“Do “High Performance Work Systems” Really Work?”

Topics: Human resource management, Employment, Human resources Pages: 9 (2608 words) Published: May 7, 2009
Critically assess the concept of “high performance work systems”


Critically assess the concept of “high performance work systems”

The relationship between employees and their managers is changing. This essay critically assesses high performance work systems (HPWS) and how it effects an organization. Before proceeding to critically assess high performance work systems it is necessary to clarify exactly what these systems consist of. After investigating the foundations of high performance work systems the essay will be extended to contrast the gains and the shortcomings, which arise as a result of these highly contemporary managerial systems. High performance work systems can be familiarly explained as an arrangement of human resource processes bunched together in order to increase a firm’s productivity and create an organizations’ competitive advantage. Whether or not these systems can create a sustainable competitive advantage is a vital question. This essay will also analyse external factors to validate their role in the success of these current work systems.

Firstly ‘high performance work systems’ can be analysed in terms of their contemporary entrance into the workplace. In order to evaluate the reasons for the introduction of high performance work systems, such as higher involvement (Lawler, 1992) and higher commitment (Arthur, 1992), it is important to recognize the previous system. Lawler (1992) suggests that over the past twenty years the ‘loyalty contract’ has been proved impractical and unattractive to the managerial world of today. This is a result of increased globalisation, technological advances and the massive increases in the requirement of more skilled workers. Lawler (1992) argues that it is important these days for managers to “utilize approaches to management that are advantageous to them and their employees and that lead to higher levels of performance and employee retention”, so that their employees do not look to more “attractive employment situations”. Lawler’s argument in summary explains that the death of the loyalty contract has created an unsteady functioning atmosphere for employees in which their guaranteed pension plans and job security have been undermined.

One of just many reasons that managers have implemented high performance work systems has been to improve the relations with their employees in order to enhance firms overall performance. Lawler (2005) adds that it is significant to treat employees correctly as they tend to be a “primary source of competitive advantage”. High performance work systems generally include factors such as job design and selection, staff learning and development, performance management, reward management, organisational decision-making and communication and finally industrial relations. It is now possible to analyse whether the introduction of these systems into organisational life has made a positive or negative effect on the productivity of a firm.

Job design and selection is an important aspect of organizations human resource processes as it negotiates the terms on which an employee works. Hamburger (2003) explains that within the ‘trust strategy’, which aligns to the design of high performance work systems, it is crucial for employees to have a broadly defined job. In addition, job design clarifies a position for an employee whilst also establishing standards that an employee is expected to meet in order to reap the reward. The benefits of job design are that it has a chief function in providing motivation to an employee. Furthermore, clarification of rewards in the design process leads to organisational citizenship behaviour and In turn leads to greater productivity from staff.

Although it is argued that job design is essential for employees entering an organization it is not always so simplified. Harley (2002) states that “employee attitudes to management were negatively associated with employment security” indicating...

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