RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
IN HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

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Ibrahim, E. & Dickie, C. (2010). A Conceptual Model of the Human Resource Climate Dimensions that Influence the Development of Workplace Relationships, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 18(2), 47-60.

A Conceptual Model of the Human Resource Climate Dimensions that Influence the Development of Workplace Relationships

Endah Ibrahim & Carolyn Dickie

Abstract

Despite the ubiquity of the phenomenon of workplace friendships (WFs), the antecedents to the development of such relationships as manifested in an organisation’s human resource management (HRM) climate remain relatively unexplored. Indeed a great deal of investment has been made to evaluate perceptual and behavioural responses of job incumbents in work arrangements, but the notion of HRM climate dimensions providing the platform for the opportunity and development of WFs has yet to be entertained. This paper explores the concept of HRM climate dimensions which includes employee welfare, level of participation, job autonomy, interdepartmental and cross hierarchical integration, level of supervisory support, and sophistication of training programmes, as antecedents to the opportunity and prevalence of WFs. The conceptual model will facilitate HRM practitioners and theorists in the understanding of HRM climate dimensions as powerful determinants in the opportunity for and development of workplace friendships.

Introduction

In spite of the ubiquitous nature of workplace friendships (WFs), this construct has only recently attracted serious attention in organisational analysis (e.g., Nielson, Jex & Adams 2000, Morrison 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, Sias, et al. 2004, 2008, Sias 2005, 2009). Workplace contextual factors, which include physical proximity, work related problems and shared tasks, are considered to drive and influence the development of WFs (Sias, Smith & Avdeyeva 2003). Although there has been an increasing amount of WF literature in the last decade, many of the studies have focused on friendship development between dyads within the organisation (Sias 2009). Less research attention has addressed HRM climate as a predictor to the opportunity for, and development of WF.

WFs develop in all types of organisations, at all hierarchical levels and between all types of employees (Grey & Sturdy 2007). Participating in these relationships have a number of positive outcomes that are critical to the functioning of an organisation, including access to discretionary and high quality information, access to power and a source of support that alleviates anxiety and stress (Sias 2009). Communication and interaction between employees is not confined to departments, hierarchical levels or roles as the number and variety of these relationships range from casual peer to coworker relations at one end of the continuum to best friends at the other (Sias 2009). These human networks are further facilitated by organisational architectural designs that facilitate interaction and policies and procedures that are designed to stimulate interaction. The importance of the WF phenomenon is further reinforced by the increasing trend of employees spending more days at work and for longer hours (Pocock 2001). Given that the workplace is increasingly becoming a significant venue for social connection and friendship, its positive implications on organisational outcomes should not be overlooked.

Organisations have long been considered to comprise of intricate systems of relationships (Sias & Perry 2004) that create an organisation’s fundamental social existence. In a knowledge economy, organisations are further dependent on social capital and relationships in order to achieve goals and objectives (Lengnick-Hall & Lengnick-Hall 2003). Contemporary organisations are increasingly creating a friendship based environment as a means to attract and retain employees (Cumming, et al. 2004). The global trend combining the of rise of job dissatisfaction, demographic changes and labour shortages faced by industrialised economies (Tarique & Schuler 2010) further drives the need for organisations to create innovative and creative means of attracting and retaining staff. This is supported by Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick-Hall (2003) who noted that the increasing dependence on organisational relationships led to a reconceptualisation of HRM’s traditional role to encapsulate the responsibility of relationship building. Collaborative HRM activities such as giving employees autonomy and decision making authority as well as organising around teams and networks create an environment that promotes strong social relations (Youndt & Snell 2004). Such HRM practices can create conditions where interactions are more likely to emerge and relationship based systems are embedded within the organisation’s climate (Lengnick-Hall & Lengnick-Hall 2003).

Since the focus of this study is on assessing employee perceptions of HRM practices, the HRM climate dimensions derived from Quinn and colleagues (Quinn & Rohrbaugh 1981, 1983, Quinn & McGrath 1985) meta analytic Competing Values Model have been selected. These climate dimensions have been chosen because of their specific focus on the HRM climate, and, therefore, relevance to this study. This research relies on the Competing Values model and draws upon the work of Patterson, et al. (2005) to determine the HRM climate dimensions to be included in the study. The model has been empirically derived and has gained wide acceptance. It reflects four main quadrants, one of which is the Human Relations approach (Patterson, et al. 2005). Patterson, et al. (2005) proposed that the climate dimensions associated with the human relations quadrant are degree of job autonomy, provision of sophisticated training programmes, level of interdepartmental integration, level of involvement in decision making, degree of supervisory support and demonstration of welfare towards employees.

