Call for Papers
SUSTAINABLE WORK AND EMPLOYMENT IN SOCIAL CARE: NEW CHALLENGES, NEW PRIORITIES?
Ian Kessler (King’s College London, UK, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Aoife McDermott (Cardiff University, UK, email@example.com)
Valeria Pulignano (KU Leuven, Belgium, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lander Vermeerbergen (Radboud University, The Netherlands, email@example.com)
Brian Harney (Dublin City University, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rationale and objectives:
The social care workforce supports the most vulnerable members of society through the
provision of personal support and practical assistance, typically in a community, residential or
domestic setting. Yet this is a workforce itself vulnerable to low pay, precarious employment,
and limited career development opportunities (Harley et al., 2010; Rubery et al., 2015). Despite
these challenges, and indeed the significant and growing scale of the social care workforce in
most developed countries (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022), social care work and
employment have received limited attention in the HRM literature, particularly relative to the
healthcare sector (Cooke & Bartram, 2015). While the health and social care sectors are
interdependent, often dealing with the same vulnerable groups at different stages of their care
journey, they remain structurally and organizationally distinct. Social care is a fragmented
sector, comprising many small and medium-sized care providers, limiting their capacity to
develop a supportive HRM infrastructure, in turn contributing to endemic problems of
recruiting and retaining staff in the sector. Most recently liberalization has introduced new
market forces into the sector placing downward pressures on workforce terms and conditions
as employers seek to compete on the basis of cost (Hermann & Flecker, 2012).
The workforce challenges in social care have become even more pressing in the wake of
COVID-19. Often treated by policy makers as the ‘poor relation’ to healthcare in fighting the
pandemic, social care has been inadequately prepared and resourced to deal with the crisis,
placing inordinate and intense job demands on employees (Barnett & Grabowski, 2020).
Indeed, COVID has generated new workforce concerns for the sector, relating to: employee
well-being; the balance between risk and reward; and the effective articulation of employee
voice (Butterick & Charlwood, 2020; Johnson & Pulignano, 2021). In focusing on social care,
this Special Issue aims to deepen understanding of workforce management in a much neglected
but growing sector, emerging from a crisis with challenges to traditional assumptions about the
low value and poor treatment of its workforce. The Special Issue is keen to bring together
international, comparative, and critical perspectives on the nature, causes and consequences of
employment systems in social care. It seeks to shape the future research agenda on HRM in the
social care sector, and to contribute to the development of policy and practice as a means of
improving care and the quality of life for those giving and receiving it.
Potential theoretical advancement and practical significance:
Social care work and employment raise myriad theoretical issues. First, multi-level analysis
allows for contributions examining cross national, national, organizational, and individual
employee approaches to and experiences of work and employment in social care. However, the
Special Issue provides a chance to consider how these different levels interact with one another,
shaping developments and experiences. Thus, there is an opportunity to draw upon and
contribute to institutional theory, for instance, by examining how the form assumed by national
welfare states influences the architecture of employment systems in the social care sector, in
turn influencing choices available to and constraints on social care employers as they manage
their workforces and with implications for how employees experience work.
Second, with the social care workforce heavily feminized and often ethnically diverse,
theoretical issues on or relating to the value (or lack of) attached to the care work performed
by these employees move ‘center stage’. The intersection between gender and ethnicity,
perhaps overlapping with migrant status, assumes particular importance in explaining the
often-precarious working lives of social care workers (Burns et al., 2016; Rubery et al., 2015).
Closely related there is scope to advance theory on segmented labor markets, especially the
creation of secondary labor markets for social care workers, generating low paid, low status
jobs. Employers are often “the architects of inequalities in labor markets’ (Grimshaw et al.,
2017) encouraging an interest in whether, why and how social care providers, perhaps along
with other actors such as the State, contribute to the degraded work and employment terms and
conditions of their workforce.
Third, the Special Issue is keen to theorize on the relationship between workforce management
and organizational outcomes in social care. The strategic HRM literature (SHRM) centers on
the connection between HRM practices and organizational performance, principally viewed in
terms of financial outcomes (profit, shareholder value) (Boxall & Purcell, 2011). In social care,
organizational performance assumes a very different form, for example, as public value
(Brewer, 2013), along with the well-being of vulnerable community members. This prompts
interest in whether and how the management of the social care workforce impacts these
outcomes. The mainstream SHRM literature focuses on a positive link between organizational
performance and ‘soft’ workforce management practices, typically characterized as ‘high
commitment’ or ‘high involvement’ (Guest, 2017). This would appear to be at odds with the
‘harder’ cost minimization practices often associated with the social care sector.
