High involvement work systems, happiness at work (HAW) and absorptive capacity: a bathtub study

Publication Date06 May 2020
AuthorAndrés Salas-Vallina,Manoli Pozo-Hidalgo,Pedro-Gil Monte
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour,Industrial/labour relations,Employment law
High involvement work systems,
happiness at work (HAW) and
absorptive capacity: a
bathtub study
es Salas-Vallina
Department of Business Management, University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain, and
Manoli Pozo-Hidalgo and Pedro-Gil Monte
Department of Social Psychology, University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain
Purpose The purpose of this researchis to examine the impact of high-involvement work systems (HIWS) on
absorptive capacity. In addition, the mediating effect of happiness at work in the relationship between high-
involvement work practices and absorptive capacity is analyzed.
Design/methodology/approachA 2-1-2 bathtub multilevel mediation model was used to analyze a sample
of 783 employees from 111 bank branches, gathering data at three different times.
Findings The results reveal that HIWS positively affect absorptive capacity. In addition, they show that
happiness at work partially mediates the relationship between HIWS and absorptive capacity.
Originality/value Happiness at work is a fundamental element for knowledge absorption. The findings
support the basic assumptions of the job demands-resources model, and demonstrate how HIWS, acting as a
job resource, lead to positive attitudes (happiness at work) and, in turn, to positive outcomes (absorptive
capacity). The proposed HIWS, based on the assumptions of the mutual gains model, reveal a positive
employment relationship with effects on both HAW and organizational outcomes. If organizations expose their
employees to management practices that have specific benefits for their HAW, employees are more likely to
perform their jobs in ways that will promote their absorptive capacity.
Keywords High-involvement work practices, Happiness at work, Absorptive capacity
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
In our current highly turbulent business environment, knowledge has become a predominant
source of competitive advantage. To ensure survival, firms need to recognize the value of
new, external information, assimilate it, and apply it to commercial ends(Cohen and
Levinthal, 1990, p. 128), namely, absorptive capacity. Absorptive capacity depends on
organizational context and practices and not only on the organizations direct interaction
with the external environment (Cohen and Levintahal, 1990).
Accordingly, human resource management (HRM) may play a fundamental role in
explaining a firms absorptive capacity. However, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the
effects of HR practices on organizational outcomes for several reasons. First, the nature of HR
practices is unclear. Second, the HIWS-performance relationship shows contradictory results
(Camps and Luna-Arocas, 2009). And third, HRM practices differ significantly from one
study to another (Boselie et al., 2005). A review of literature shows that intra-organizational
factors, such as positive attitudes, have not been considered as an explanation mechanism
and absorptive
We would like to thank reviewers for their enriching and appropriate comments, which clearly
contributed to the improvement of this paper.
This study was funded by the research project GV/2019/159 of the Generalitat Valenciana,
Conselleria d'Innovaci
o, Universitats, Ci
encia i Societat Digital. The authors appreciate the work and
assessment of the editor and the anonymous reviewers.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 17 September 2019
Revised 13 January 2020
22 March 2020
Accepted 24 March 2020
Employee Relations: The
International Journal
Vol. 42 No. 4, 2020
pp. 949-970
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/ER-09-2019-0366
through which HRM increases its impact on absorptive capacity (Distel, 2019). In addition,
little research has examined the intra-organizational antecedents of absorptive capacity in
non-R&D service firms (Moilanen et al., 2014), and from an internal viewpoint (Flatten et al.,
2015). Large and non-R&D-intensive firms are not well positioned to take advantage of
external knowledge compared to R&D firms. This is because large firms use more
bureaucratic and highly rigid management practices (Ortega-Argil
es et al., 2009), which
hinders knowledge absorption. In addition, non-R&D firms are not properly policy-
supported, and collaboration with national R&D institutions increases absorptive capacity.
However, service companies, particularly banking services, might improve their absorptive
capacity by other means than R&D, such as by further focusing on their human resources. To
shed light on these questions, the objectives of this research are: (1) to confirm whether high-
involvement work systems (HIWS) have a positive impact on non-R&D-intensive service
firmsabsorptive capacity and (2) to check whether intra-organizational factors, namely
happiness at work (HAW), mediate the relationship between HIWS and absorptive capacity.
Figure 1 shows the proposed mediation model.
Previous studies have shown that the combined use of HRM practices produces a mutual
and supportive influence on employees (Kloutsiniotis and Mihail, 2018). McDuffie (1995)
proposed the notion of HRM bundlesas being more effective in improving performance
than isolated HRM practices. HR practices that focus on employees, such as participation in
decision-making and job rotation (Van Den Bosch et al., 1999) can facilitate knowledge
exchange (Matusik, 2002). HIWS can be defined as the HR practices that provide employees
with information, knowledge, power and rewards that enable them to work autonomously
(Lawler, 1992). HIWS, as bundles of HR practices, have proved to have an impact on a firms
absorptive capacity (Smith, 2018). Distel (2019) argued that it is necessary to advance
research on the informal mechanisms that exert an influence on a firms absorptive capacity
(Distel, 2019), and Volberda et al. (2010), underlined the key role of attitudes in managing
absorptive capacity. We specifically aim to examine absorptive capacity from the ground
upby analyzing how HAW, as an intra-organizational mechanism at individual level, might
mediate the relationship between HIWS at branch level, and absorptive capacity at
branch level.
Although a very great deal of studies has addressed the HRM-positive attitudes
relationship,the vast majority ofexisting research has focusedon the effect of HRM on specific
and narrow positive attitudes(job satisfaction, commitment,engagement, motivationor trust).
The use of narrow attitudes might involve a loss of sensitive information, as attitudes are
complex and involve a wide range of states of mind (Fisher, 2010). In the words of Fisher
(2010),whatseems more intriguing and usefulis further research on a higher-orderconstruct,
[...] containing a number of positive attitudes and feelings(Fisher, 2010). Fisher argued that
further research is needed on the mediating role of HAW in the HRM-outcomes relationship.
Level-2 (branch level)
Level-1 (individual level)
Figure 1.
2-1-2 Mediation model
involving HIWS (high
involvement work
systems), HAW
(happiness at work)
and ACAP (absorptive

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