Confucian thinking and the implications for sustainability in HRM

Alex Mak, Lenis Cheung, Amy Mak, Loretta Leung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to provide a concise introduction of sustainability in human resource management (HRM) from the western perspective. With a review of Confucian thinking, it argues that the application of sustainability in HRM is more effective and efficient under the influence of Confucian values. Therefore, Chinese companies are likely ready to embrace the concept of sustainability and implement sustainable people management practices.

Design/methodology/approach - The paper is mainly theoretical in perspective. It also draws on semi-structured interview data derived from a study conducted in companies that operated in two cities in China: Guangzhou and Beijing to support the discussion of synergies between Confucian values and the western concept of sustainability in HRM.

Findings - In the interviews, it was evident that the interviewees were adhered to Confucian values, although they did not make the connection explicit. The interview data also showed how Confucian values (e.g. Ren, Yi, Li) affect Chinese management of human resources.

Research limitations/implications - The number of interviewees involved was not sufficient to allow a conclusive comparison between groups. Further research is needed to develop comparisons.

Practical implications - The paper suggests a favourable application of Confucian values in sustainable people management practices.

Originality/value - The interview data provide insight into how Confucian values lend support to sustainability in HRM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-189
Number of pages17
JournalAsia-Pacific Journal of Business Administration
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2014


  • Confucian thinking
  • Employability of employees
  • Employees' social well-being
  • Harmony
  • Human resource management
  • Sustainability


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