High Work Performance System

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1 Introduction

High-performance work system (HPWS) can be defined as a specific combination of HR practices, work structures, and processes that maximizes employee knowledge, skills, commitment, and flexibility (Bohlander & Snell, 2004, p. 690, Marchington and Wilkinson, 2008, P92). A basic aim of HPWS is leveraging human resource system to improve employees’ overall contribution and performance by enhancing their discretion, competency and commitment.

Among enormous researches of HPWS, researchers have empirically established a positive relationship between HPWS and a variety of organizational performance such as turnover (Guthrie, 2001; Huselid, 1995), labor productivity (Huselid, 1995), firm productivity (Guthrie, 2001), and firm financial performance (Guthrie, 2001; Huselid, 1995).

Before we discuss further about HPWS, we need to sort out its main conceptual companions: high-involvement work systems (HIWSs) and high-commitment management (HCM). ‘High commitment management’ (Walton 1985; Guest 2001a, 2001b; Wood & de Menezes, 1998) highlights the role of effective human resource management in enhancing employee commitment and thereby reducing the need for managerial control. And ‘high involvement work system’ (Wood 1999a; Lawler, 1986) is particularly used to emphasize the importance of opportunities for employees to make decisions and exercise discretion. ‘High performance work systems’ (Berg 1999; Appelbaum et al 2000), aim at reducing turnover, absenteeism and costs through a reduction in the need for control and monitoring (Ramsay et al., 2000). In comparison, HPWS appear to be more comprehensive as it usually entails effort on improving both employees’ commitment and involvement. Despite the variation in terminology, the concept is similar: a particular bundle of human resource practices have the potential to engender improved organizational performance (Hegan, 2006).

1.1 Comparison to Taylorism

If we want to examine the implications of introduction of high performance work system in a scope of employee control, Taylorism is an indispensible field we need to compare. There has been widespread discussion concerning the shift away from Taylorism towards high performance work system. Taylorism has long been criticized for its rigid hierarchy and dehumanizing effect on labor. Within Taylorism system, organizations are often involved with high employee control characterized by over-conformity, lack of communication and impersonal decision-making. These features are just the opposite of HPWS. As oppose to Taylorism approach, the main ideas of HPWS is to create an organization based on employee involvement, commitment and empowerment, not employee control (Tomer,2001).

At the heart of high performance work system reforms are practices that attempt to reverse the Taylorist processes of centralizing decision making and problem solving in the hands of managerial levels to downwards (Edwards and Wright, 2001). That is to say, organizations could make better use of employee’s abilities for self-management, problem solving and personal development through empowerment and decentralizing of decision-making.

1.2 Human Resource (HR) Practices as conceptualized HPWS

HPWS often conceptualized as a system of human resource (HR) practices. Those human resource practices are usually thought to include: “rigorous recruitment and selection procedures, performance-contingent incentive compensation systems, management development and training activities linked to the needs of the business, and significant commitment to employee involvement” (Arthur, 1994; Huselid, 1995; Ichniowski, Shaw, & Prennushi, 1997; Jackson & Schuler, 1995; MacDuffie, 1995; Milgrom & Roberts, 1995; Pfeffer, 1994).

Though some researchers argue that HPWS bundles are just device to persuade employees to work even harder, there is common consensus over the positive outcomes between HR practices and improved...
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