High-performance work systems and
employee well-being
Peter Boxall
University of Auckland
March 2014
Goal and structure
• To discuss the current state of HPWS research and the
implications of two recent studies of worker experiences
• Presentation structure:
(1) HPWSs: concepts and key issues
(2) theory of high-involvement work processes
(3) two studies on HIWPs and employee well-being
(4) conclusion: research trajectories
(1) ‘High-performance work systems’
• a rallying point for interest in mutually beneficial
workplace reform
e.g. CSAW 1990; Appelbaum et al 2000; Eurofound 2012
• but a non-descriptive and presumptuous term
– what is highly performing is not self-evident and defining a model
of HRM at the ‘practice’ level is dangerous (Purcell 1999; Boxall
and Macky 2009)
– ‘high commitment’ (Walton 1985) and ‘high involvement’ (Lawler
1986) are more descriptive terms
Key issues: employer side
• what and why: the ‘law of context’
– what are the strategic complementarities and what are the costbenefits of different models of HRM? e.g. Porter & Siggelkow 2008;
Godard 2004; Kaufman & Miller 2011
– low-involvement models of HRM, for example, are common in
standardised services e.g. Korzcynski et al 2000; Boxall et al 2011
• how and for whom: variability in processes, perceptions,
attributions and outcomes inside the ‘black box’
– irrespective of the model chosen e.g. Purcell 1999; Nishii et al 2008
Key issues: worker side
• ‘high-strain’ jobs/work intensification
– e.g. Karasek and Theorell 1990; Green 2006
• ‘employment strain’/rising insecurity
– e.g. Ramsay et al 2000; Lewchuck et al 2008
• promises versus reality in ‘disconnected capitalism’
– Thompson 2004
(2) Theory of high-involvement work
• empowerment, reinforced by information, reward and
knowledge (‘PIRK’), enhances performance (Lawler 1986)
– through ‘cognitive’ and ‘motivational’ paths (Vandenberg et al 1999)
• employee well-being should improve because of
– better job characteristics (Hackman and Oldham 1980), especially
autonomy or control (e.g. Gallie 2007, Deci and Ryan 2000)
– greater extrinsic reward from mobilising ‘discretionary effort’
(Appelbaum et al 2000)
• but what about work intensification?
(3) National-level study
(Boxall and Macky, Work, Employment and Society, forthcoming)
Random telephone survey of 1016 New Zealand
employees, conducted in 2009 (n = 926 usable)
31.5% response rate; sample mirrors the population
Conceptual framework
High-involvement work
Job satisfaction
Information (two-way
Rewards (well linked to
Work-life imbalance
Knowledge (skill development
and training opportunities)
Work intensification
Hours worked
Job quality variables
Role overload
Time demands
Hierarchical regression: job satisfaction
Job Fatigue
Final Model
Trust in management
Perceived Job insecurity
Model F
Hierarchical regression: work-related stress
Tenure (log)
Final model
Job Fatigue
Work-life imbalance
Usual hours worked
Role overload
Model F
Hierarchical regression: work-life imbalance
Job Stress
Job Fatigue
Usual hours worked
Role overload
Time demands
Final Model
Model F
National-level findings
• Worker-perceived empowerment enhances well-being or
is, at the least, neutral, while long hours, role overload
and unwanted time demands diminish it
– resonates with analysis of WERS 2004 (Wood et al 2012) and
the British Skills Survey 2006 (Gallie 2013)
• Workers benefit from ‘HPWSs’ when:
(1) their autonomy, and supportive processes, genuinely improve;
(2) work pressures are reasonable and work-life balance is not
Company-level study (2011)
(Boxall, Hutchison and Wassenaar, under review)
• a distribution company that has tried to reduce the
impact of a Taylorist work design by enhancing worker
involvement and by investment in training
• studying the mediators of skill utilisation and intrinsic
motivation, using SEM
• 285 useable responses (response rate of 46%)
Findings: SEM
Job satisfaction
(4) Conclusion: research trajectories
• describing the models of HRM that managers pursue
within firms’ production systems, business/financial
strategies, and the societal/global environment (e.g.
Thompson 2004, 2011; Kaufman and Miller 2011)
• analysing managers’ and workers’ psychological,
physical and social experience of these models,
including their strategies and outcomes (e.g. Guest
1999; Rosenthal 2004; McBride 2008)
• analysing the strategic tensions involved and the scope
for greater mutuality (Boxall 2013)
– e.g. work standardisation versus individual development
– e.g. organisational flexibility versus employment security
– e.g. “engagement” versus effort-reward and work-life balance
• improving the employment relationship through
– enhanced involvement and skill utilisation (e.g. Felstead et al 2010)?
– better ‘combining of career and care’ (e.g. van Engen et al 2012)?
– improved sociality among older workers (e.g. Sanders et al 2011)?
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Peter Boxall - University of Auckland