These HRM climate dimensions are reflected in Figure 1 which presents the conceptual model that postulates that specific HRM practices and systems will play a fundamental role in determining climate which in turn will influence the opportunity and prevalence of WF.

Using literature from the sociology, psychology and management research, the conceptual model presented in this paper aims to reflect the link between HRM climate dimensions of employee welfare, job autonomy, level of integration and involvement, degree of supervisory support and sophistication of training with the opportunity and prevalence of WF. The first section of this paper presents an overview of the relevant literature that provides the framework for the conceptual model. This will include an insight on the characteristics that define WFs and the implications of these relationships to organisations. The second section addresses the conceptual model that reflects the hypothetical relationship between HRM climate dimensions and WF.

Relationships in the Workplace

Regardless of the nature of an organisation, its industry or the hierarchical levels that exist within it, all organisational activities occur within the context of interpersonal relationships. Further to this, the innate need for humans to socialise (Brown, et al. 2007) implies that the work environment presents itself as an eminently salient aspect that contributes to employee satisfaction and wellbeing. Employees consider social interaction with colleagues a highly valued job aspect that acts as a key determinant of job satisfaction (Dur & Sol 2010). Although work relationships share similar characteristics and qualities with non work relationships, the organisational context within which the informal and voluntary exchanges occur makes the study of WFs unique.

Peer relationships at work are considered to be a primary means by which organisational socialisation transpires (Kramer 2010). The information disseminated from peers assists in understanding the organisational environment and facilitates learning task and social information (Kramer 2010). The literature addressing workplace relationships has addressed issues such as office romance (e.g., Pierce & Aguinis 2001, Mano & Gabriel 2006), formal organisational dyads and relationships, such as those between mentor and protégé (e.g., Eby, et al. 2010, Wang, Tomlinson & Noe 2010), supervisor and subordinate (e.g., Engelbrecht & Cloete 2000, Golden & Veiga 2008, Zhou & Schriesheim 2009), and among peers (Reina & Reina 2006, Peroune 2007, Ferris, et al. 2009). Although scholarly attention is increasing in the workplace relationship arena, friendships in the workplace have received relatively little attention despite their centrality to organisational functioning and its contribution to the daily experiences of employees within work settings.

Workplace Friendship

Although workplace relationships share characteristics with non work friendships in as much “… based on the presumption of progression and continuity, they imply certain role expectations and they can be multidimensional.” (Smith & Wilson 2010: 137). These relationships also differ in terms of their function, development, deterioration and consequences (Smith & Wilson 2010). It is reasonable to surmise that the lack of agreement about the meaning of the word ‘friend’ adds to the limited scholarly attention towards WF research. This is mainly due to the relational nature of the term that signifies the quality of interaction between differing people (Pahl 2002) and its dependence on the “… ideological bent and historical context of the person who attempts to define it …” (Slomp 2007: 200). It is, therefore, of no great surprise that similar challenges exist in the scholarly realm of defining friendships within the workplace context.

Organisational charts, job analyses and position descriptions are some mediums by which organisations communicate and exhibit their formal hierarchical structure and working relationships between people in an organisation. As useful as these documents are they fail to accurately represent how an organisation, that is fundamentally dependent on the informal relationships that exist, actually operates. Such relationships are described as being invisible in the organisational chart, but exists in the chart’s ‘white spaces’(Sias & Gallagher 2009). Despite the categorisation of informal relationships as peripheral to the formal operations of an organisation, WFs are acknowledged as being the “… most ubiquitous and powerful of these workplace friendships …” (Sias & Gallagher 2009: 78).

