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Dark side of people management

Work pressure, high burn-out rates, and labour shortages are highly topical health and education sector issues that put quality of public service provision under pressure. People management by managers is often presented as a solution for these important societal issues. However, might it also be part of the problem? Can well-intended people management have unintended negative effects for employee performance and well-being? This Vidi project systematically studies this dark side of people management in these sectors, provides insights into the optimal level of support for employees, and develops relevant tools to prevent the dark side from occurring.

About the project

The contribution of people management (i.e., managers’ implementation of HR practices and their leadership behaviour in supporting employees) to employee performance and well-being has gained wide recognition in research and practice. The inherent idea of the ‘happy productive worker’ represents the ‘bright side’ of people management.

However, issues, such as employee loafing and burn-out, have burst onto the agenda, particularly in the public sector, where service quality and employee well-being issues are prominent. People management is often presented as a solution for these issues – but might it also be part of the problem? Can well-intended people management have unintended negative effects? In this project, I will explore this ‘dark side’ in a public sector context to complement the one-sided focus of people management research and move the field forward.

This project’s aim is to systematically map the dark side of people management and to explain which factors and mechanisms contribute to unintended negative effects of well-intended support. This project breaks new ground by testing the validity of the too-much-of-a-good-thing hypothesis, which claims that too much of a good thing is ultimately bad, for people management.

This project’s conceptual model builds on the public management, human resource management, and work and organisational psychology literature. The model states that high levels of people management might trigger employees to push themselves beyond their limits, or to enjoy the benefits without full reciprocation as expected by the organisation.

This model will be tested in the education and healthcare sectors, both theoretically (systematic literature review) and empirically (surveys, interviews, vignette experiments). This project will provide organisations in the fields of education and healthcare with valuable insights and concrete tools to prevent the downsides of people management from occurring and help deliver optimal levels of support for employees that contribute to their performance and well-being.

Meet the team


Roos Mulder, MSc


Sandra de Kruijf, MSc


Dr. Julia Penning de Vries


Dr. Jasmijn van Harten


Prof. Maria Peeters

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Prof. Toon Taris


Prof. Eva Knies

Meet the team
About the project
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