Today, employees' innovative work behaviour (IWB) is critical for companies' success. However, employees increasingly experience work–life conflict (WLC) which negatively influences performance at work. Human resource management (HRM) has the potential to foster employees' engagement in innovative activities and to reduce tensions between work and private life simultaneously. Our paper aims to advance understanding under which conditions these relations occur by exploring HRM meta-features. These are defined as overall characteristics of an HR system helping companies to communicate the content of HR practices in a way that leads to desired interpretations by employees. Using a qualitative, interview study approach, we find that HRM contributes to IWB and diminishes feelings of WLC mainly through the four meta-features ‘individual orientation’, ‘discretion orientation’, ‘effort orientation’ and ‘expectancy orientation’. We link our findings to extant literature and provide suggestions for managers how these meta-features can be put into organizational practice.