Despite the lack of consensus of the meaning of the term,‘workplace friendship’, scholars have distinguished these unique relationships from other types of workplace relationships as being voluntary (Wright 2006) and having a ‘personalistic focus’ (Sias & Cahill 1998). Workplace friends voluntarily spend more time with each other, share information and provide support beyond that prescribed by formal organisational roles (Sias 2009). In addition, these communal relationships (Spencer & Pahl 2006) are also characterised by the personal nature that transcends the function, development, deterioration and consequences of these friendships (Smith & Wilson 2010). These relationships are characteristically open, informal and demonstrate a level of inclusiveness (Berman, West & Richter 2002). Such characteristics are increasingly reflected in modern management strategies (Berman, et al. 2002) with WFs now being considered as a reflection of “… how individuals operate in teams and organisations as a whole” (Dickie 2009: 135).

Implications of WF on Organisational and Individual Outcomes

Informal relationships between employees in the workplace have the capacity to potentially hinder or facilitate organisational operations, and are, therefore, considered a“… key element in the informal structure of an organisation.” (Morrison 2005: 5). Despite the view that befriending coworkers can be dangerous and potentially harmful to productivity (Morrison 2008, Sias 2009), it is argued that social aspects of the work, including the opportunity for social interaction, contributes to the motivation, performance and well being of a job incumbent especially in the development organisational life that has shifted over the last few decades.

There is an increasing acceptance of these unique relationships being conceptualised as a form of ‘capital’ resource for both the individual and the organisation (Bandiera, Barankay & Rasul 2008). Therefore, the magnitude of influence that these relationships have on individual and organisational outcomes and performance should not be underestimated. Given that these informal relationships “… offer significant and rewarding benefits to individuals.” (Morrison 2005: 5) and are considered to offer both instrumental (Berman, et al. 2002) and emotional support (Morrison & Nolan 2009), it is not surprising that they serve as a fundamental aspect of the work experience for employees (Morrison 2009). In addition to WF serving as a form of intrinsic reward (Sias & Cahill 1998) for employees, it also acts as an important source of information and support (Morrison & Nolan 2009) by easing work related stress and preventing employee burnout (Sias & Bartoo 2007). WF has been associated with increased communication, support (Gordon & Hartman 2009), trust (Sias, et al. 2004), respect, cooperation (Morrison 2008), growth (Mao 2006), development (Sias, et al. 2003), energy (Dutton & Ragins 2007), and security (Morrison 2004). Further to this, friendship opportunity and prevalence have been associated with job satisfaction and increased levels of commitment (Nielson, et al. 2000). In turn, these positive employee level outcomes have favourable ramifications on organisational outcomes and performance (Sias 2009).

At the organisational level, WFs have been associated with reducing turnover, improving morale and increased levels of creativity and innovation (Sias 2009). In addition, WFs play a fundamental role in managing, implementing and facilitating organisational change, primarily due to the trust and cohesiveness that are characteristic of these relationships (Kahn, Cross & Parker 2003, McGrath & Krackhardt 2003).

The workplace is an environment in which individuals work in close proximity and often require interdependence on one another in order to accomplish tasks. These work based relationships require attention in order to effectuate the potential benefits these relations offer the work environment, and also, to thwart the negative consequences of relationship deterioration. These relationships are considered to play a critical role in the management process in as much as they have the capacity to influence managerial control (Grey & Sturdy 2007). Thus, any intervention aimed at increasing the opportunity for, and the maintenance of, positive friendships in the workplace would facilitate and encourage employees to engage in behaviours conducive to the development of such relationships.

One form of intervention is for organisations to offer HRM practices and policies that in turn create a climate that facilitates the opportunity for, and development of,WFs. The conceptual model reflecting this relationship is presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1
Conceptual model of the human resource management climate dimensions that influence the development of workplace friendships
Conceptual model of the human resource management climate dimensions that influence the development of workplace friendships

The aim of this paper is to examine dimensions manifested in HRM practices that exert indirect influence on WF opportunity and prevalence by enhancing or depressing the workplace climate. Understanding this phenomenon will facilitate a better comprehension of how organisations can manipulate HRM practices and systems in order to influence desired outcomes in relation to WF.

Antecedents to Workplace Friendships

Despite the implications and significance of WF to both employees and organisations, there is limited literature addressing the antecedents of the opportunity for, and development of WF. An insight into how and what factors drive the development of workplace friendships is necessary in order to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the organisational dimensions that could facilitate the opportunity for, and the development of such relationships. Current literature on WF has associated the development of these unique relationships with the influence of personal and workplace contextual factors. In particular, extant literature has predominantly focused on the development of friendship between supervisors and their subordinate employees, between peer colleagues and between genders.

