High Performance Work Practices and Employee Motivation

Introduction

In today’s competitive world, it is imperative for businesses to develop a highly effective and motivated workforce to outwit their competitors and remain relevant within the market (Mehta & Chugan 2016). Recently, many organisations have placed considerable emphasis on boosting employee performance as a strategy for achieving this goal. Consequently, employee motivation has emerged as a core tenet of human resource management (Brophy 2004). Thus, it comes as no surprise that different companies are increasingly relying on high levels of employee motivation to increase their organisational performance. Tesco is one organisation that has pursued this strategy because it relies heavily on high levels of employee motivation to maintain a desirable performance level (Gilmore & Williams 2012). Other organisations that adopt the same strategy include Jaguar, Nationwide Building Society, Royal Mint and Siemens Medical (Gilmore & Williams 2012). These organisations strive to nurture a motivated workforce by employing high performance work practices. However, their experiences and outcomes differ. The variations could occur because of a number of factors, including industry dynamics, organisational policies, and workplace politics, for example. This paper focuses on understanding the effect of high-performance work practices on employee motivation in the United Kingdom (UK) retail sector, with a particular emphasis on Morrison PLC, UK as a case study.

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Research Background

The UK retail sector is a highly competitive industry. Consequently, companies increasingly rely on innovative strategies to boost their performance (Varley 2014). Most of these strategies are concentrated within the human resource sector because successful retail business depends to a significant extent on the implementation of effective human resource strategies (Bhatla & Pandey 2014). Based on this understanding, many retail businesses in the UK have focused on developing and implementing high performance work practices in their organisational setups (Varley 2014). Usually, these practices are split between monetary and non-monetary employee motivation strategies (Bhatla & Pandey 2014). Depending on the type of business, different companies in the UK retail sector use a number of high performance work practices (Varley 2014).

High performance work practices are not only highlighted as key performance drivers in human resource (HR) literature, but also important constituents of excellent performance standards in successful organisations (Ashkanasy, Bennett & Martinko 2016). Many researchers have explored the source of high levels of employee motivation in the retail industry and demonstrated that they stem, in large part, from high performance work practices (Management Association & Information Resources 2016). Some literature also points out that high performance work practices affect HR practices through recruitment and selection processes, salaries and wage determination strategies, employee ownership agreements, information sharing protocols, team development initiatives, and HR performance measurement tools (Ashkanasy, Bennett & Martinko 2016).

There is a consensus among several experts in the HR field that bundling HR work practices helps managers to develop high performance work practices that, in turn, then allow organisations to develop unique competencies that enable them to remain competitive in today’s globalised and fast-moving society (Ashkanasy, Bennett & Martinko 2016). These skills are developed to improve employee skill levels and motivation standards. As Warner (2013) points out, this is the best way to make sure that employees add to an organisation’s sustainable development initiative.

As indicated, the current study aims to reflect on the effect of high-performance work practices on employee motivation through a case review of Morrison PLC. Headquartered in Bradford, England, this company is among the biggest retail supermarket chains in the United Kingdom (Cunningham & Harney 2012). Some of its main competitors are Tesco, Asda, and Sainsbury’s. Founded in 1899, the company has grown to operate more than 480 stores across the country (Cunningham & Harney 2012). Today, the company has more than 132,000 employees and grosses approximately £16,317 million in revenue (Cunningham & Harney 2012).

Rationale of the Research

Although today’s business environment is fast-moving and ever changing, employees remain a common denominator for success. Usually, companies that post a poor performance in today’s economy have a human resource problem that could manifest as employee motivation issues or training and development inadequacies (Aguinis 2009). Although different organisations apply high performance practices to address some of these issues, some of them fail to realise the intended outcomes. According to Akhtar et al. (2016), having a motivated workforce is central to the success of any organisation. The rationale for this study is founded on this notion; having motivated employees is akin to having a highly performing and competitive organisation.

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Research Aim

The main aim of this research is to reflect on the effect of high-performance work practices on employee motivation.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to determine the effect of high-performance work practices on employee motivation at Morrison PLC.

Research Objectives

The specific objectives of this research are as follows:

  1. Examine the work practices and policies within Morrison PLC that impact on employee motivation.
  2. Discuss challenges faced by Morrison PLC in increasing employee motivation.
  3. Evaluate the correlation between high-performance work practices and employee motivation.

Research Questions

The following questions will guide this study:

  1. Which employee motivation methods are used by Morrison PLC?
  2. What challenges does Morrison PLC face in the application of high-performance work practices to improve employee motivation and performance?
  3. Is there a relationship between high performance in the workplace and employee motivation?

