Measuring the Practice-Research Gap

Human Resources

There is yawning chasm between practice and research. The gap is twofold: HR practitioners are generally not aware of the latest HR-related research findings that impact on their work; and HR practitioners and researchers are interested in different issues.

Researchers Diana L. Deadrick and Pamela Gibson (Old Dominion University) wanted to determine how consistent that gap has been over time and what issues have dominated the practice and research fields over the past 30 years. To answer those questions they went on a massive reading binge. They content-analyzed more than 6,300 articles published in four HR-focused journals between 1976 and 2005 according to 14 topic areas. Two journals were geared to practitioners and two to academics.

Deadrick and Gibson found:

  • Issues relating to HR development (training and development, careers) dominated the field over all time periods. Next most common topic over time was staffing (such as job analysis, testing), followed by motivation-related topics (job design, satisfaction, stress).
  • Two topics – teams and organizational exit – were the least popular in all the time periods studied. Teams did experience some growth in interest during the past 20 years, though organizational exit continued to be off the radar.
  • HR development and staffing issues were the dominant issues for both practitioners and academics. The gap in interest narrowed over time for employee/labour relations and widened for compensation and rewards (with growing interest among practitioners and decreasing interest among academics.

The researchers say they want HR practitioners and academics to assess the field and determine what is most important to HR as a coherent discipline. “If we want to progress as a field, we need to articulate the common values and body of knowledge that sets up apart from other disciplines,” they write. “What is the mission statement of the HR discipline as a whole? What are the core values underlying the field of HR? Are those values reflected in our publications?”

Good questions indeed.

Note: The four journals studied were: HRMagazine, Human Resource Management, Journal of Applied Psychology, and Personnel Psychology.


Revisiting the research-practice gap in HR: A longitudinal analysis, by Diana L. Deadrick and Pamela A. Gibson; in Human Resource Management Review 19 (2009) 144-153

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