Faced with institutional demands, organizations often create departments whose work is divorced from technical imperatives. This paper examines workers in one such…
Faced with institutional demands, organizations often create departments whose work is divorced from technical imperatives. This paper examines workers in one such department: Human Resources. Analysis of HR’s recent history and evidence from an ethnographic study of HR work highlight the institutional origins of conflict between HR’s established “compliance police” role and the “business partner” expectations of line managers. The paper outlines a theory of how organizational responses to institutional complexity contribute to persistent tension in HR and other heteronomous occupations.
Knowledge of how institutions “work on the ground” is central to understanding how macro-pressures shape organizations and their participants. Four examples of the interplay between micro and macro are provided to give a richer account of institutions, both as process and outcome. One, as wider trends diffuse, they are pulled down locally, but the scripts are utilized in divergent ways. Two, as organizations make sense of social forces, these movements are received differentially, with micro-practices and macro-influences becoming entangled. Three, trends can be opaque to those who seek to follow them, resulting in unintended forms of implementation. Four, sociological miniaturism illustrates how the micro captures the macro as lived experience.