Literature Review

This chapter contains an analysis of what other researchers have concluded about the topic, including a review of existing theories and models of human resource management. The discussions contained here will aim to provide an understanding of the relationship between high performance practices and employee motivation, evaluation of the challenges faced in employee motivation, and a consideration of the influence of work practices and policies on employee motivation.

Conceptual Framework

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The analysis contained in this paper will be based on a universalistic perspective. This approach has been applied in various research studies which have striven to understand the relationship between HR practices and employee outcomes (Bach & Edwards 2013). Evidence can be seen from the works of Bamberger, Biron and Meshoulam (2014). The approach, in the context of this study, can be used to understand the relationship between HR practices and organisational outcomes. The use of the universalistic perspective comes from the works of Bach and Edwards (2013) who provided their models for evaluating the relationship between HR practices and employee performance. They presented their arguments within the context of the conceptual framework by demonstrating that a fixed set of HR practices is bound to create surplus value when analysed in terms of employee performance. They also demonstrated that, irrespective of the strategy employed, HR practices are bound to have a significant effect on organisational performance (Bach & Edwards 2013). Armstrong (2012), who linked HR strategies and employee performance, supports the same view.

Relationship between HR Practices and Organisational Performance

A plethora of research studies have explained the relationship between HR practices and organisational performance (Gilmore & Williams 2012; Ashkanasy, Bennett & Martinko 2016). They demonstrate that HR practices impact on organisational productivity through their influence on employee behaviours and productivity (Bacal 2011). More specifically, studies show that high performance work practices boost organisational behaviours through the creation of conditions that support increased employee performance (Bacal 2011). Indeed, as Armstrong (2009) points out, high performance work practices could improve organisational performance by increasing team coordination among employees who work in different departments.

Akhtar et al. (2016) found that high performance work practices significantly affect organisational performance and systems that are developed from work practices have a significantly greater effect on organisational output. Bhatla and Pandey (2014) conducted a study to investigate whether the relationship between high performance work practices and organisational performance differed across different economic sectors and geographical regions. They found out that HR practices provided the mediating force that created the boost in organisational performance by improving employee motivation. The study focused mainly on understanding the role of motivation as a mediating variable in this relationship. Through similar studies, other HR researchers have also demonstrated a strong link between HR practices and organisational performance (Management Association & Information Resources 2016; Warner 2013).

High Performance Work Practices

Akhtar et al. (2016) say high performance work practices are a set of distinctive, but interconnected, actions undertaken by an organisation’s human resource department to improve employee performance. The goal is often to attract, develop and retain top talent in the organisation (Akhtar et al. 2016). The successful deployment of high performance work practices often leads employees to respond effectively to existing market threats. Some of the most common high performance work practices include employee training, rewards increase, and employee empowerment practices (Bhatla & Pandey 2014). They usually help to increase skill levels, knowledge, and ability of employees to succeed. When these practices are deployed effectively, they support each other to create significant improvements in employee productivity (Bhatla & Pandey 2014). Such an outcome is affirmed by the concept of internal fit, which presupposes that the sum of the collective deployment of high performance work practices is greater than the sum of the outcome of individual deployment (Armstrong 2012).

Relationship between High Performance Work Practices and Motivation

Acknowledgment of the relationship between high performance work practices and employee motivation is not new in the academic field. Indeed, numerous researchers have explored this relationship and all formed the general conclusion that high performance work practices have a positive effect on employee motivation (Ashkanasy, Bennett & Martinko 2016). Most of the studies that affirm this view have presented this finding as a general understanding of the effects of high performance work practices on employee behaviour and productivity. Here, the key observation is the willingness of employers to commit to the improvement of their employees’ welfare. Some researchers refer to this relationship as a psychological contract between the employers and employees (Akhtar et al. 2016). Consistent with this view are studies that have shown a strong correlation between high performance work practices and rising levels of commitment among employers and employees alike (Armstrong 2012). In turn, the commitment often directly correlates with heightened levels of organisational productivity. In particular, Armstrong (2012) argues that motivation provides the underlying fabric that bridges human resource practices and organisational performance.

Challenges Faced by Organisations when Applying High Performance Work Practices

Several studies have highlighted the challenges faced by organisations when implementing high performance work practices in their workplaces (Becker, Huselid & Ulrich 2001). For example, performance issues have troubled HR managers who have tried to apply high performance work practices that fit this description (Becker, Huselid & Ulrich 2001). One key challenge that has emerged in this context is the failure to see the link between performance measurement and performance improvement. The problem has been traced to the use of generic performance measurement instruments by some organisations, and studies have shown that this has created a problem in the distinction of performance measurement for high performing employees and those who are only doing the bare minimum (Varley 2014; Bhatla & Pandey 2014). Another challenge is the application of performance measurement as “another” compliance policy. This is a problem because organisations fail to understand the importance of employing high performance work practices because they see it as something they are obliged to do (Varley 2014; Bhatla & Pandey 2014).

