Graduation Assignments

Action research in the field of HRM research

First supervisor: Tanya Bondarouk (HRM),

External supervisor: Jorrit van Mierlo (HRM),

Topic of the bachelor circle

Action research and HRM: a golden combination?

Problem description (motivation, background) and general research question

Over the past decades, HRM researchers have exchanged state-of-the-art findings and insights with practitioners, who in their turn have rewarded them with access to their employees, by means of sending out questionnaires and holding interviews with them. Nevertheless, only too often organisations adopt certain HRM policies without investigating whether they fit the organisation’s structure or culture – and hence can be considered likely to produce desired results. Reversely, too often scientists design models and theories which have the potential to inform organisations and help them to adopt a more efficient HRM policy, but which are never put into practice because (HRM) policy-makers hardly ever consult scientific journals (Pullin, Knight, Stone, & Charman, 2004), or are not that interested in research into topics which they did not ask for in the first place. Dickens and Watkins (1999, p. 128) warned for this problem: “Without collaboration, practitioners engaged in uninformed action; researchers developed theory without application; and neither group produced consistently successful results”.

Action research is a research approach which explicitly focuses on bringing the worlds of scholarly knowledge and methods together with relevant practical solutions. In this sense, action researchers depart from an organisational problem, analyse the problem, design possible solutions, implement them and evaluate whether the problem has been solved. This approach ensures that the scholarly knowledge do not go to waste in never-read recommendations in the end of a scientific paper.

We believe action research and HRM will prove to be a great combination, but we need empirical results to show this. Furthermore, we need to develop guidelines regarding how to design an action research oriented study in an HRM setting. Therefore we use the following research question:

What is the added value of making use of action research in the field of HRM, and which guidelines can assist in designing an action research study for solving HRM problems?

Objective and expected deliverable or results

The expected outcome of this thesis (it can also be split in half and done by two students) is:

•To design guidelines for doing an action research-oriented study in the HRM field

•Empirical results of the added value of action research for solving HRM-related problems


Action research (Lewin, 1946)


Coughlan, P., & Coghlan, D. (2002). Action research for operations management. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 22(2), 220–240.

Cumming, T. M., Strnadová, I., & Singh, S. (2014). iPads as instructional tools to enhance learning opportunities for students with developmental disabilities: An action research project. Action Research, 12(2), 151–176.

Dickens, L., & Watkins, K. (1999). Action research: rethinking Lewin. Management Learning, 30(2), 127–140.

Eden, C., & Huxham, C. (1996). Action research for management research. British Journal of Management, 7(1), 75–86.

Lewin, K. (1946). Action research and minority problems. Journal of Social Issues, 2(4), 34–46.

Pullin, A. S., Knight, T. M., Stone, D. A., & Charman, K. (2004). Do conservation managers use scientific evidence to support their decision-making? Biological Conservation, 119(2), 245–252.

Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (2008). The SAGE handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. Sage.

Zhang, W., Levenson, A., & Crossley, C. (2015). Move Your Research From The Ivy Tower To The Board Room: A Primer On Action Research For Academics, Consultants, And Business Executives. Human Resource Management, 54(1), 151–174.

What is new about this topic?

As far as we know, hardly any researcher has attempted to incorporate an action research cycle in an HRM study. Zhang, Levenson and Crossley (2015) investigated this phenomena and indeed found just a small amount of HRM-action research papers. This is surprising, since other management disciplines like information systems and operations research, but also educational and health sciences have been using action research in their fields widely (e.g. Cumming, Strnadová, & Singh, 2014).

Suitable Research methods

All data collection methods are acceptable. However, we think qualitative methods fit the action research approach best. This also depends on the particular research question which the student will be using and the problem he or she will be tackling.

Data to be used

Data have to be collected at the organisation(s) where the investigation will be held.