Towards a multilevel model of the high performance work systems–workplace safety relationship

Paulson Okhawere, Ann Davis

Research output: Unpublished contribution to conferenceAbstract


Human Resource (HR) systems and practices generally referred to as High Performance Work Practices (HPWPs), (Huselid, 1995) (sometimes termed High Commitment Work Practices or High Involvement Work Practices) have attracted much research attention in past decades. Although many conceptualizations of the construct have been proposed, there is general agreement that HPWPs encompass a bundle or set of HR practices including sophisticated staffing, intensive training and development, incentive-based compensation, performance management, initiatives aimed at increasing employee participation and involvement, job safety and security, and work design (e.g. Pfeffer, 1998). It is argued that these practices either directly and indirectly influence the extent to which employees’ knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics are utilized in the organization.
Research spanning nearly 20 years has provided considerable empirical evidence for relationships between HPWPs and various measures of performance including increased productivity, improved customer service, and reduced turnover (e.g. Guthrie, 2001; Belt & Giles, 2009). With the exception of a few papers (e.g., Laursen &Foss, 2003), this literature appears to lack focus on how HPWPs influence or foster more innovative-related attitudes and behaviours, extra role behaviors, and performance. This situation exists despite the vast evidence demonstrating the importance of innovation, proactivity, and creativity in its various forms to individual, group, and organizational performance outcomes.
Several pertinent issues arise when considering HPWPs and their relationship to innovation and performance outcomes. At a broad level is the issue of which HPWPs are related to which innovation-related variables. Another issue not well identified in research relates to employees’ perceptions of HPWPs: does an employee actually perceive the HPWP –outcomes relationship? No matter how well HPWPs are designed, if they are not perceived and experienced by employees to be effective or worthwhile then their likely success in achieving positive outcomes is limited. At another level, research needs to consider the mechanisms through which HPWPs influence –innovation and performance. The research question here relates to what possible mediating variables are important to the success or failure of HPWPs in impacting innovative behaviours and attitudes and what are the potential process considerations?
These questions call for theory refinement and the development of more comprehensive models of the HPWP-innovation/performance relationship that include intermediate linkages and boundary conditions (Ferris, Hochwarter, Buckley, Harrell-Cook, & Frink, 1999). While there are many calls for this type of research to be made a high priority, to date, researchers have made few inroads into answering these questions. This symposium brings together researchers from Australia, Europe, Asia and Africa to examine these various questions relating to the HPWP-innovation-performance relationship. Each paper discusses a HPWP and potential variables that can facilitate or hinder the effects of these practices on innovation- and performance- related outcomes.
The first paper by Johnston and Becker explores the HPWPs in relation to work design in a disaster response organization that shifts quickly from business as usual to rapid response. The researchers examine how the enactment of the organizational response is devolved to groups and individuals. Moreover, they assess motivational characteristics that exist in dual work designs (normal operations and periods of disaster activation) and the implications for innovation.
The second paper by Jørgensen reports the results of an investigation into training and development practices and innovative work behaviors (IWBs) in Danish organizations. Research on how to design and implement training and development initiatives to support IWBs and innovation in general is surprisingly scant and often vague. This research investigates the mechanisms by which training and development initiatives influence employee behaviors associated with innovation, and provides insights into how training and development can be used effectively by firms to attract and retain valuable human capital in knowledge-intensive firms.
The next two papers in this symposium consider the role of employee perceptions of HPWPs and their relationships to innovation-related variables and performance. First, Bish and Newton examine perceptions of the characteristics and awareness of occupational health and safety (OHS) practices and their relationship to individual level adaptability and proactivity in an Australian public service organization. The authors explore the role of perceived supportive and visionary leadership and its impact on the OHS policy-adaptability/proactivity relationship. The study highlights the positive main effects of awareness and characteristics of OHS polices, and supportive and visionary leadership on individual adaptability and proactivity. It also highlights the important moderating effects of leadership in the OHS policy-adaptability/proactivity relationship.
Okhawere and Davis present a conceptual model developed for a Nigerian study in the safety-critical oil and gas industry that takes a multi-level approach to the HPWP-safety relationship. Adopting a social exchange perspective, they propose that at the organizational level, organizational climate for safety mediates the relationship between enacted HPWS’s and organizational safety performance (prescribed and extra role performance). At the individual level, the experience of HPWP impacts on individual behaviors and attitudes in organizations, here operationalized as safety knowledge, skills and motivation, and these influence individual safety performance. However these latter relationships are moderated by organizational climate for safety. A positive organizational climate for safety strengthens the relationship between individual safety behaviors and attitudes and individual-level safety performance, therefore suggesting a cross-level boundary condition. The model includes both safety performance (behaviors) and organizational level safety outcomes, operationalized as accidents, injuries, and fatalities.
The final paper of this symposium by Zhang and Liu explores leader development and relationship between transformational leadership and employee creativity and innovation in China. The authors further develop a model that incorporates the effects of extrinsic motivation (pay for performance: PFP) and employee collectivism in the leader-employee creativity relationship. The papers’ contributions include the incorporation of a PFP effect on creativity as moderator, rather than predictor in most studies; the exploration of the PFP effect from both fairness and strength perspectives; the advancement of knowledge on the impact of collectivism on the leader- employee creativity link. Last, this is the first study to examine three-way interactional effects among leader-member exchange (LMX), PFP and collectivism, thus, enriches our understanding of promoting employee creativity.
In conclusion, this symposium draws upon the findings of four empirical studies and one conceptual study to provide an insight into understanding how different variables facilitate or potentially hinder the influence various HPWPs on innovation and performance. We will propose a number of questions for further consideration and discussion. The symposium will address the Conference Theme of ‘Capitalism in Question' by highlighting how HPWPs can promote financial health and performance of organizations while maintaining a high level of regard and respect for employees and organizational stakeholders. Furthermore, the focus on different countries and cultures explores the overall research question in relation to different modes or stages of development of capitalism.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2013
Event73rd annual meeting of the Academy of Management - Orlando, FL, United States
Duration: 9 Aug 201313 Aug 2013


Meeting73rd annual meeting of the Academy of Management
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityOrlando, FL


  • HPWS
  • Safety Management


Dive into the research topics of 'Towards a multilevel model of the high performance work systems–workplace safety relationship'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this