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Away from high performance practices that centre on performance reviews, researchers have also pointed out that another challenge organisations face when implementing high performance work practices is receiving non-constructive feedback from employees (Akhtar et al. 2016). The same studies have shown that the failure of managers to act on the feedback they receive from the use of these high performance work practices also stifles opportunities for improvement that could emerge from the process (Akhtar et al. 2016). Organisations that detect underperformance from the use of high performance work practices are also criticized for not acting appropriately and accordingly once they are aware of the weaknesses. This failure undermines the goal of the high performance work practices, which is to improve performance (Bhatla & Pandey 2014).

Studies that have involved primary research into the challenges associated with the use of high performance work practices have also pointed out that many employees are concerned about the failure of some supervisors to manage cases of underperformance effectively (Bhatla & Pandey 2014). Most of those employees who express such views feel that they are being taken for granted because those who are not working as hard as they do are not being reprimanded (Varley 2014). Consequently, they feel unappreciated for the effort they are putting into their work (Varley 2014). Additionally, they feel less valued than they should. The overall outcome is a reduction in motivation levels. Collectively, these insights highlight some of the issues HR managers face when implementing high performance work practices.

Effect of High Performance Work Practices in the Retail Sector

The direct effects of high performance work practices in the retail sector have not necessarily been specifically identified in terms of their effects on motivation because researchers who have investigated this topic have had to deal with the fact that these practices have a variety of effects on different aspects of employee performance (Mehta & Chugan 2016). Nonetheless, many researchers who have investigated the effects of these practices within this area say that the major problem human resource managers face is high attrition rates, which they try to solve through the use of high performance work practices (Mehta & Chugan 2016). Studies based in India, and other emerging markets in Asia, show that the use of these practices has not been effective in lowering attrition rates (Mehta & Chugan 2016). Perceived unfairness in relative compensation packages, the failure of retail outlets to match the offers made by competitors, fewer growth opportunities, and role of stagnation were some of the reasons identified behind these high attrition rates in the retail sector (Mehta & Chugan 2016).

The use of high performance work practices in the retail sector has accelerated due to recent literature, indicating the possibility of these practices providing a solution to these problems. Consequently, different retail outlets have applied high performance work practices in the management of five of their core resources: location, inventory, customers, employees and stores (Akhtar et al. 2016). Many researchers are in agreement that the use of these practices to improve performance in the retail sector is crucial as this sector is as demanding as the service sector, and whose success is very much dependent on high levels of employee motivation (Mehta & Chugan 2016). The labour intensive nature of both the service industry and the retail sector is the main area of commonality, and the application of high performance work practices is arguably the most reliable basis that organisations in both these sectors could use to gain a competitive advantage.

Theoretical Analysis

Akhtar et al. (2016) point out that HR managers do not often employ individual HR practices in isolation. Instead, they use a combination of practices within a complex system of interconnectedness. It is this interconnectedness that gave birth to the concept of high performance work practices (Akhtar et al. 2016). However, few research studies have bothered to explain how these different HR practices should be best combined in order to create the best mix of HR strategies to yield excellent employee performance. This concept is firmly enshrined within the tenets of the resource-based theory, which also supports the relationship between effective HR practices and organisational performance (Gilmore & Williams 2012).

According to Armstrong (2012), boosting employee knowledge and proficiency is an important tenet of organisational performance because it helps companies to maximize their intangible assets. Many analysts have highlighted the importance of employee proficiency in the retail sector by pointing out that it is indispensable to its success (Varley 2014; Bhatla & Pandey 2014). Many HR managers in this industry use high performance work practices to communicate to employees their concern about their welfare and performance (Bhatla & Pandey 2014). These positive signals are mainly responsible for the improvement of organisational performance and, in consequence, the improvement of the retail sector. This relationship is captured by social exchange theory, which presupposes that employees are likely to surpass the expectations of their employers, in terms of employee productivity, if they believe that the employers care for them (Armstrong 2012).

The equity theory and the job characteristics model are other theories that have also highlighted the relationship between high performance practices and improved employee performance (Armstrong 2012). Many research studies that have investigated this HR issue have been focused on exploring this relationship in the manufacturing sector and discounting other aspects of the economy. More, specifically, the retail sector has been relatively ignored in these discussions, thereby leaving a gap in the literature that fails to explain how employees in this particular industry respond to high performance work practices.

