Implementation of high-performance work practices in the Spanish private sector. Stronger or weaker during the economic downturn?

Publication Date03 Aug 2015
AuthorGabriel Pruneda
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour,Global HRM
Implementation of
high-performance work practices
in the Spanish private sector
Stronger or weaker during the
economic downturn?
Gabriel Pruneda
Facultad de Economía y Empresa, University of Oviedo, Oviedo, Spain
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to provide an overall picture of the level of implementation of
high-performance work practices (HPWP) in Spain, as well as to identify changes after three years
of severe economic and financial crisis. The practices analysed include selective hiring, extensive
training, information sharing, contingent remuneration and job security.
Design/methodology/approach By means of logistic regressions, the author estimates the
determinants of these practices, during a crisis and pre-crisis period. As a source of information, the author
uses a representative sample of the whole Spanish private sector of 9,086 wage workers, drawn from the
2006 and 2010 waves of the Quality of Life at Work Survey.
Findings Job security and skills utilisation are widely spread in Spain, whilst contingent
remuneration and extensive training show low levels of usage. Highly skilled individuals
holding high-quality jobs display a greater probability of being affected by HPWP. Similar
patterns emerge for employees in large companies and for those in the health and education
Research limitations/implicationsDesign limitations are caused by data that are cross-sectional,
not longitudinal.
Practical implications The author is able to reach conclusions that can be generalised for the
entire Spanish private sector. Thus, they might be used to propose policy recommendations.
Originality/value This is the first in-depth analysis of HPWP in the Spanish private sector.
The results encourage the discussion about the suitability of these practices.
Keywords Selection, Spain, Information sharing, Job security, Remuneration, Crisis,
High-performance work practices, Extensive training, Skilled workers
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
The Spanish labour market is undergoing profound changes as a consequence of the
deterioration of the economy, entailing the worsening of the quality of employment.
Having the total employed population hit an all-time high of 20.5 million by the
beginning of the crisis in 2007[1], the extreme job destruction of 3.8 million jobs has
led the unemployment rate to spiral from 7.9 per cent in the second quarter of that
year to 26 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2013, according to the Spanish Labour
Force Survey (LFS). The current recession had its origin in the construction and
manufacturing industries. Specifically, it has been particularly harsh in the former
Evidence-based HRM: a Global
Forum for Empirical Scholarship
Vol. 3 No. 2, 2015
pp. 159-180
©Emerald Group Publis hing Limited
DOI 10.1108/EBHRM-07-2013-0023
Received 28 July 2013
Revised 5 December 2013
4 March 2014
Accepted 31 March 2014
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
The author wishes to thank three anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful and constructive
comments, and to acknowledge all the valuable suggestions that an earlier version of this paper
received at the Global Conference on International Human Resource Management and SASE 25th
Annual Conference.
HPWP in the
private sector
due to the real estate housing bubble, causing the destruction of 1.6 million jobs over
the last five years (LFS)[2]. As a consequence, low-skilled men were the first ones to
lose their jobs.
Nevertheless, (un)employment figures may be complementedwith additional national
economic indicators in order to appreciate more fully the harshness of the crisis. Spain
had a public surplus of 1.9 per cent, measured as a percentage of the GDP, and a GDP
growth rate of 3.5 per cent before the beginning of the economic retrenchment in 2007
(according to Eurostat figures). However, the increasingly severe crisis has tipped over
these two indicators and, after spectacularly plummeting to 11.2 and 3.9 per cent,
respectively in 2009, the figures for 2012 display a public deficit of 10.6 per cent and a
negative GDP growth rate of 1.4 per cent.
In this context, and as can be discerned from the aforementioned (un)employment
data, the majority of organisations opted for an adjustment via external numerical
flexibility (dismissals) over an adjustment based on internal labour flexibility (functional
flexibility within the company). In fact, this constitutes one of the main objectives of the latest
labour reforms in Spain, implemented in 2011 and 2012 (see García-Serrano and Malo, 2013).
Since this type of labour flexibility is to be achieved through work management practices at
firm level, and given the value of the workforce for the organisation, it is sensible to pursue
an optimal HRM. That is, an HRM system that is efficient and effective, while, at the same
time, it is fair to the individual. Effective management of personnel, which considers the
workforce a source of competitive advantage as opposed to a plain production factor, can
substantially enhance business performance. This type of HRM involves a set of work
management practices considered complementary (Huselid, 1995), aimed at improving the
identification and involvement of employees with organisational goals. By increasing
business awareness and discretion, i.e. the degree of autonomy and participation in decision
making, they draw upon the skills of workers and intensify individual responsibility.
Ultimately, they result in higher quality jobs and more efficient organisations (Boxall
and Purcell, 2003), enhancing firm performance. This set of practices has been termed
high-performance work practices (HPWP) and may be grouped into different HRM
policies, according to the aim that they pursue. Hence, policies are established to
guide the implementation and development of HPWP (Posthuma et al., 2013).
Therefore we can conclude that HPWP are aimed at increasing the involvement of
employees (through autonomous teams, quality circles, access to organisational information)
and labour productivity (through sophisticated recruitment processes, extensive
training, job rotation, job appraisals, re-designing jobs), leaning on reward systems
(either financial or professional, friendly policies aimed at reconciling life and work,
social benefits, flexible hours).
Given that this type of HRM aims at increasing firm performance, while, at the same
time, contributing to the improvement of job quality, it may have a positive impact on
the creation of new and better jobs, thus assisting with the recovery of the Spanish
economy. Furthermore, considering the undeniable importance of employment not only
from an economic but also from a social perspective, it is of great interest to study the
changes that may be taking place: how do firms manage their staff during economic
Consequently, the aim of this paper is to provide an overall picture of the level of
usage of HPWP in Spain. Furthermore, by positioning our analysis in two very specific
moments in time before the crisis, when the economy was expanding, and during
economic retrenchment, when it was contracting we will learn about the changes that
may be taking place as a result of the severe recession.

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