Human Resource Practices & Work Engagement: A Micro-level Study.

AuthorSwaroop, Pragati


Since the last two decades or more, robust literature is available that examines the strategic role of human resource practices on organizational effectiveness (Becker & Huselid, 1998; Abubaker et al., 2019; Chinyamurindi et al., 2021). Effective human resource systems have resulted in higher productivity and financial performance (Huselid, 1995; Perez Lopez et al, 2005; Lee & Cogin, 2020), lower turnover (Guthrie, 2001), better psychological climate perceptions (Wei et al., 2010), job satisfaction (Hewagama et al, 2019) and higher task performance (Chang et al, 2020) amongst others. The role of gender in HRM-commitment relationship has also been examined (Shin et al, 2020).

Human resource practices have been found to be predictors of work engagement (Karatepe, 2013) which is a positive organizational behavior (POB) construct which relates to a positive state in the workplace. Engaged individuals exhibit high levels of energy and vigor and are completely immersed in their work (Bakker & Albrecht, 2018). Work engagement has been associated with greater productivity (Anitha, 2014). However, these human resource practices have been considered in totality. Studies are required to examine the impact of bundles of HR practices, as seen by the employees, on employee engagement. Despite the positive effects of human resources practices, literature has opined that these practices could be combined together to complement or offset the effects of others (Ma Prieto & Perez-Santana, 2014). Instead of a single practice acting in isolation of each other, they could be bundled together to effect individual and organizational performances. There could be potential complementarities between HR practices and hence they should be treated as mutually reinforcing. This study discusses the various perspectives on HR bundles.

Identifying HR bundles is limited to macro level studies and based on the AMO framework (ability enhancing, motivation enhancing and opportunity enhancing). The specific bundles consisting of different HR practices may vary which is a matter of discussion (Lengnick-Hall et al, 2009), yet overall conceptualization includes training and development, rewards, performance, work-life balance (Boselie et al., 2001 for a review). However, in the workplace, it is the HR system as seen by the individual employees that is more likely to influence human behavior rather than the perspective of management and the existence of HR system (Liao et al, 2009).

Thus, the framed research questions are:

RQ1: What are the different perspectives on bundles of human resource practices as evidenced by literature?

RQ2: What bundles of HR practices are seen by individual employees, and not a macro perspective, as emerging from an empirical study?

RQ3: What are the impacts of different bundles of human resource practices on work engagement in organizations?

Instead of clubbing the HR practices into bundles with a macro level or top management perspective, this study considers clubbing them into bundles as seen by an individual employee. Further, it also examines the effect of these bundles on work engagement variable which had been found to have a great impact on different employee attitudes and behavior (Saks, 2006: Denning, 2013; Sarwar et al., 2020).

Bundling Human Resource Practices

In the last decade of the 20th century, three different patterns emerged in the literature on human resource management as competing frameworks (Delery & Doty, 1996).

(a) Universalistic theories are concerned with 'best practice' approach and include those developed by, for example, Huselid (1995) and Pfeffer (1994). Universalistic theory assumes that the relationship of HRM practices and organizational performance is linear.

(b) The configurational approach focuses on identifying 'bundles' of interrelated and consistent HR practices as the appropriate unit of analysis for studying the relationship between HRM and organizational performance (Macduffie, 1995). According to this view, the effect of HRM on firm performance depends on the implementation of an effective combination of HRM practices in an internally consistent manner to result in multiple, mutually reinforcing conditions in order to support motivation and develop skills in employees (Gooderham et al., 2008; Macduffie, 1995).

(c) Contingency theories consider the context of the firm, thus addressing a concern which was not taken into account especially by the universalistic theories. Hence contingency theories reject the universalistic applicability of HRM practices.

What emerges from the literature is that there are potential complementarities between related HRM practices, and, hence HRM practices should not be treated as being isolated and independent of each other but as mutually reinforcing. Thus, there is a broad consensus of using a bundling approach over single practice approach.