Given that WFs act as a source of emotional and instrumental support (Berman, et al. 2002), the organisation acts as “… somewhat a natural ‘incubator’ …” (Sias & Gallagher 2009: 79) for personal relationships to develop and flourish. Accordingly, the organisation presents a unique context and plays a significant role in friendship development as employees share common occupational interests and experiences. In addition, people involved in WFs exhibit the choice of who they befriend by voluntarily spending time and sharing personal details (Sias & Gallagher 2009). On the other hand, employees do not have the same discretionary freedom to choose with whom they work.

Friendship literature identifies individual and contextual factors as playing a key influence on the development of such interpersonal relationships (Fehr 1996). Drawing from Fehr’s (1996) research on friendship, Sias and Cahill (1998) identify organisational contextual factors and individual factors that are unique to the development of friendships within the workplace realm. Similar to interpersonal relationships, the individual factors represent personal antecedents associated with the individuals participating in the friendship that include perceived similarity, personality and life events (Sias & Cahill 1998). Although these factors contribute to the understanding of personal factors that influence the development of friendship within the workplace, they are not critical to the conceptualisation of the model presented in this paper as Figure 1. The focus is on dimensions that are within organisational control and manipulation and have the potential to exert influence over the opportunity for and development of WF.

The workplace contextual factors were identified by Sias and Cahill (1998). The fundamental elements include physical proximity, shared tasks, work related problems and extra organisational socialising and are recognised as factors that“… stem from the situation surrounding the development of friendship.” (Sias & Gallagher 2009: 82). Participatory, highly interdependent jobs that encourage employee interaction and communication influence friendship development in the workplace (Boyd & Taylor 1998). In addition, friendship development has also been found to be dependent on the degree of sophistication of the communication technologies (Hinds & Bailey 2003), and the organisational culture (Ashcraft 2000). Although scholars have examined various individual and workplace contextual factors associated with the development of WFs, none of the studies have examined the implications of HRM practices as an antecedent to the development of WF.

The examination of WF development within the organisational context is fundamental as the organisation environment presents a unique platform that shapes the salience and meaning of organisational events (Kuenzi & Schminke 2009). These dimensions of work settings influence the motivation for behaviours and attitudes (Schulte, et al. 2009). It is, therefore, anticipated that examining HRM climate dimensions will provide organisational contextual insight into the perceived effects of HRM practices on the opportunity and prevalence of WF. Despite empirical evidence (Sias & Cahill 1998) supporting the notion that workplace contextual factors are perceived as being particularly influential in the development of WF, Sias and Cahill (1998) acknowledge that there are more than likely developmental factors other than shared tasks, proximity and supervisor consideration that will influence the development of these unique relationships. The conceptual model presented in Figure 1 builds on the work of Sias and Cahill (1998) with the argument that HRM climate dimensions represent a significant contribution to the workplace contextual factors involved in the development of WFs.

HRM as Antecedents to workplace Friendships

As competition within the current economic climate among contemporary organisations increase, the source of competitive advantage has migrated from tangible resources and market power to one that is dominated by knowledge based competition. Consequently, organisations, more than ever, are highly dependent on the effort, behaviours and interactions of employees in order to achieve organisational missions and strategies (Collins & Smith 2006). Therefore, it is imperative that organisations develop and implement HRM practices that can influence the interactions, behaviours and motivation of employees positively in order to best facilitate organisational success.

Empirical studies (Riordan & Griffeth 1995) have established a positive and direct relationship between perceived friendship opportunities and fundamental work related outcomes such as job satisfaction and job involvement. In addition, Winstead, et al. (1995) discovered the positive correlation between the quality of friendships and job satisfaction. Further to this, the source of social support that is derived from WF is associated with discouraging employee turnover, reducing job related stress (Kwesiga & Bell 2004) as well as decreasing burnout (Kahn, et al. 2003). Taken together, these findings demonstrate that the opportunity and strength of friendships are positively associated with individual and organisational outcomes, and are, therefore, significant and relevant to HRM practice.