The main problem associated with the bias in current research studies is the difficulty of extrapolating the effects of high performance work practices on employees working in the manufacturing sector to others who work in the retail sector. This difficulty exists because of the different characteristics and activities in the manufacturing sector, such as the concurrent production of goods and services, the limited interaction with customers, and the intangibility of services, all of which are mostly associated with manufacturing but not the retail sector. This gap in literature suggests that there is the need to conduct more research on the impact of high performance work practices in the retail sector.

Summary

Although some of the studies highlighted in this paper have explained how high performance work practices are applied in the retail sector, few studies have undertaken case-by-case evaluations to explore their effects on the sector. Instead, current studies contain general reviews of the effects of these practices on the industry. This paper differentiates between the effects of these practices on employee performance by focusing solely on motivation within one company, Morrison PLC. By employing a case study approach, this research is able to provide a detailed analysis of this issue. The next chapter outlines the research methodology.

Methodology

Research Approach

There are two main research methods generally used in research studies: qualitative and quantitative. The mixed methods approach is also another commonly used approach and this merges the characteristics of these main two methodologies. The quantitative approach is used mainly in research studies that have measurable variables. Comparatively, researchers who want to measure subjective variables tend to employ the qualitative approach (Beri 2013). The qualitative approach will be the main approach adopted in this study because the variables in this paper are subjective. For example, motivation is a subjective variable that is best analysed qualitatively.

Data Collection

The main data collection technique applied in this paper is that of interviews. Data was collected using a semi-structured interview survey. Details of the data collection tool are available in the Appendix. The interview survey is made up of five parts. The first part provides information about the demographic data of the respondents, while the second one contains data relating to employee motivation methods applied at Morrison PLC, UK. The third part of the semi-structured questionnaire sought to ascertain the respondents’ views about the challenges associated with the implementation of high performance work practices within the organisation. The fourth part of the interview gathered views regarding the relationship between high performance work practices and employee motivation at Morrison PLC. The final part recorded employees’ views about any other matters they wanted to discuss relating to the research topic. Before undertaking the study, permission to conduct the interview was sought from the branch managers. As stipulated in the request to conduct the interview (available in the appendix section), a final copy of the research paper will be available to the respondents upon completion of the study. This way, they could give their feedback on the research.

Sampling

All the respondents who participated in this study were recruited using a purposeful random sampling method. They worked in different Morrison stores located in London and Stranraer. Seber and Salehi (2012) define the purposeful random sampling method as the identification of the target population through systematic means that are devoid of any prior knowledge of the sampling outcomes. The researcher selected this sampling method because the employees were relatively accessible through various major outlets of Morrison PLC in the UK. Since this sampling method is a non-probability technique, the purposeful random sampling technique was appropriate to use in the study because the researcher needed to include the views of different types of employees. Stated differently, the views of managers and lower-level employees were sought to ensure a broader understanding of the research issue. These two groups of employees constituted the two major sampling pools. The researcher used best judgement to determine the categories because managers have the potential to have a broader view of the effects of HR practices on Morrison PLC, while lower-level employees could provide a bottom-up perspective of the same issues. Using this approach, it was easier to select the employees purposefully from a wider employee pool. This sampling choice is informed by the views of Beri (2013), who affirms its appropriateness in studies that include a small sample of respondents. Furthermore, as described by Seber and Salehi (2012), this sampling method is associated with high levels of credibility and low levels of bias. Invitation requests to participate in the research study were sent out to 50 employees who worked in various UK outlets of Morrison PLC.

Research Strategy/Method

According to Beri (2013), there are two main types of research strategies, descriptive and exploratory. As the name suggests, exploratory research studies are often aimed at giving as much information as possible about research issues without providing any recommendations or solutions to them. In contrast, a descriptive research approach seeks to describe a research phenomenon with the goal of providing recommendations or solutions to an identified problem (Beri 2013). This descriptive approach was applied in this paper; the study provides a description of the research strategy and outlines specific recommendations about the HR issues affecting Morrison PLC.

