Union Impact on High Performance Work Practices

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Union impact on the effective adoption of High Performance Work Practices Please cite this article as: Gill, C. (2009) Union impact on the effective adoption of High Performance Work Practices, Human Resource Management Review, 19, 39-50.

Dr. Carol Gill Program Director - Organizational Leadership Melbourne Business School Melbourne University Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia Phone +61 3 9349 8452 Facsimile +61 3 9349 8404 Email: c.gill@mbs.edu

Abstract

This paper examines the literature and research on unions relevant to the effective adoption of High Performance Work Practices. It demonstrates that unions that have a cooperative relationship with management can play an important role in overcoming barriers to the effective adoption of practices that have been linked to organisational competitiveness through the development and application of human capital. In particular, unions have the unique advantage of delivering independent voice that can not be substituted by management. Not only can unions make a contribution to organization competitiveness but they can also ensure that employees benefit from High Performance Work Practice adoption and in doing so secure their own relevance. The contribution that unions can make is inhibited by management and union’s reluctance to engage in an 1

Please cite this article as: Gill, C. (2009) Union impact on the effective adoption of High Performance Work Practices, Human Resource Management Review, 19, 39-50.

integrative relationship and an institutional context that does not value unions. Organizations that want to capture the value that unions can add must move away from a pluaralist model of autocratic management, hostile unions and adversarial industrial relations, beyond a unitarist model that sees no role for unions, to a cooperative partnership with unions that shares the gains of implementing High Performance Work Practices.

1. Introduction

The relationship between High Performance Work Practices1 (HPWP) and organization competitiveness has been researched and discussed since Huselid’s (1995) study linking HPWP to organizational performance (cite meta analysis study and Godard and Delaney 2001 here). Despite mixed evidence; criticism of the quality of empirical research 1

Whilst there is no single agreed-upon definition or consensus on HPWP, common themes have been identified which focus on the synergistic application of new work practices that enhance employee skills and increase their involvement (Gephart and Van Buren 1996; Wright and Snell 1998). HPWP have also been described as “High Involvement Work Systems”, “Progressive Work Practices”, “High Commitment Work Systems” and “High Performance Work Systems”. Boxall and Purcell (2008) identify three main sources for these practices: 1. Walton (1985) concept of the High Commitment Work Practice focused on winning employee commitment to organisation goals through positive incentives and identification with company culture rather than trying to control behaviour through routine, short-cycle jobs and direct supervision. 2. Lawler (1986) focused on High Involvement Practices which had an emphasis on redesigning jobs to involve employees more fully in decision making and on skill and motivational practices that support this. 3. High Performance Work Practices based on an influential U.S. public report published in XX involving reforms to work practices to increase employee involvement in decision making and companion investments in employee skills and performance incentives to ensure they can undertake these greater responsibilities and are motivated to do so. All were an attempt to roll back Taylorist or highly specialised, de-skilled jobs which are part of mass production. This is the most common but least useful term because there are many paths to high performance. 2

Please cite this article as: Gill, C. (2009) Union impact on the effective adoption of High Performance Work Practices, Human...
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