Human Resource Climate Dimensions

The social network of an organisation is affected by the architectural designs that facilitate interaction and the policies and procedures that are designed to stimulate synergy among organisational members. A formal organisational design that facilitates frequent interactions is more likely to offer opportunities for friendships to develop (Riordan & Griffeth 1995). In part, the call for greater focus in interpersonal relationships at work (Chiaburu & Harrison 2008, Oldham & Hackman 2010) reflect the contemporary trend of how work is increasingly organised based on teams and relationships with less focus on narrowly specified tasks and duties (Simon, Judge & Halvorsen-Ganepola 2010). In addition, social interaction is considered to be more ubiquitous and central to contemporary organisational operations. Therefore, HRM practices, policies and procedures that foster teamwork and frequent interaction present opportunities and conducive conditions for friendships to develop and flourish (Lengnick-Hall & Lengnick-Hall 2003). In addition, high involvement work practices that facilitate relationship based systems are also associated with favourable organisational outcomes. These work practices have been found to increase productivity levels and innovation rates, improve operating performance, and enrich stakeholder relationships while reducing turnover and cycle times (Ferris, et al. 1998, Guthrie 2001).

The activities that emphasise employee well being and the development of people within the organisation are associated with organisations that are internally focused, possess flexible orientations and place greater emphasis on processes as opposed to final outcomes (Quinn & Rohrbaugh 1981). Given that the opportunity and prevalence of WFs are in part dependent on organisational focus, orientation and values (Sias 2009), it follows that an organisation that is internally focused with a flexible orientation and values employee well being, would present a more positive environment for the development and maintenance of such relationships. Such organisations would adopt a HRM approach that reflects this focus and flexibility.

Organisations with such an internal focus and flexible orientation are considered to possess structural designs and mechanisms of coordination and control that value employee well being, growth and commitment (Patterson, et al. 2005). Similarly, WFs have been associated with these same values (Morrison & Wright 2009). WFs are partly dependent upon communication relationships (Gordon & Hartman 2009) and are linked with norms and values of belonging, trust and cohesion (Morrison & Wright 2009). In turn, these internally focused norms and values are achieved through the provision of HRM activities such as training and human resource development (Patterson, et al. 2005).

The structural design of an internally focused organisation is accomplished through empowerment and participation which manifest in the degree of autonomy within a job (Patterson, et al. 2005). Similarly, WFs are influenced by the structural design of an organisation as it impacts on the opportunity for and level of interaction between employees (Morrison & Wright 2009). And, the coordination and control of an organisation with a flexible orientation is characterised by interpersonal relations that are supportive, cooperative and trusting in nature which is demonstrated by the level of interdepartmental integration, level of involvement in decision making, degree of supervisory support and demonstration of welfare towards employees (Patterson, et al. 2005). Likewise, WFs have been characterised as being supportive, cooperative and trusting (Morrison & Wright 2009). It can, therefore, be deduced that HRM activities such as employee welfare, level of participation, job autonomy, interdepartmental, and cross hierarchical integration, level of supervisory support, and sophistication of training programmes can have an impact on developing a climate conducive for the opportunity and prevalence of WFs.

In extant literature, climate is often referred to as individuals’perceptions of their environment and is therefore widely used as a framework to understand how employees experience their work environment (Cooil, et al. 2009). However, given the variety of dimensions and the multitude of definitions proposed, a myriad of climate constructs have been developed since the inception of the organisational climate concept. The most widely researched area of organisational climate addresses dimensions that consist of a variety of broad based determinants of employee behaviour. Although these global climate constructs are useful in understanding the influence of climate on employees, they do not specifically tap the HRM climate dimensions that this study aims to address.