Finally, the Special Issue can advance theory on interest aggregation and articulation,
particularly given the various actors involved in HRM in social care, with shared, but often
conflicting interests. Stakeholder interaction has been studied through various perspectives
within the HRM literature (Heery, 2017), with pluralists and radical approaches focusing on
traditional HRM actors – employers, workers, and the State – typically seeking to manage
tensions through the collective regulation of employment. In social care, other potential HRM
actors come to the fore (Vermeerbergen et al., 2021), for example: the generic user of social
care services, their family, and friends; civil society organizations, representing these user
interests; and individuals with lived experience of conditions – homelessness, substance abuse,
mental illness – increasingly employed in the social care sector workforce (Kessler & Bach,
2011). Whether, and how these new stakeholders combine with more traditional actors to
address shared workforce issues, and with what consequences, becomes a central issue, not
least given the generally disorganized nature of employment regulation in social care.
Contributions might use and contribute to mobilization or advocacy coalition (Tattersall, 2010)
theory, with paradox theory helping to examine how different and competing interests of
groups might be balanced and pursued (Jarzabkowski et al., 2013).
Key themes/scope of focus:
Broadly aligned with the four theoretical streams outlined above, this Special Issue invites
papers to discuss themes and issues including but not limited to the following:
Theme 1: Antecedents of sustainable work and employment systems in social care:
• How do national models of the welfare state, and approaches to the delivery and funding
of social care impact the sector’s employment system?
• How resilient has this employment system been? Has it been subject to change, for
example in the context of austerity or financialization bringing forth new types of social
care provider, and with what implications for the social care workforce, HRM and its
• How and to what extent are key challenges like recruiting and retaining staff in the
social care sector effectively addressed by national and organizational policies?
Theme 2: Workforce diversity and precarious employment in social care
• Why and how do secondary labor markets founded on low pay, low status, insecure
employment, and poor career development opportunities emerge in social care?
• How do gender, ethnicity, and migrant status intersect to shape the work and
employment treatment and experience of social care workers?
• To what extent and how will the workforce challenges exposed by Covid be addressed
by the State, employers, labor unions and other actors, not least in securing a fairer
balance between the high societal value displayed by a largely feminized social care
workforce and the rewards received?
Theme 3: Strategic HRM in social care
• Are there examples of ‘best practice’ in the management of the social care workforce,
whether in terms of pay, career development, work design, workforce planning or skill
mix, and is the adoption of such practice related to organizational outcomes?
• How developed is the specialist HR function in social care, especially given the small
and medium sized nature of many social care providers, and what role do line managers
play in dealing with the social care workforce?
• With care delivered to different user groups in a variety of settings – care homes for the
elderly and children at risk, sheltered accommodation for those with disabilities and
personal residences for those with less severe chronic conditions, does the treatment of
the workforce vary according to these market segments and if so how and why?
Theme 4: New HRM actors in social care
• Are new HRM actors, such as civil society organizations, services users, volunteers,
and personal assistants playing a role in shaping the workforce management agenda in
social care, and if so, what forms does it take?
• Are coalitions in social care being developed between traditional HRM actors, for
example trade unions, and newer actors to pursue shared and complementary goals?
• In wake of Covid are employees and perhaps employers seeking a stronger employee
voice in social care, and the development of collective institutions to regulate work and
Authors can submit their paper between March 1st – 31st 2023 to HRM for review. Details on
the manuscript submission process will be made available nearer to the submission period.
Papers should be prepared and submitted according to the journal’s
All papers will be subject to the same double-blind peer review process as regular issues of
The management of social care work and employment can be studied through various
disciplinary lenses, with this Special Issue providing scope for collaborations between scholars
from, for example, public management, public policy, and finance as well as HRM. The papers
do, however, need to relate and contribute to debates in the field of HRM, advancing theory
If you have questions about a potential submission, we encourage you to make email contact:
Submission Window: March 1st – 31st 2023