Further explorations inside the HR black box: HR attributions and employee well-being

Rodrigues, Ricardo, Guest, David and Campbell-Smith, Andrea (2013) Further explorations inside the HR black box: HR attributions and employee well-being. In: 8th International Conference of the Dutch HRM Network: 'H' versus 'R' in HRM; 14-15 Nov 2013, Leuven, Belguim. (Unpublished)


After establishing an association between human resource (HR) practices, organizational performance and employee outcomes, research has increasingly focussed on the processes that shape this association such as the role of AMO theory and the effectiveness of HR implementation. Another process that has been highlighted by Nishii and colleagues (2008) is role of HR attributions. They explored how employee attributions about why specific HR practices had been implemented affected organizational outcomes. They showed that HR practices attributed to concern for quality and employee enhancement were positively associated, and HR practices attributed to concern for cost minimization and employee exploitation were negatively associated with employee attitudes, unit level organizational citizenship behaviours and customer satisfaction. Union compliance attributions had a neutral impact on outcomes. Nishii et al’s (2008) study focussed on the links between employee attributions, employee attitudes and behaviour and unit level outcomes. What remains unclear and unexplored is how attributions about the purpose of HR practices affects employee well-being. We therefore build on the research of Nishii et al to focus specifically on the association between employee attributions and employee well-being. We hypothesised that quality and employee enhancement attributions and union attributions would be positively associated with well-being and cost minimization and employee exploitation attributions would be negatively associated. Data were collected from 300 airline company workers on attributions and a range of well-being-related outcomes. Our study confirms the 3 factor structure of Nishii et al’s measure of HR attributions. Findings confirm that quality and employee enhancement HR attributions are positively associated with job satisfaction, life satisfaction and engagement and negatively associated with stress. In contrast, cost and employee exploitation HR attributions are associated with lower satisfaction and engagement. Contrary to our hypothesis, union compliance HR attributions among highly unionized technical workers were negatively associated with job satisfaction, engagement and employability. Among low unionized managerial and administrative workers the impact of union compliance attributions on attitudes is neutral. Our study provides empirical support for the usefulness of the construct of HR attributions in understanding the link between HR practices and employee outcomes, confirming that, in addition to the Nishii et al findings of the impact on behaviour and unit level outcomes, attributions affect employee well-being. Our findings also raise questions about the role of external HR attributions, and of union attributions in particular, in shaping employee outcomes.

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