Organisational climate has also been addressed within the realm of specific contexts and their strengths. These facet specific climates, although more focused in their conceptualisation, address particular aspects of the organisational context such as climates for justice (Naumann & Bennett 2000), safety (Zohar 2000), innovation (Anderson & West 1998) ethics (Cullen, Parboteeah & Victor 2003), service (Schneider, Macey & Young 2006) and diversity (McKay, Avery & Morris 2008); none of which focus on HRM specific climate. The evaluation of employees’ perception of the work environment is necessary as work attitudes and behaviours are fundamental to organisational performance outcomes (Seibert, Silver & Randolph 2004) and positive attitudes depend largely on the perception of how much the employing organisation cares about employee well being and values their contribution (Gould-Williams 2007). Such demonstrations of organisational values manifest in the HRM practices, procedures and systems which in turn constitutes the organisation’s HRM climate. HRM’s “… ability to initiate, nurture, deploy and extend relationships …” (Lengnick-Hall & Lengnick-Hall 2003: 54) contributes to the creation of a organisation’s sustained competitive advantage by ensuring that an organisation’s resource base are“… embedded in networks of relationships that are difficult for competitors to observe, understand or imitate.” (Lengnick-Hall & Lengnick-Hall 2003: 53). The competitive edge that these relationships present and its implications on organisational outcomes is considered to be immobile given that they are ingrained within an organisation’s culture and climate (Barney 2007). Consequently, organisations will benefit from HRM adopting a more integral role in orchestrating the creation of a climate that facilitates the opportunity and prevalence of WF.

Discussion

The examination of the extant literature presented above suggests a clear gap in the research to date in the area ofWF as well as in the relationship between this phenomenon and workplace, in particular HRM, climate. Therefore, seven hypotheses have been developed to test the existence and strength of the relationship between WF and HRM climate dimensions. Additionally, a conceptual model summarising the relationship between HRM climate dimensions and WF opportunity and prevalence has been constructed and is presented in Figure 1.

Given that organisational climate is widely defined as the perception of formal and informal organisational policies, practices, procedures, routines and rewards (Schneider 2000, Kuenzi & Schminke 2009), this paper follows that HRM practices and systems will play a fundamental role in determining climate perceptions (Bowen & Ostroff 2004) that will in turn influence the opportunity and prevalence of WF. In particular, the conceptual model presented in this paper hypothesises that the HRM climate dimensions of employee welfare, level of participation, job autonomy, interdepartmental, and cross hierarchical integration, level of supervisory support, and sophistication of training programmes have an influence on WF opportunities and prevalence. Hypothesis one is a statement of this perceived relationship and is designed to measure the significance of such a relationship.

H1: There is a significant relationship between HRM climate dimensions and WF opportunity and prevalence.

HRM climate dimensions such as job autonomy, involvement in decision making and interdepartmental employee integration manifests in job attributes as it influences the level of social interaction or dependency an employee might have with their fellow colleagues. This is reinforced by employees’ needs for maintaining frequent interactions with the same people in a relatively enduring, stable environment (Zagenczyk, Murrell & Gibney 2008) which implies that a highly autonomous job, centralised decision making and low interdepartmental integration could potentially lead to social isolation which could impede WF opportunity and the strength of friendships. Hypotheses two, three and four reflect the link between these HRM climate dimensions and WF opportunity and prevalence and have been linked by the relationship between these three dimensions and the overall concept of job attributes.

Highly interdependent tasks provide more opportunity for friendships to develop and flourish because of the higher level of interaction required by employees (Sias 2009).On the basis of this argument, one would expect that highly autonomous jobs that limit interaction would hinder WF opportunity and prevalence and the reverse would be true for a job with lower levels of autonomy. This relationship is forecasted in Hypothesis two.

H2: The lower the level of job autonomy, the greater the WF opportunity.

Involving employees in decision making processes and sharing information are also considered workplace contextual factors that impact on the opportunity and prevalence ofWFs (Sias 2009). Given that employee participation encourages communication and interaction it, therefore, enhances friendship ties among employees (Sias 2009) as predicted in Hypothesis three.

H3: The higher the level of employee involvement in decision making, the higher the WF opportunity and prevalence.

Given that employee participation and shared tasks provide opportunities for interaction (Sias & Cahill 1998), the degree to which employees integrate and communicate will, therefore, impact on the opportunity for friendships to develop and flourish. This is reflected in Hypothesis four.

H4: The higher the level of employee integration, the greater the WF opportunity and prevalence.

In addition, HRM climate dimensions such as the level of supervisory support, the provision of sophisticated training programmes and the demonstration of concern over employee welfare reflects the extent to which an organisation emphasises the importance of employee development and satisfaction (Patterson, et al. 2005). These positive organisational climates and pro social characteristics would in turn provide positive work environments conducive forWF opportunity and prevalence to flourish. This link between an organisations’perceived level of care towards employees and WF opportunities and prevalence is reflected in hypotheses five, six and seven which are linked by their common theme of emphasising employee well being, growth and commitment (Patterson, et al. 2005). Gill and Mathur (2007) claim that designing sophisticated training and development programmes demonstrates the organisations’ concern for developing employees’ skills which, in turn, is associated with pro social organisations. Building on the presented literature realises Hypothesis five.

