Employee Responses to High Performance Work System Practices: An Analysis of the AWIRS95 Data

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Abstract

Since the early 1990s, there has been increasing academic interest in a range of labour management practices labelled variously as ‘high commitment management’, ‘high involvement management’ and ‘High Performance Work Systems’(HPWS).Such sets of practices –which include performance–related pay, various employee communication mechanisms, training and team–based work –when used in combination, are said to be mutually reinforcing and to generate superior organisational performance. Advocates of HPWS argue that improvements in organisational performance are generated because these practices enhance employee discretion which, in turn, flows into improved attitudes to work. Conversely, critics suggest that HPWS practices lead to work intensification, with any gains in discretion being marginal. In spite of the volume of literature in this area, there are few studies that have examined the impact of HPWS on employees. This article seeks to remedy this gap by reporting results of analysis of the Australian Workplace Industrial Relations Survey 1995 (AWIRS95)data aimed at assessing the associations between HPWS practices and employee outcomes. The analysis suggests that there are few such associations, and those that exist are weak, which calls into question the claims of both advocates and critics of HPWS.

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