Human resource management–performance research: is everyone really on the same page on employee involvement?

2020-06-05T10:35:35Z (GMT) by Stephen Wood

Differences in the treatment of involvement in the HRM–performance research stream have been underplayed, as commentaries concentrate on showing that HRM produces a performance premium, and more recently on exploring the mechanisms explaining this. This paper first identifies the two initial concerns of the research stream – the value of employee involvement and the holistic treatment of HRM – and the way these are joined to present a unified view of the area. It then reviews the studies, confirming that involvement has been underplayed or neglected completely, and is only prioritized in a minority. A divide is identified between HRM as an orientation towards fostering employee involvement – seen as a managerial philosophy – and as a technology – a set of practices constituting high-performance work systems. The paper then argues that acknowledgement of this divide matters, and concludes by drawing out some implications for how we should progress the research stream.

A strong relationship between human resource management (HRM) and the performance of an organization is now generally accepted by HRM academics and practitioners, as is the view that this relationship is supported by a solid evidence base, namely a stream of research studies which emerged in the 1990s that used quantitative methods to evaluate the relationship between the modernization of HRM and organization performance. This modernization entailed two elements: a focus on employee involvement and the holistic coordinated use of human resource practices, including involvement practices. Reviews of the stream, and introductions to later studies, present it as a largely homogeneous set of studies (e.g. Wright and Gardner, 2003; Wall and Wood, 2005; Combs, Liu, Hall and Ketchen, 2006; Guest, 2011). However, employee involvement has been underplayed or neglected in many studies and the focus has been on the combined use of a set of practices that often excludes involvement in favour of skill-acquisition and motivation-enhancing practices (Wood and Wall, 2007). The objectives of this paper are to: 1) review the treatment of involvement in the HRM–performance studies; 2) expose how the homogeneous portrayal of the HRM–performance research stream is inaccurate; 3) identify how the neglect of involvement reflects a schism between centring on employee involvement and on high-performance work systems; 4) suggest how a lack of appreciation of this has stymied the development of the field and led to an overconcentration on the mediation issue at the expense of more fundamental concerns, and; 5) draw out the implications for the field if we are to correct the neglect of involvement.

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