Research into employee trust: epistemological foundations and paradigmatic boundaries

Sabina Siebert (Lead / Corresponding author), Graeme Martin, Branko Bozic

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    16 Citations (Scopus)
    240 Downloads (Pure)


    This article explores the epistemological roots and paradigmatic boundaries of research into employee trust, a growing field in human resource management. Drawing on Burrell and Morgan's well-known sociological paradigms and their epistemological foundations, we identify the dominant approaches to employee trust research to examine its strengths and limitations. Our review of the literature on employee trust revealed that the majority of the most cited papers were written from a psychological perspective, characterised by positivistic methodologies, variance theory explanations and quantitative data collection methods. We also found that most of the studies can be located in the functionalist paradigm, and while accepting that functionalism and psychological positivism have their merits, we argue that research in these traditions sometimes constrains our understanding of employee trust in their organisations. We conclude that trust researchers would benefit from a better understanding of the ontological, epistemological and axiological assumptions underlying of HRM research and should embrace greater epistemic reflexivity.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)269-284
    Number of pages16
    JournalHuman Resource Management Journal
    Issue number3
    Early online date26 Feb 2016
    Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2016


    • industrial sociology
    • employee trust
    • intra-organisational trust
    • reflexivity
    • sociological paradigms


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