Data Analysis

Thematic and coding methods were the main data analysis strategies used in this paper. As Klenke (2016) points out, the thematic method is among the most common techniques of data analysis in qualitative research studies. It helps to pinpoint common patterns and emerging themes from the responses given by interviewees. The themes and patterns gathered will be outlined in the next chapter, but they were important in helping the researcher to understand the research phenomenon and to answer the research questions. The themes identified were related to each research question. Since there are three research questions, three themes were used in the examination of the respondents’ views. Part of the data analysis process included a coding process, where each theme was assigned a number that would allow the researcher to group the respondent’s views into specific categories that would help to answer each research question. For example, responses that described the relationship between high performance work practices and motivation levels were assigned code 3. Similarly, responses that aimed to describe the challenges faced by Morrison PLC when applying high performance work practices were assigned code 2. These codes later transformed into themes that helped answer the research questions.

Underlying the data analysis plan was a choice between the deductive and inductive approaches. The deductive approach follows a general to specific approach in answering a research question (Klenke 2016), while the inductive strategy adopts the reverse approach, and involves a shift from a specific analysis to a more general one. Beri (2013) also says that it does not involve hypothesis testing. In this paper, we used deductive reasoning because the study uses general information and applies it to a specific case. In other words, the approach used involved understanding the effects of high performance work practices on employee motivation in Morrison PLC.

Ethical Considerations

As Miller et al. (2012) point out, the collection of primary research data comes with unique ethical challenges because human subjects are involved. The main ethical considerations in this paper were informed consent, privacy, and confidentiality. To protect confidentiality, the data was collected, recorded and presented anonymously. Consent to participate in the study was also safeguarded through an informed consent form that outlined the free and voluntary participation of the respondents in the study (the informed consent form is available in the appendix section). To protect the data collected, access to information was only granted to the researcher. Similarly, the transcribed information was stored in a computer and protected with a password. Upon completion of the study, the data was destroyed.

Findings

As highlighted in Chapter 3 of this paper, the researcher mainly collected primary research from interviews that gathered the views of two groups of employees working in different branches of Morrison PLC, UK. Invitations were sent to 50 respondents and 35 responded affirmatively. Those who could not participate in the study sent their regrets because of personal commitments and scheduling issues. The 35 respondents who took part gave varied responses regarding the questions posed to them in the personal interview survey. The section below explains the demographic findings.

Demographic Data

As seen from the personal interview survey in the Appendix, the first part of the interview gathered information about the demographic makeup of the sample population. Twenty respondents who took part in the study were females, while the number of male respondents was 15. Of the total 35 participants who took part, five of them were top-level managers working in different human resource departments within various branches in Morrison PLC. The rest were low-level employees who worked as supermarket attendants. The age of the respondents ranged from 18 years to 65 years. Three of the managers who participated in the study had an undergraduate degree, while two of them had a master’s degree. Thirty percent of the supermarket attendants did not have a high school diploma, while the rest had this educational qualification. None of the low-level employees had an educational qualification above a high school diploma. All the employees who worked as supermarket attendants had worked in the organisation for less than five years. Comparatively, only one female manager was new to the organisation and had worked less than five years. The other four managers had worked in the organisation between 6-10 years. Their views about employee motivation methods appear below.

Employee Motivation

Managers’ Responses: When asked to state what motivation means to the respondents, the managers said it refers to the improvement of employee morale to do what they are supposed to. They also said they were familiar with about four or five methods of employee motivation, with the most common ones being training and development, performance rewards, employee recognition practices, and prioritising work-life balance. When asked to describe the kind of motivation methods used by Morrison PLC, they said employee recognition practices and performance rewards were the most common practiced methods in the organisation. Lastly, when asked to state their views regarding whether these motivation methods have an effect on employee performance, the respondents answered affirmatively. In fact, all of them unanimously agreed that employees were better motivated because of the use of the aforementioned motivation practices. One male manager who had worked for more than 7 years in the organisation said:

In the past, we used to have many problems with our workers because they felt they were not receiving proper compensation for their work. Others believed that we did not care much for their wellbeing. They honestly think we are greedy pigs (laughs). However, after we started implementing some of the motivation practices I have just told you about, there has been a complete shift in employee attitudes. Of course, not to everybody, but I would vouch for the fact that we have fewer incidences of resentment and rebellion. So, yes, I would say there has been a positive impact of motivation practices on employee performance.