H5: The more emphasis an organisation places on developing employee skills (training), the greater the WF opportunity and prevalence.

WFs have been associated with mutual commitment, trust and shared values (Berman, et al. 2002). The extent to which an organisation values and cares for its employees will have an impact on the development and growth of such relationships. The relationship is presented as Hypothesis six.

H6: The higher the perceived levels of welfare towards employees, the greater the WF opportunity and prevalence.

Patterson, et al. (2005) claim that a positive organisational climate is created when HRM practices and policies are designed to encourage mentoring relationships, supervisors to be friendly, approachable and understanding of their staff. This contention is shown as Hypothesis seven.

H7: The greater the perceived levels of supervisory support, the greater the WF opportunity and prevalence.

This study will rely on existing constructs for extrapolating self report survey data in order to test the hypotheses. Organisations representative of each of the three sectors (private, not for profit and public) will be chosen to participate in the research study. The three sectors have been chosen on the basis of appearing to demonstrate diverse HRM climates. This will present the author with sectors of apparently differing HRM climates to make inferences and comparisons of WF opportunities and prevalence. In view of this, private organisations from the finance sector, not for profit organisations representative of the healthcare industry and Government agencies representative of the public sector will be chosen to participate in this study.

Conclusion

A study of an organisation’s HRM climate and its influence on WFs, reflected in the conceptual model, presented in Figure 1, as the opportunity and prevalence of WF, has both practical and academic implications. The conceptual model would be of interest to academics in the field of social and organisational behavioural sciences as it is a response to the lack of empirical research linking HRM climate orientation andWF. Particularly, this conceptual model would satisfy calls for greater research emphasis on interpersonal aspects and social dimensions of work which are now more than ever considered to be much more prevalent and prominent in the contemporary workplace.

Once empirically tested, the research would have significance to business practitioners interested in the contribution of HRM practices to the organisations’ bottom line as the outcome of the current study will demonstrate the impact of HRM initiatives on WF. The positive outcomes of these WFs could in turn be used as a low cost means of eliciting commitment and staff retention. In addition, the findings of the study will have practical implications for local management and central HRM practitioners as it will facilitate better prediction of organisational outcomes based on the HRM decisions that exert indirect influence by enhancing or depressing the work climate. In turn, this could produce subsequent behaviour changes, thereby, influencing organisational performance. Understanding this phenomenon will assist HRM practitioners to better understand employee behaviour and manipulate organisational outcomes to some degree by imposing certain HRM policies and procedures to influence desired HRM climates and business outcomes.

Despite the ubiquitous nature ofWFs in organisational life, it is considered among the least researched type of workplace relationships. Research into these relationships has provided a number of insights into the functions, developmental processes and consequences of these unique friendships that blend the professional and personal realm. Given the importance of these relationships to both the individual and the organisation, how individuals develop and maintain these friendships is a critical issue for both scholars and practitioners. The findings from the study will satisfy the calls for further research in this area and provide practitioners with an understanding of the HRM practices and policies that will facilitate WF development and maintenance.

Authors

Endah Ibrahim is an Associate Lecturer with the School of Management at Curtin University and has previously worked for Hilton Hotels. She holds a Diploma in Banking and Financial Services from Singapore Polytechnic, a Bachelors Degree in Business (Marketing and Management) and a Master of Commerce (Management) from Curtin University. She is currently enrolled in a Master of Philosophy and teaches courses in Human Resource Management and International Business.

Email: endah.ibrahim@cbs.curtin.edu.au

Dr. Carolyn Dickie is a Lecturer at the School of Management at Curtin University. Her research interests include human resource management, international business, ethics in business and cross cultural studies. She maintains a practical interest in these research matters by being a member of a number of organisational management boards. Carolyn has published in journals in Australia and internationally.

Email: Carolyn.Dickie@cbs.curtin.edu.au

Acknowledgement

The authors would like to extend their warmest gratitude to Dr Cecil Pearson for his valuable contribution and constructive feedback in developing this paper.

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