Methodology for determining employee perceptions of factors in the work environment that impact on employee development and performance

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Colorado College]On: 31 October 2014, At: 12:19Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Human Resource DevelopmentInternationalPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rhrd20

    Methodology for determiningemployee perceptions of factors inthe work environment that impacton employee development andperformanceDavid Ripley aa The University of CanterburyPublished online: 04 Jun 2010.

    To cite this article: David Ripley (2003) Methodology for determining employee perceptionsof factors in the work environment that impact on employee development and performance,Human Resource Development International, 6:1, 85-100, DOI: 10.1080/13678860110070192

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13678860110070192

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  • Methodology for determining employee perceptions of factors in the work environment thatimpact on employee development and performance

    David RipleyThe University of Canterbury

    Abstract: The methodology described in this article is of significance to HRD scholarsseeking to better understand employee perceptions of the work environments in whichpractitioners seek to develop employees. Diagnostic instruments tailored to specific worksettings can be developed simply and inexpensively with the approach described.

    A summated rating scale was developed to measure employee perception of a broadrange of work environment variables that research has shown influence employeedevelopment and performance. An employee perception-based factor model was thendeveloped based on factor analysis of data gathered with the study instrument. Analysis ofthe data indicated an interpretable five-factor model. Based on the salient variables of thefactor model, a shorter diagnostic instrument was developed specifically for the worksetting used in the study.

    The approach developed in this study can mitigate the obvious problem that arises ifone attempts to generalize a single set of work environment factors as representing theperceptions of work groups which may have significantly different demographic oroccupational characteristics, work settings and cultures. While the specific factor model anddiagnostic tool generated in this study cannot be generalized beyond the study population,the instrumentation and methodology can be used to develop unique factor models inother work settings to provide the basis for diagnostic instruments appropriate for thosesettings and work groups.

    Keywords: human resource development, employee performance, work environ-ment, factor analysis, employee perception

    Purpose and introduction

    We have known for some time that variables in the work environment impact onemployee behaviours and performance (Blumberg and Pringle 1982; Olson andBorman 1989; Peters et al. 1985). However, there is still more to learn about how workenvironment factors are perceived in different work settings where various demographic,cultural or cross-national issues may come into play (Cheng 1989). This study respondsto the need for a simple and inexpensive methodology that can be used to help us learnmore about employee perceptions in varied work settings, with work groups of varyingdemographics.

    This article describes the development of an instrument designed to determineemployee perceptions of variables in the work environment that research indicatesinfluence employee development and performance. A new instrument was developed

    Human Resource Development InternationalISSN 1367-8868 print/ISSN 1469-8374 online 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd

    http://www.tandf.co.uk/journalsDOI: 10.1080/13678860110070192

    HRDI 6:1 (2003), pp. 85100

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  • because we were unable to find a suitably comprehensive instrument based aroundperformance-related variables. One possibility was Gilberts (1996) performance-focused PROBE instrument. However, as a yes/no instrument, it provides neither theinterval level of data needed for factor analysis nor the intensity information needed bypractitioners, who need to know whether positive or negative responses represent onlymild or very strong feelings. Using one of the many employee satisfaction-basedinstruments was not considered desirable. Job satisfaction is only one variable that mayimpact on performance, and not all agree as to the degree of the impact of jobsatisfaction on performance (Iffaldano and Muchinsky 1985).

    Also discussed is the development of an employee perception-based factor modelof the work setting used in the study, using data obtained with this instrument. Factoranalysis indicated a model for the study work setting consisting of five factors. Thesewere (1) communication and participation in the work, (2) organization and design ofthe work, (3) characteristics of the work setting, (4) personal fit: employees, the workand work setting and (5) personal fit: the work group, the work and work setting. Thedevelopment of a shorter diagnostic instrument based on the factor model that servesas a tool for practitioners in that work setting is also described and further potentialapplication of the methodology is discussed.

    Performance issues

    In an increasingly competitive global economy, there has been considerable emphasisin business organizations on reinvention, re-engineering, and transformation (Hammerand Champy 1993; Passmore 1994; Rummler and Brache 1995), all in pursuit of higherperformance. Performance in this context can be described as work-related behavioursand the resultant outcomes (Carson et al. 1991; Gilbert 1996; Ilgen and Favero 1985).Kuchinke has noted, What philosophical debates exist in HRD centre around whetherprofessional HRD activities should promote performance or learning (2000: 32).Many human resource development (HRD) scholars believe that one of our majorconcerns is conducting research that will expand our knowledge of the determinantsof employee performance and have provided foundational and research work to helpus understand major variables that contribute to employee performance (Ruona andLyford-Nojima 1997). We turn now to perspectives on performance and where thisstudy is situated in that regard.