Subordinate’s Responses: Most of the attendants sampled said that motivation meant better working conditions for employees, which allowed them to perform their tasks more effectively. Some of them also shared the managers’ definition of the concept by saying it meant an increased sense of morale and enthusiasm in the accomplishment of their tasks. When asked to state the number of employee motivation methods they knew, most of the respondents were only able to mention two or three methods. The most common ones were an increase in monetary rewards and increased employee recognition. When asked to state the most common types of motivation methods applied at Morrison PLC, the respondents claimed that employee recognition methods and performance rewards were most commonly applied. This response mirrored the answers from the managers. Lastly, when asked to explain the impact of these motivational methods on their performance, the respondents claimed they had a positive impact. However, some posed differing views on the basis that these methods were not being honestly applied by management. Instead, they felt that the retail chain was only using them because they had to, and not necessarily because they sincerely cared for the welfare of the employees. One of the respondents said:

You see… the problem with management is that they have to seem like they care for their workers, but I do not think they honestly do. Ask yourself, why many of us do not last long in this organisation. In fact, I would say some of the most recognised employees soon leave the organisation after getting appreciated for the work they do. Why do you think this is so? Do you really believe there is a positive impact of these motivation practices on our performance? I do not think so.

Challenges associated with the Application of High Performance Work Practices

Managers’ Responses: When asked to describe what high performance work practices meant to the respondents, they said the practices were methods of engaging and empowering employees to fulfil their organisational duties. When asked to state the kind of high performance work practices that Morrison PLC applies, two of the respondents repeated the motivation practices they mentioned in the first part of the interview. However, three of them said the organisation promotes teamwork, where it strives to nurture autonomous units of employees that can solve organisational problems without the involvement of workers. When asked to state the kind of challenges experienced when implementing these high performance work practices, the respondents claimed that the lack of trust between managers and employees was the main problem because some employees felt that Morrison PLC used high performance work practices, not because the managers genuinely cared, but because they had to.

Subordinates’ Responses: When asked to state what high performance work practices meant to the respondents, most of them said such practices referred to actions taken by managers to improve organisational performance or employee productivity. When asked to describe the kind of high performance work practices that Morrison PLC practiced, the respondents mentioned pay incentives, teamwork and employee participation. Here, it is important to point out that their views did not significantly differ with those of their managers because the latter also mentioned teamwork and employee participation. However, it is important to note that their responses also mirrored their perceptions of the motivation practices employed by the organisation. When asked to explain the challenges the organisation experienced when implementing high performance work practices, most of the respondents said they did not believe in the sincerity of the managers to implement the work practices. Some of them expressed their discontent with how management implemented these work practices, with some of them saying there were biases involved. The respondents also said that uncertain economic conditions made it difficult for some of the incentives given by the managers to have the motivating effect they should have.

Relationship between High Performance Work Practices and Motivation

Managers’ Responses: When asked to explain their perception of the relationship between high performance work practices and motivation, all the respondents mentioned both variables and a positive relationship. Most of them said that the proper implementation of these practices should ideally yield increased motivation. When asked to explain whether the high performance work practices employed at Morrison PLC did yield high motivation levels, the managers had mixed views. Three of them said they had a positive relationship on employee motivation levels and two of them said they had either a neutral or positive relationship. Those who expressed this view believed that workplace dynamics associated with the implementation of these high performance work practices made it difficult for the organisation to realise the benefits of such HR practices. When asked to give their views about what they believed was the problem, respondents who had a cynical view of the high performance work practices said that the lack of trust between employees and employers was the main cause for concern. However, they expressed different views when asked to explain how to solve the same challenges. Some of them said the managers should be more honest and sincere when implementing the high performance work practices, while others suggested that managers should recognise that building trust takes a lot of hard work and time.

Subordinates’ Responses: When asked to describe their perception of the relationship between high performance and motivation, the respondents said that employee motivation should generally increase when an organisation employs high performance work practices. However, some of them disagreed with the notion that high performance work practices at Morrison PLC led to higher motivation standards. Some respondents were unsure about this answer because they felt that some high performance work practices in the organisation did lead to increased motivation levels, while others did not. When asked to explain why this was so, their views did not differ much with those of their managers; they said that the lack of honesty and sincerity in implementing some of these work practices was the greatest hindrance to the realisation of the full benefits of the organisation’s high performance work practices.

Discussion

Emerging Themes and Codes

Three major themes emerged in this study; employee motivation methods, challenges associated with the implementation of high performance work practices, and the relationship between high performance work practices and motivation. These themes developed from a coding process that helped the researcher to categorise the respondents’ views into three groups as outlined in the table below.

