BAM Human Resource Management Conference: HR Opportunities & Challenges in SMEs Event Report

BAM Human Resource Management Conference: HR Opportunities & Challenges in SMEs


The latest conference of the HRM Special Interest Group (SIG) within the British Academy of Management (BAM) is entitled ‘HR Opportunities & Challenges in SMEs: Strategic HR, Working Conditions, Employee Voice & Talent Sustainability', with keynotes from Professor Kiran Trehan (University of Birmingham), and Professor Peter Ackers (University of Loughborough).


Last week, the city of Birmingham was yet again at the forefront of innovative research on HRM issues in small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as delegates attended the British Academy of Management HRM Conference at Birmingham City University (BCU). The purpose of this year’s conference was to exhibit the work of researchers who examine how HRM is practiced in SMEs, from strategic HRM and talent management, to the role of HR in managing working conditions in turbulent economies across the globe. The conference also sought to critically analyse the applicability of large-firm HRM to SMEs. 

In this respect, who better to have as the first keynote speaker than Prof Kiran Trehan, from the University of Birmingham, as she epitomises new and ground-breaking research in this field. Prof Trehan spoke about the need for academics to ask bold and challenging questions in research and to explore emotions and power dynamics to uncover inequalities. She asked delegates to reflect upon the value of their HRM research for the SMEs they engage with.

The conference was well-attended and consisted of a series of 14 engaging presentations from researchers at all career stages, from doctoral level, through to leading HR scholars. The conference was separated into 3 main themes – ‘HRM in SMEs in a Global Context’; ‘Talent Management, Voice and Well-Being in SMEs’; and ‘Special Issues of HRM in SMEs’, which helped to encouraged lively debate.

The first session set the tone of what was to be an inspiring day. Viviana Meschitti, Kateřina Maršíková, Julie Davies and Ondřej Moš brilliantly showcased findings from their exciting 3-year funded project on the HRM challenges faced in SMEs, across five European countries. Drilon Lajci, on behalf of his University of Sheffield co-authors, Leslie Szamosi and Giovanni Serafini, then taught delegates about the context of Kosovo, through a systematic literature review of institutional change in the country and its impact on HRM. Thirdly, Foteini Kravariti, Mandy Claudia tom Dieck and Karen Johnston presented a fascinating case study of the Greek hotel industry and discussed the societal and organisational cultural impact of talent management. Final-year PhD student, Hadeel Alkhalaf (Dublin City University), provided an assessment of employment law changes and HRM challenges for SMEs in Saudi Arabia; a paper co-authored with supervisor, Brian Harney. To end this first session, Juliet Kele (University of Birmingham) used Bourdieu to highlight the career progression difficulties faced by those working in small- and medium-sized law firms in England and Wales.

Following a tasty lunch, Prof Peter Ackers from the University of Loughborough gave the second keynote speech. Prof Ackers articulately focused on what can be learnt from the history of workplace participation in Britain, the changing nature of employee voice over time and about how this manifests within the SME context.

The second session saw the University of Sheffield’s Robert Wapshott, present on behalf of his co-authors Oliver Mallett, Joel Capener and Tim Vorley, to offer his thoughts on the talent management in small advanced manufacturing firms. University of Huddersfield colleagues Julie Davies and Dinuka Herath then took to the stage to eloquently describe their research examining the well-being of HR practitioners in regional SMEs.Rea Prouska, Aidan McKearney, John Opute, May Tungtakanpoung and Chris Brewster stressed the cultural and contextual variances in the importance of meaningful employee voice in SMEs, as found in their comparative international study. To conclude this session, Carol Atkinson presented in lieu of her co-author Ben Lapton, and offered an excellent overview of why small businesses seek HRM support following analysis of the Small Business Survey.

The final paper session saw Manchester Metropolitan University colleagues Julia Rouse, Andrew Rowe & Jamie Atkinson using the innovative lens of rhythmanalysis to investigate the experiences of women returning to work following maternity leave. Andrew Hambler (BCU) addressed the pertinent issue of whether religious employees constitute an employee relations challenge or an opportunity in organisations. Thereafter, PhD student Muhibul Haq & supervisor Julie Davies presented their early-stage work on AMO and resource-based advantages, which investigated informal HRM practices in ethnic-minority SMEs. Senior teaching fellow and PhD candidate Michalis Kourtidis (BCU) presented a captivating and timely paper on the issues of trust in the context of the professional commercial kitchen. Finally, doctoral student Dorra Jebali (University of Huddersfield) presented an excellent systematic literature review on the link between HRM practices and innovation in SMEs.

The conference offered an opportunity for dialogue among academics in considering the future challenges and potential responses in relation to the developments of HRM in SMEs. Many thanks go to the host, Prof. Alexandros Psychogios (BCU), and HRM SIG co-Chair Dr Margarita Nyfoudi from the University of Birmingham, who expertly put the event together.


Conference link

Photos of day

Author Name: 
Dr Juliet Kele
University of Birmingham