Bundling of HR Practices

A consensus is growing that the design of human resource systems should lead to high levels of skills, competences and motivation and organizations should provide employees with adequate opportunities to make discretionary contributions at the workplace. In combination, these should lead to superior performance (MacDuffie, 1995; Guest, 1997; Becker et al., 1997, Appelbaum et al, 2000). Delery (1998) has given four different ways of combining the HR practices:

(1) Combining the practices through an additive process, that is, two or more practices may be combined through an additive process to provide a no-overlapping benefit to the outcome.

(2) The practices may be substitutable; in the sense that one may replace the other, e.g., on-the-job or off-the-job training, but not both, may be provided to develop high levels of skills.

(3) Using sequential tree analysis to identify 'bundles' of HR practices that lead to positive synergy; that is, the combination of practices is more than the sum of its parts.

(4) An incongruous combination of practices can lead to more negative consequences than when the practice is merely non-existent, leading to negative synergistic effects.

For combining the practices, one could choose an additive or multiplicative approach. Macduffie (1995) chose the additive approach over multiplicative one to combine practices. In a multiplicative approach, if any one organization practice is absent, the 'bundle' score would be zero, and so would be the effect.

Gooderham et al., (2008) did a factor analysis on a set of 61 indicators of HRM practices (taken from Cranet survey of HRM in 16 countries) and identified 15 factors or bundles of HRM practices. Thus, instead of HR practices acting in isolation of each other, if could be bundled together will have an effect on organization. High-involvement HR practices, described as coherent sets of distinct but interconnected practices, can influence employee behavior in a harmonious manner by positively motivating the employees (Ma Prieto & Perez-Santana, 2014). There are complex interactions between HRM bundles and organizational performance (Macduffie, 1995; Singh et al, 2020). Hence this study aims to identify the bundles of human resource practices that may have an impact on work engagement.

We aim to extract the bundles of human resource practices from empirical data. It is the HR system as seen by individual employee, rather than the perspectives of management identified through macro level studies that is more likely to influence human behavior (Liao et al, 2009). Hence this study aims to identify HR bundles as perceived by the employees.

Work Engagement

Work engagement has been defined by Schaufeli et al (2002) as a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption. Employees who are engaged put effort in their work because they identify themselves with the work. Work engagement brings in positive returns to the employee as well as the organization (Anitha, 2014). When an employee is engaged, he experiences a heightened level of ownership wherein he is interested in doing whatever he can offer to benefit the internal and external customers, and for the overall success of the organization.

While HR practices have been found to be the predictors of work engagement (Karatepe, 2013; Salanova et al., 2005, Anitha, 2014), these studies have considered individual HR practices in isolation or in totality by combining the individual HR. Karatepe (2013), in his work considered training, empowerment and rewards as HR practices, whereas Salanova et al. (2005) mentioned training and autonomy as HR practices. Arrowsmith and Parker (2013) identified the scarcity of research on the examination of the impact of individual HR practices on work engagement and concluded that the impact of HR practices on work engagement is not clear. Kusluvan et al. (2010) and Arrowsmith and Parker (2013) suggest that there is a need for more studies to understand the impact of HR practices on work engagement.

From both the psychological contract theory and social exchange theory, when an organization has human resource practices that are perceived as positive and encouraging for the employees, they will feel obliged and try to repay that obligation. One way for employees to repay to the organization is through higher levels of engagement. Thus, engagement is a two-way relationship between the employees and the employer (Robinson et al, 2004) and employees will choose varying levels of engagement in response to the treatment they receive from the organization. When employees feel valued and that their contribution is significant for the firm, the employees become more engaged (Rich et al, 2010; Alfes et al, 2010). High involvement HR practices motivate the employees intrinsically or extrinsically and are positively related to engagement (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008). HR practices such as job design to fulfil the need for autonomy can bring about intrinsic motivation (Deci &amp...

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