Relationship between a High-Performance Work System and Employee Outcomes: A Multilevel Analysis

By Ma, Bing; Ma, Guimei et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 2020 | Go to article overview

Relationship between a High-Performance Work System and Employee Outcomes: A Multilevel Analysis


Ma, Bing, Ma, Guimei, Liu, Xiaolang, Lassleben, Hermann, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


High-performance work systems (HPWS) are "a group of separate but interconnected human resource practices designed to enhance employees' skills and effort" (Takeuchi, Lepak, Wang, & Takeuchi, 2007, p. 1069), which have attracted much attention from scholars in the fields of management and organizational psychology in recent years. For a long time, research on the HPWS-outcomes linkage has progressed on two separate parallel paths: at the macro level and the micro level (Huselid & Becker, 2011). Accordingly, researchers know little about whether and, if they do, how firm-level HPWS affect individual-level outcomes (Wright & Ulrich, 2017). Although the aim of an HPWS is to strengthen organizational competitiveness (Ananthram, Xerri, Teo, & Connell, 2018), their use does not automatically lead to superior organizational performance (Heffernan & Dundon, 2016). Instead, when an HPWS is in place, this affects employees' performance by inspiring them to deliver on organizational goals. Therefore, to understand how the firm-level system design (e.g., an HPWS) affects employees' attitudes and behaviors (Heffernan & Dundon, 2016), it is important to explore the HPWS-organizational performance link. Thus, we examined the relationship between firm-level HPWS and individual-level outcomes, focusing in particular on the outcomes of employee job performance and turnover intention, which are two important employee-level outcomes in the workplace context.

In existing studies on the HPWS-outcomes linkage, researchers have primarily referred to social exchange theory (Blau, 1964) to explain the mediation mechanisms (Takeuchi et al., 2007). In social exchange theory it is alleged that employees' positive attitudes and high performance are the result of a rational calculation (Tyler & Blader, 2003). Employees adapt their output according to their evaluation of the quality of the exchange relationship they have with their organization. In contrast, we assumed that the output of employees would not only be the product of rational cognition and reciprocal exchange, but additionally would depend on other psychological aspects (Snape & Redman, 2010). Following social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), we assumed that organizational identification would mediate the relationship between HPWS and employee outcomes. Organizational identification refers to "a specific form of social identification where the individual defines him or herself in terms of their membership in a particular organization" (Mael & Ashforth, 1992, p. 105). Consequently, we assumed that the degree of implementation of an HPWS would affect employees' work attitudes and outcomes by yielding different degrees of pride and respect, or, in other words, different levels of employee identification with the organization.

As the concept of HPWS originated in a Western context, the majority of prior studies have been conducted in Western countries, thus limiting understanding of the phenomenon to this cultural context. In comparison to Western cultures, Asian cultures are more collectivistic (Wang, Feng, Prevellie, & Wu, 2017). Among other things, this has an effect on the relationship between employees and the organization where they work, in that in Western countries, the relationship is rather loose and independent, whereas it is more important for employees in Asian countries to belong to and identify with their organization (Ma, Liu, Liu, & Wang, 2016). Thus, we examined the mediating role of organizational identification in the relationship between HPWS and Chinese employees' outcomes, including job performance and turnover intention.

Theoretical Development and Hypotheses

From the perspective of social exchange theory (Blau, 1964), HPWS can be seen as a mutual investment, based on reciprocal social exchange between employees and the organization. When there is an HPWS in place, containing practices such as promotion from within, careful selection, extensive training, participation, information sharing, and teamwork, this tells employees that their manager values and invests in them (Sikora, Ferris, & Van Iddekinge, 2015). …

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