Table 1: Codes and Themes

Themes Codes
Employee motivation methods 1
Challenges associated with the implementation of high performance work practices 2
Relationship between high performance work practices and motivation 3

Challenges Morrison PLC Faces

Although the respondents mentioned several challenges associated with the implementation of high performance work practices at Morrison PLC, the lack of trust between lower-level employees and higher-level managers emerged as the main issue. Both the subordinates and some managers shared this view. However, some respondents did not openly support this view because they said that Morrison PLC had made significant progress in the implementation of high performance work practices. However, most of the participants said there was a feeling of mistrust behind the intention of managers to employ some of the high performance work practices mentioned. For example, one respondent said the failure of the supervisors to implement the high performance work practices (effectively) was another challenge they faced in the organisation. Other employees believed that some supervisors did not understand why such practices were being applied in the first place. Therefore, they did not give it the attention it deserves. Additionally, some respondents claimed that poaching by some of their competitors was a problem because the organisation often invested a lot of time and money on their employees only for them to leave the organisation for “greener pastures.”

The difference in views between the managers and the other employees could stem from a number of factors, but educational differences between the two groups appear to be a reliable variable in explaining this difference. Indeed, it was noted in Chapter 4 that all the managers had a bachelor’s degree or a higher education qualification, while most of the supermarket attendants only had a high school diploma, or lower educational qualification. These differences in education could inform the differences in perception with regard to the research questions. The experience of some of the managers in the affairs of the retail chain could also explain some of the differences in the views expressed by the managers. For example, those who had served in the company for more than five years were more pleased about the progress made by the organisation in their implementation of high performance work practices compared to those who had served for fewer years. Based on this analysis, it seems clear that education differences and work experiences could help to explain most of the variation in perceptions regarding the impact of high performance work practices at Morrison PLC.

Mistrust between employers and employees appear to be specific to Morrison PLC because a review of the literature did not suggest this problem was a common one in the retail sector. Bryan and Harish (2017) say such types of problems often occur in high power distance organisations, where lower-level employees do not have access to their superiors, as this type of power structure inhibits openness and transparency in the organisation. Researchers have tried to encourage managers to facilitate participation of employees in workplace decision-making systems. For example, Bryan and Harish (2017) say companies should ensure their decision-making systems have a representative of the workers who conveys the views of this stakeholder group in the company’s management structure. In this way, the interests of the workers are represented in the decision-making structure. Another researcher recommended that they should strive to promote information sharing and communication as another high performance work practice because this is the best way to improve the relationship between supervisors and employees (Mehta & Chugan 2016). These recommendations are captured by equity theory, which presupposes that employees often strive to weigh the input they bring to an organisation and the possible returns they gain from it (Varley 2014). So far, the findings of this study show that employees see an imbalance between their inputs and outputs. However, the aforementioned recommendations seek to bridge this gap.

Relationship between High Performance Work Practices and Employee Motivation

Analysis of the views of the managers and supermarket attendants about motivation shows that both categories of employees shared similar definitions of the concept. This observation means that they both answered the questions from a common understanding of what employee motivation means. If their views are analysed in more detail, it becomes clear that both sets of respondents believed motivation meant putting employees in a state of mind where they wanted to exceed what is expected of them. Stated differently, their views of employee motivation referred to an increased enthusiasm for employees to perform their tasks. This common understanding of motivation means that both sets of respondents approached the questions surrounding the relationship between high performance work practices and employee motivation from a mutual understanding.

The relationship between high performance work practices and motivation was identified to be a positive but weak one. This view aligns with the findings current literature, where a number of researchers have showed that the adoption of these HR practices is supposed to increase employee motivation and performance. While this relationship should be the case for most organisations (Bryan & Harish 2017), this study found that there were variations in this relationship at Morrison PLC. Some respondents were not convinced that employee motivation increased because of the implementation of high performance work practices. Others expressed neutral views regarding this relationship, and a few felt that the relationship between both variables was dismal. The lack of a strong positive affirmation of the relationship between high performance work practices and employee motivation at Morrison PLC partly stems from the challenges associated with implementing these practices in the organisation. It is also influenced by the differences in perceptions regarding what these practices mean to the managers. For example, some of them claimed that high performance work practices were aimed at reducing hierarchies in the organisation, where employees become more empowered to make decisions about their work processes, while others believed they meant the creation of a positive work environment for the improvement of employee productivity. Similarly, the researcher also found that some of the managers believed that high performance work practices are those that help create high performance work organisations. While they agreed that the main building blocks are trust and communication, their differences in understanding of the concept, and their perceptions of the importance of high performance work practices, could be responsible, at least partly, for the weak relationship between high performance work practices and employee motivation within the organisation.

