High-Performance Work Systems' have been presented as 'best practice' for employers, employees and unions. Critically discuss this concept and why this promise might be false.
In today's competitive world a skilled, motivated and flexible workforce can be a great asset in developing core competencies for a company (Levine, 1995) when traditional sources like technology, patents and economies of scale fail to achieve success due to globalization and other environmental factors (Ulrich and Lake, 1990). On this regard, certain HRM practices (e.g. high-performance work systems, HPWS) are implemented at the firm level to improve their performance (Jackson and Schuler, 1995; Huselid, 1995). In short, HPWS are a set of separate but interconnected human resource management practices of a company which help the firm in enhancing its competitive advantage and performance over others (Kalleberg et al., 2006). However, sincere efforts have been already made by various organizations to understand the potential benefits of HPWS's to maximize competitive advantage caused by increased demand and competition for employee and managerial talent (e.g., Guthrie, 2001; Aryee, & Law, 2007).
Over the years, researches have proved that implementation of HPWS will influence employee turnover, productivity and corporate financial turnover (Guthrie, 2001) but in this piece of paper it will be argued that the above mention statement consist number of concerns. In fact, it will also be justified that HPWS even have failed in bring clarity into performance and lack behind in projecting themselves as one of the best practice for employers, employees and unions in all given situations.
HPWS most often help in boosting employee performance by enhancing workforce competence, attitude and motivation that are achieved through effective recruitment and selection measures, better incentive and compensation packages, extensive performance management and reward systems and comprehensive training and involvement of the employees (Huselid, 1995). But, numerous writers also suggest that these strategies and practices can directly affect the performance of a firm trough several social mechanisms, I.e. climate, social exchanges and behaviour and attitude of the employees (e.g., Collins & Smith, 2006; Evans & Davis, 2005). Also there is a universally prevalent notion that HPWS benefit employers more than employee or unions as such.
However, HPWS frequently helps the employers in exploiting tacit knowledge held by the workers, through their indirect subtle management control rather than imposing harder work regulations of direct supervision or assembly line techniques. Moreover, primary emphasis will be given to employee participation in developing their skills to attain higher levels of job satisfaction (Appelbaum et al., 2000). Since they focus on employee participation and job rotation, and include high commitment practices of problem solving, employee consultation, provisions for training and measures of job security, they extensively rely upon cooperation between management and unions. But, to accomplish this goal, organizations largely depend on flexible, skilled and committed workforce.
HWPS inherit a long history of conflict and mistrust. To implement these practices attainment of co-operation and confidence is very essential which is very hard to achieve or retain (Cappelli, 2001). To get such levels of commitment employers should reassure basic promises like job security to motivate the employees to achieve finest performances in terms of quality and productivity. But, employers might fail to keep these promises after the execution of the HPWS because when the productivity of the employees improves constantly than they quantity of the workforce needs to be downsized to maximise profits. This rational step taken management will projects the idea of reluctance in the mind of employee.
Many organizations where the management is poor and incompetent and strongly believe in duration of work and supervision refuse to incorporate HPWS because it causes shift in power from employer to employee, due to their expensive and time consuming nature. But, often these variations are tackled by decentralizing the hierarchical system of the company. On the other hand, companies with skilled management and talented workforce always try to make most of it to gain that little competitive edge over others (Combs et al., 2006). Under HPWS very limited importance is provided to employee experiences of work, though they contribute a lot in terms of firm performance, when it comes to individual employee perspective they involve certain negative components of effort and stress (Ramsay et al., 2000). So, before measuring the outcomes of organization performance, one should consider the negative and positive aspects that are associated with the implementation of HPWS which could become potential barriers.
Human interaction is the better way to achieve desired results than any other set of rules or strategies and HPWS facilitate these characteristics in most of the circumstances due to their successful nature in judging the emotions of the employees in a given situation (Delaney and Godard, 2001). So, HPWS reduce union influence is something that you cannot believed on real terms. In fact, properly implemented HPWS can recognise the individual voices rather than emphasising the need for collectivism. Although, unions are considered to be the obstacles for better performance, they can be constructive at times in implementing better work practices due to their collective nature. Their role can become very crucial in promoting positive work systems as means of effective communication in implementing HPWS (Gephart, 1996) due to effective networking qualities.
Although, HPWS have positive impact on employers by influencing employee turnover, productivity and corporate financial turnover (Guthrie, 2001), they have adversely affected the employees due to the work pressure it brings in. they not only reduces the powers of mangers but also results in flattened hierarchical systems. So, without the support of union and the management it becomes very difficult to implement HPWS as one of the best practice to deliver desired results (Huselid, 2005). In addition modern companies accentuate more upon sort-term goal accomplishments, Employees with long term perspectives will not be benefited by the implementation of HPWS. Because, it requires reasonable time to deliver results. Meanwhile, the non-measurable progression made will go unnoticed (Guest, 2007).
Employers get benefited by this system to a large extent. High performance work practices not only helps in gaining competitive advantage but also channelizes firms human capital towards better performance (Combs et al, 2006). Motivated and trained workforce can contribute a lot towards the growth of an organization in terms quality and productivity. Certain HPWS implemented by the employers might bring better work culture and high job satisfaction in the organization. While employers engage in implementing effective practices of HPWS employees could come up with basic the basic weapon resistance due to the adaption's they have to incorporate in the personal and working lives.
Synchronization between three different departments of employment relation is the most decisive factor for the successful functioning of HPWS. They are employers, employees and unions. Even if single sector among the three fails to respond positively than it becomes hard to put HPWS into practice. It requires skilled, motivated and flexible manpower not the one that are just bound to certain obligations and commitments. Moreover, decisions taken or the strategies implemented by management are constantly watched or monitored by union from time to time. And quite often they even ensure that the interests of the employees are safeguarded by being the key source of networking between employers and employees. Since most of the unions have a negative opinion towards HPWS, it may not be a good practice for the employees and unions.
To conclude, there is no doubt that HPWS are some of the best practices of a company to bring improvements in employee turnover, productivity and corporate financial turnover (Guthrie, 2001) to gain competitive advantage over other in the globalised competitive market. But, it is not necessary that they always enhance workforce competence, attitude and motivation. However, at times they can change the performance of a company to certain extent through their social mechanisms (Delery & Shaw, 2001; Ostroff & Bowen, 2000) by helping the employers in reviewing their strategies more favourable towards employee participation and job rotation, and high commitment practices to accomplish organizational goals.
Although HPWS are successful in most of the occasions, sometimes they can be nightmares for the employees. Quite often organizations neglect short term goals on the way to accomplish long term objectives (Lawler, 2005) which results very badly on working class. In my personal view unions can never become the facilitators of effective implementation of HPWS because they are clearly replaced when a HPWS is effectively implemented. Nevertheless, relationship shared between employees and the unions will be a key factor in implementing HPWS because the solid networking skills possessed by the unions will determine the effective implementation of HPWS to attain better results.