working people

Passion 5 min Femke Trommels

Thoughout his career, Professor Emeritus of Organization and Human Resource Management Jaap Paauwe has been committed to building bridges between hard values like performance and the softer ones of employee wellbeing, as well as between science and practice. He has published his insights in more that 250 academic articles and books and in columns in professional magazines. His forthcoming book is also a way of giving back to professionals working in the field: five questions to inspire HR policy to benefit performance, wellbeing, and job satisfaction. Time to submit five questions to Jaap Paauwe.

As a business economist, how did you end up working in the field of Human Resource Management?

“There was a magical moment in my career, when I was working on my Master’s in Business Economics. One of my duties as a student-assistant to Organizational Psychology Professor Roger Williams at the time was making photocopies. At the Xerox machine, I read all kinds of texts on industrial and organizational psychology. I found them so interesting that I started making my own photocopies. That laid the foundation. The combination of psychological knowledge and economics was quite new at the time, but it has always helped me tremendously in what would later become my own field of study. Around that time, the Master’s course of Social Corporate Policy – now called Human Resource Management – was taught for the first time in the history of the School of Economics. I was an enthusiastic student in this course.”

What is the most important thing that motivates you in your work?

“I have always been fascinated by working people; I like to read stories, talk to people, visit businesses. I am particularly interested in the tension between the economic interest of performance and moral values like wellbeing and job satisfaction. People spend so much time working; it should give them pleasure too. Although this is a matter of course for some, it is a luxury for others. Work is frequently only a means to an end: just making a living. Ideally, work also offers wellbeing, meaning, a sense of purpose, and identity.”

“An important motivator in my academic career has been the lack I experienced in – particularly American – academic literature as concerns that moral dimension. The economic perspective dominated: the emphasis was almost entirely on performance. In the Netherlands, however, innovative research was being conducted that highlighted the other dimension. I have worked had to draw more attention to it. To that end, I established the Dutch HRM Network together with Paul Janssen at the end of the 1990s. Dutch HRM research acquired a prominent position as a result, in particular in England and the United States. This process has also led to my book HRM and Performance from 2004. Since it has been used as a text book and in the PhD program of Cornell, a prestigious American university, I feel my mission has been accomplished.”

I have tried to also highlight the moral dimension of work

“As a researcher, I also want to give back to professionals working in the field. That is another important motivation. I am grateful for my ten years of experience in business, first as a management trainee on the employers' side and then at trade union CNV on the employees' side. I was also able to write my PhD thesis at this time; it had always been my intention to return to academia. Because I owe a lot to practice and think that is also the duty of every scholar, I often – usually on a Friday afternoon – write a  summary of the research paper aimed at non-experts. If I teach courses or write a column, I try to do so in a way that enables participants who hear or read it on Thursday or Friday to apply it in their work the following week.”

Jaap Paauwe

I would like to give back to practice by sharing knowledge: what you read on Thursday or Friday, you should be able to apply in your work the following week

Jaap Paauwe

In what ways do you see academic insights serving practice?

“Research has shown that employee wellbeing is very important to a company’s success. Job satisfaction improves performance. A happy employee will work harder and be more accurate, and will also be better in contact with customers. This is crucial for business. Friendly, alert, and committed restaurant staff is better at serving patrons than a worker who does not care. A patron who has been served well will come back. So the moral dimension is both a means and an end. I think it is important to show how this works. Furthermore, social corporate policy is not a blueprint that you can apply anytime, anywhere. The HR policy in a poultry slaughterhouse is different from that in an accountancy firm. You need a tailored approach. What I have tried to do is provide a set of tools to help HR professionals tailor the HR policy to the organization.”

“Based on academic theory, I have developed a framework that provides insight into possible ‘fits’ of HR policy in four fields: organizational strategy, contextual factors (politics, legislation), organizational activities, and core values (why the business was set up). More that 1,000 businesses and persons have applies it. I am proud to have been able to contribute to a generation of HR managers who are aware of the importance of this ‘fit’ and who will shape and underpin their policy accordingly.”

I am proud to have been able to contribute to a generation of HR managers who are aware of the need of HR policy fitting the values, strategy, activities, and context of their organization

What would you say to HR managers who want to achieve change in their organization?

“Successfully applying HR management hinges on the professionalism and qualities of the HR manager and on the latitude he or she is given by the employer. Strategic insight, substantive knowledge, and competency in change management are essential! An important tip, that I always tell my students during lectures: know the organization’s raison d’être. Why do people pay for our products or services? Or why not? Make sure you know the business perspective and how the cash flows in your organization; how does your organization earn its money? Insight into these processes is crucial for a successful HR policy.”

Jaap Paauwe

Knowledge of the hard figures as well as the soft values is essential for the HR manager

Jaap Paauwe

“In sum: HR is more than running the administration and managing personnel and salaries. If your employer is not interested, maybe you as an HR manager should cut your losses, leave, and opt for another organization where management is open to a more strategic approach to HR policy and optimizing the fit between performance and wellbeing. On the other hand, you should be willing to take a risk now and then and stand up for what you believe in. I’ve often seen that a consultant is hired when an organizational change is imminent. It's such a shame not to take up this learning opportunity yourself as an HR manager! You may fall flat on your face, but you will learn an awful lot.”

What does the future hold for you?

“Up until December, I will be busy with the steering group of the Room for Everyone’s Talent program. In addition, I will be supervising several PhD students, and I teach at TIAS. I’m also affiliated to a business school in Surinam and I occupy honorary chairs in Seville in Spain and in South Africa. And I need to write the last chapter of my latest book. I have more time on my hands than I used to but stopping everything and doing nothing really wouldn’t suit me.”

Jaap Paauwe

On Jaap Paauwe

Jaap Paauwe (1953) is a Professor Emeritus at the Department of Human Resource Studies at Tilburg University. Before that, he worked as a Professor of Organization at Erasmus University Rotterdam, where he headed the Department of Business and Organization of the School of Economics. In 2021, he was the first non-American recipient of the Mahoney Mentoring Award presented by the Academy of Management/HR Division for his role as a mentor and coach. Jaap Paauwe specializes in the link between Human Resource Management (HRM) and corporate strategies and how they impact the performances of organizations and employee wellbeing. He is also active in advising organizations, both internationally and in the Netherlands. A detailed biography of Jaap Paauwe is available on Tilburg University’s research portal and the websites of the Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and of TIAS School for Business and Society.

FORTHCOMING: ‘TRAVELLING THE LOOP - Progressing well-being and performance at work

Jaap Paauwe has written various books in which he shares academic theories and insights. His latest book is entitled Travelling the loop – Progressing well-being and performance at work and is scheduled to appear in the spring of 2022. The book centers on five questions for HR managers: why are HR policies different for different organizations? What makes HRM effective? How can you create a meaningful and stimulating environment for workers? And how do you reflect on and evaluate your own contribution as a line or HR manager? Paauwe: “Many people working in the field are not aware of the academic theories or do not know how to apply them in practice. That is what this book is for.”

Travelling the Loop