    Perspectives on performance

    Not all agree with a focus on performance. It has been characterized as reflective of themachine mentality, reflective of scientific management ideology and responsible for allthe negative effects of training (Barrie and Pace 1999; Bierema 1997; Dirkx 1997).Many criticisms of a performance focus have centred on the idea that this reflects aunitarist or managerialist view, which does not appropriately consider employeeobjectives. Unitarist human resource practices reflect a belief that management andlabour share (or should share) a coincidence of interests and strive to eliminate conflict(Boxall 1993; Buchanan and Huczynski 1985). A more pluralist view recognizes that

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  • organizations are made up of groups and individuals, each with their own objectives,and accepts conflict as normal. This suggests that some degree of compromise is calledfor in the interest of mutual survival (Buchanan and Huczynski 1985; Fox 1975).Generally, the unitarist view corresponds to what is sometimes referred to in the Britishliterature as hard HR and the pluralist view to what is referred to as soft HR (Mackyand Johnson 2000). In United States literature, the unitarist view equates to theMatching Model of human resource management (Fombrun et al. 1984) and thepluralist view is reflected more in the Harvard Model of strategic human resourcemanagement (Beer et al. 1984).

    A more recent perspective, with elements of both hard and soft HR, is what hasbeen termed high-performance work systems (HPWS) (Arthur 1994; Becker andGerhart 1996; Delery and Doty 1996; Huselid 1995; Pfeffer 1998), and this study issituated primarily in this perspective. HPWS reflect both unitarist and pluralist ideas.While HPWS reflect an underlying unitarist belief that management and labour sharecommon interests, such systems typically provide more opportunity for employee voiceand therefore the opportunity for a more pluralist consideration of employee objectives.We believe this is appropriate. In a world of fierce competition, management and labourhave the fundamental shared interest of survival of the organization. At the same time,particularly in non-union settings, there must be provision in work practices foremployee objectives to be surfaced, heard and responded to. Not all view the HPWSmovement favourably. Some British research has treated such innovations withwidespread suspicion, particularly with regard to their implications for industrialrelations (Godard and Delaney 2000).

    Holton has noted that the critical perspectives of a performance focus do notnecessarily accurately reflect the performance paradigm of HRD. He further states thatone of the core assumptions of this paradigm is that Organisations must perform tosurvive and prosper, and individuals who work within organisations must perform if theywish to advance their careers and maintain employment (2000: 47). We agree with thatassumption.

    Determinants of performance

    Performance has been said to be a result of individuals, the work environment and theirinteraction (Ilgen and Favero 1985). Carson et al. (1991) indicated that the workenvironment impacts on individual behaviours on the job as well as impacting directlyon work outcomes. Gilberts (1996) Behaviour Engineering Model indicates that both work environment factors and individual factors impact on performance. The Job Characteristics Model of Hackman and Oldham (1980) indicates that the key jobcharacteristics are skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback.These characteristics work in conjunction with critical individual psychological states,to produce motivation, satisfaction and high performance. The purpose here is not toidentify every model or work environment issue, but simply to stress that the workenvironment can significantly impact on employee behaviour and performance, as thatis the conceptual basis for the instrument developed in this study.

    A familiar perspective on performance is expressed as Performance = f (ability xmotivation), indicating that performance comes directly from employee behaviours,which in turn are a function of employee motivation and ability (Wright et al. 1995;

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  • Ivancevich and Matteson 1987). Thompson (1993) advocated expanding the perfor-mance formula to be expressed Performance = f (skill + effort) * (efficacy of systembeing used), and suggested that, to improve performance with the least investment ofresources, the investment should be in the system. Noe (1986) hypothesized thatTrainability = f (Ability, Motivation, Work Environment Perceptions). Thompsonsand Noes approaches also support the idea that the interaction of employees and thework environment influences behaviour.

    Conceptual framework of the study

    Gilberts (1996) definition of performance indicates that performance consists ofbehaviours and accomplishments. Behaviours lead to accomplishments so the questionarises, What determines behaviour? Or, more specifically, What determines behaviourin the workplace? The conceptual framework of this study was that work environmentfactors are a major influence on employee behaviours (and ultimately, therefore,performance) in the workplace. Two perspectives that can be drawn upon in supportof the conceptual framework are Lewins Field Theory and the systems approach.

    Lewins field theory

    Lewin (1997[1943]) expressed the field theory equation as Bt = F(St). That is,behaviour at a point in time is a function of the situation at that time, where S includesboth the person and his or her psychological environment. Today we see B = f (p,e),indicating that behaviour is a function of the person interacting with the environment.If we accept the basic field theory concept, the implication is that employee behavioursdo not occur in a vacuum, but in a specific and unique work environment, which impactson behaviours, development and performance.

    However, not all agree that field theory is valid. Lewin (1997[1943]) himselfdescribed it as a method of analysing causal relations and of building scientific constructs.Some consider it no theory at all. Estes (1950) indicated he could not evaluate fieldtheory because nobody had yet developed one, including Lewin. Back criticized Lewinsuse of mathematics (Contractor 1998), and Eng (1978) suggested that, as a paradigmfor psychology, field theory had been found wanting. Gold, however, felt the idea thatfield theory was not really a theory was An unfortunate misunderstanding (1992:67). White (1978) did not accept Engs position that field theory had been tried andfound wanting. Field theory was meant to be a way of thinking about psychologicalphenomena, not a strict reductionist account (Cartwright 1959; Deutsch 1968).Lewins mathematics were meant to be used descriptively rather than formally (Est...

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