What Are the Objectives of Personnel Research?

Kinds of Personnel Research

There are two basic kinds of personnel research: basic and applied. In general, basic research is universalistic: it tries to uncover truths about personnel issues that apply across different people and organizations. Applied research is particularistic: it tries to understand what is happening to a specific set a people in a particular situation or setting. Basic research is more likely to be performed by academics and published in scholarly journals. Applied research is more likely to be performed by human resource managers and personnel consultants.

The difference between basic research and applied research is similar to the difference between science and technology. While science is fundamental to technology, the purpose of scientific work is simply to understand how all things work, while the purpose of technological work is to apply that understanding to making stuff happen.


Basic Personnel Research

The purpose of basic personnel research is to understand the relationships between personnel variables. For example, we might ask:

The ultimate goal of basic personnel research is to provide a complete understanding of human behavior in the context of organizations. If this were achieved, it would mean that we could design organizations optimally so that people would be happier and more productive, and the organization more successful.

For example, consider Maslow's work on human motivation. According to Maslow, human beings are motivated by a hierarchically ordered set of needs such that we most strongly motivated by the lowest-ranked needs that have not yet been satisfied. As shown in the diagram, a person whose physiological needs like food, water and shelter are not yet being met, is hardly interested in self-help books about how to express their inner child!

We can use this information in a practical way to create organizational motivation and compensation systems that really work. For example, for temporary workers, you want to provide a way that they can get job security if they perform well. For entry-level people who are being paid a permanent salary and who are not in danger of being downsized, you want to create work atmosphere which satisfies their social needs, that gives them a sense of belonging to a group.


Applied Personnel Research

The purpose of applied personnel research is usually to solve an immediate problem within a particular organization. For example, we might ask:

Sometimes the research is more descriptive in orientation. For example, we might be interested in:


In General

We do research to find out things. There is no way to make rational managerial decisions without information about the current state of things and how things relate to each other. We use scientific research methods in order to learn how things really are, rather than just how we think they are. The quality of the decisions we make is only as good as the information that went in to them.

For additional information on why research is important, see "Why is Personnel Research a Required Course?".

Revised: September 04, 2000 Go to Home Page