Work Practices and Policies of Morrison PLC that Impact Employee Motivation

Understanding the work practices and policies of Morrison PLC that impact employee motivation was one of the key objectives of this study. Based on the respondents’ views about this issue, the researcher found that the lack of honesty and trust among employees and managers is a major problem that affects employee motivation in the organisation. This issue could be partly brought about by a top-down managerial structure in the organisation where the managers wield considerable power over their employees. This breakdown in employee-employer relationships in the organisation could also be partly responsible for some of the cases of abusive practices and attacks meted out by some of the supermarket’s employees on customers. For example, in an article mentioned in Burges-Salmon LLC (2016), it was reported that an employee of Morrison PLC attacked a customer and used abusive language to discourage him from coming back to the store. Some cases of “bad blood” between employers and employees also exist, as seen in a class action case filed by the company employees in the UK where they sued the company for a data breach (Burges-Salmon LLC 2016). Private information about the employees, including their salaries, names, and personal identification numbers were released to the public. These instances show that there are strained relations between employers and employees in the organisation. They also show that, despite the efforts made by managers in the organisation to improve the performance of their employees, the ideal level of motivation is far from being achieved. To address this challenge, it is important to implement some of the recommendations outlined below.

Recommendations

As highlighted in the first chapter of this paper, the aim of this study was to reflect on the impact of high performance work practices on employee motivation at Morrison PLC, UK. This study demonstrated that although high performance work practices were being applied at Morrison PLC, the ideal outcomes, in terms of employee motivation, were not being realised. It was also found that lack of trust and honesty had a large part to play in this failure. This challenge is partly explained by the equity theory, which shows the source of employee dissatisfaction (failure to balance employee inputs and outputs). This paper’s recommendations align with those highlighted by some of the organisation’s managers, who said that managers should be more honest and sincere when implementing high performance work practices. In Chapter 4, it was noted that some respondents also suggested that managers should recognise that building trust takes hard work and time. Therefore, they should know that it could take a long time for employees to trust managers and such a result could only be earned, as opposed to being demanded. To improve the relationship between managers and employees, this paper borrows from the recommendations of Bryan and Harish (2017) who say that taking advantage of feedback to mend relationships and resolve conflicts rationally are the best ways of solving such issues. The same is true in the case of Morrison PLC because the lack of rationality and the failure of managers to address employee concerns are, in the main, responsible for the tense relations with employees.

The company’s managers should take advantage of the feedback they receive from their employees to improve relationships as failure to do so could make the employees feel less valued by the company (most of the respondents identified this problem). Although some of the company’s managers said they often try to involve employees in the decision-making process, more effort should be made to enhance this strategy at all operational levels. Indeed, it could be argued that managers should not make totally independent decisions, at particular stages of operations, but instead speak to their employees about the strengths and weaknesses of some departments/actions, with the goal of improving how employees feel about themselves and about their work. Doing so would not only help to accomplish this objective, but also help managers to get more information on the actual situation at hand. By analysing organisational issues from different perspectives, they would have more options for boosting employee performance and, by extension, organisational productivity. As Armstrong (2012) says, this way will ensure employees feel more invested in the company.

Morrison PLC should also strive to solve conflicts rationally, and in a timely fashion, so that employees do not feel aggrieved by the actions of the managers. When solving conflicts between supervisors and supermarket attendants, the managers should not be so quick to judge. Instead, they should focus more energy on hearing both sides of the story. This recommendation is partly supported by the views of Becker, Huselid and Ulrich (2001) who say that most companies often lose their employees unnecessarily because they allow miscommunication to fester between lower-level employees and those in positions of power. This problem creates further mistrust, which eventually causes a decline in organisational performance.

Conclusion

The aim of this study was to reflect on the effect of high-performance work practices on employee motivation. Using a case study approach, three main objectives developed. These involved examining the work practices and policies of Morrison PLC, UK that impacted on employee motivation, discussing the challenges faced by the retail chain in increasing employee motivation, and evaluating the correlation between high-performance work practices and employee motivation within the company. Three questions guided the analysis, with the aim of ascertaining the employee motivation methods used by Morrison PLC, the challenges Morrison PLC faces in the application of high-performance work practices (to improve employee motivation and performance), and to explore if there was a relationship between high performance at the workplace and employee motivation.

After analysing the views of managers and supermarket attendants in the company, it was found that high performance work practices had a weak impact on employee motivation because of the mistrust that exists between managers and subordinate workers. It was also found that insincerity and lack of trust were at the centre of these challenges. To mitigate this problem, this paper proposed recommendations that revolve around using employee feedback to nurture trust and honesty between both levels of workers. This paper also contains recommendations to encourage the managers of Morrison PLC to solve conflicts rationally. These recommendations will solve some of the grievances that inhibit employees from enjoying their work. By implementing the recommendations, Morrison PLC is likely to increase the effectiveness of its high performance work practices and, therefore, generally improve the productivity of the organisation through improved employee morale.

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