Methodology for determining employee perceptions of factors in the work environment that impact on employee development and performance

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Colorado College]On: 31 October 2014, At: 12:19Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Methodology for determiningemployee perceptions of factors inthe work environment that impacton employee development andperformanceDavid Ripley aa The University of CanterburyPublished online: 04 Jun 2010.

    To cite this article: David Ripley (2003) Methodology for determining employee perceptionsof factors in the work environment that impact on employee development and performance,Human Resource Development International, 6:1, 85-100, DOI: 10.1080/13678860110070192

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  • Methodology for determining employee perceptions of factors in the work environment thatimpact on employee development and performance

    David RipleyThe University of Canterbury

    Abstract: The methodology described in this article is of significance to HRD scholarsseeking to better understand employee perceptions of the work environments in whichpractitioners seek to develop employees. Diagnostic instruments tailored to specific worksettings can be developed simply and inexpensively with the approach described.

    A summated rating scale was developed to measure employee perception of a broadrange of work environment variables that research has shown influence employeedevelopment and performance. An employee perception-based factor model was thendeveloped based on factor analysis of data gathered with the study instrument. Analysis ofthe data indicated an interpretable five-factor model. Based on the salient variables of thefactor model, a shorter diagnostic instrument was developed specifically for the worksetting used in the study.

    The approach developed in this study can mitigate the obvious problem that arises ifone attempts to generalize a single set of work environment factors as representing theperceptions of work groups which may have significantly different demographic oroccupational characteristics, work settings and cultures. While the specific factor model anddiagnostic tool generated in this study cannot be generalized beyond the study population,the instrumentation and methodology can be used to develop unique factor models inother work settings to provide the basis for diagnostic instruments appropriate for thosesettings and work groups.

    Keywords: human resource development, employee performance, work environ-ment, factor analysis, employee perception

    Purpose and introduction

    We have known for some time that variables in the work environment impact onemployee behaviours and performance (Blumberg and Pringle 1982; Olson andBorman 1989; Peters et al. 1985). However, there is still more to learn about how workenvironment factors are perceived in different work settings where various demographic,cultural or cross-national issues may come into play (Cheng 1989). This study respondsto the need for a simple and inexpensive methodology that can be used to help us learnmore about employee perceptions in varied work settings, with work groups of varyingdemographics.

    This article describes the development of an instrument designed to determineemployee perceptions of variables in the work environment that research indicatesinfluence employee development and performance. A new instrument was developed

    Human Resource Development InternationalISSN 1367-8868 print/ISSN 1469-8374 online 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd

    http://www.tandf.co.uk/journalsDOI: 10.1080/13678860110070192

    HRDI 6:1 (2003), pp. 85100

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  • because we were unable to find a suitably comprehensive instrument based aroundperformance-related variables. One possibility was Gilberts (1996) performance-focused PROBE instrument. However, as a yes/no instrument, it provides neither theinterval level of data needed for factor analysis nor the intensity information needed bypractitioners, who need to know whether positive or negative responses represent onlymild or very strong feelings. Using one of the many employee satisfaction-basedinstruments was not considered desirable. Job satisfaction is only one variable that mayimpact on performance, and not all agree as to the degree of the impact of jobsatisfaction on performance (Iffaldano and Muchinsky 1985).

    Also discussed is the development of an employee perception-based factor modelof the work setting used in the study, using data obtained with this instrument. Factoranalysis indicated a model for the study work setting consisting of five factors. Thesewere (1) communication and participation in the work, (2) organization and design ofthe work, (3) characteristics of the work setting, (4) personal fit: employees, the workand work setting and (5) personal fit: the work group, the work and work setting. Thedevelopment of a shorter diagnostic instrument based on the factor model that servesas a tool for practitioners in that work setting is also described and further potentialapplication of the methodology is discussed.

    Performance issues

    In an increasingly competitive global economy, there has been considerable emphasisin business organizations on reinvention, re-engineering, and transformation (Hammerand Champy 1993; Passmore 1994; Rummler and Brache 1995), all in pursuit of higherperformance. Performance in this context can be described as work-related behavioursand the resultant outcomes (Carson et al. 1991; Gilbert 1996; Ilgen and Favero 1985).Kuchinke has noted, What philosophical debates exist in HRD centre around whetherprofessional HRD activities should promote performance or learning (2000: 32).Many human resource development (HRD) scholars believe that one of our majorconcerns is conducting research that will expand our knowledge of the determinantsof employee performance and have provided foundational and research work to helpus understand major variables that contribute to employee performance (Ruona andLyford-Nojima 1997). We turn now to perspectives on performance and where thisstudy is situated in that regard.

    Perspectives on performance

    Not all agree with a focus on performance. It has been characterized as reflective of themachine mentality, reflective of scientific management ideology and responsible for allthe negative effects of training (Barrie and Pace 1999; Bierema 1997; Dirkx 1997).Many criticisms of a performance focus have centred on the idea that this reflects aunitarist or managerialist view, which does not appropriately consider employeeobjectives. Unitarist human resource practices reflect a belief that management andlabour share (or should share) a coincidence of interests and strive to eliminate conflict(Boxall 1993; Buchanan and Huczynski 1985). A more pluralist view recognizes that

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  • organizations are made up of groups and individuals, each with their own objectives,and accepts conflict as normal. This suggests that some degree of compromise is calledfor in the interest of mutual survival (Buchanan and Huczynski 1985; Fox 1975).Generally, the unitarist view corresponds to what is sometimes referred to in the Britishliterature as hard HR and the pluralist view to what is referred to as soft HR (Mackyand Johnson 2000). In United States literature, the unitarist view equates to theMatching Model of human resource management (Fombrun et al. 1984) and thepluralist view is reflected more in the Harvard Model of strategic human resourcemanagement (Beer et al. 1984).

    A more recent perspective, with elements of both hard and soft HR, is what hasbeen termed high-performance work systems (HPWS) (Arthur 1994; Becker andGerhart 1996; Delery and Doty 1996; Huselid 1995; Pfeffer 1998), and this study issituated primarily in this perspective. HPWS reflect both unitarist and pluralist ideas.While HPWS reflect an underlying unitarist belief that management and labour sharecommon interests, such systems typically provide more opportunity for employee voiceand therefore the opportunity for a more pluralist consideration of employee objectives.We believe this is appropriate. In a world of fierce competition, management and labourhave the fundamental shared interest of survival of the organization. At the same time,particularly in non-union settings, there must be provision in work practices foremployee objectives to be surfaced, heard and responded to. Not all view the HPWSmovement favourably. Some British research has treated such innovations withwidespread suspicion, particularly with regard to their implications for industrialrelations (Godard and Delaney 2000).

    Holton has noted that the critical perspectives of a performance focus do notnecessarily accurately reflect the performance paradigm of HRD. He further states thatone of the core assumptions of this paradigm is that Organisations must perform tosurvive and prosper, and individuals who work within organisations must perform if theywish to advance their careers and maintain employment (2000: 47). We agree with thatassumption.

    Determinants of performance

    Performance has been said to be a result of individuals, the work environment and theirinteraction (Ilgen and Favero 1985). Carson et al. (1991) indicated that the workenvironment impacts on individual behaviours on the job as well as impacting directlyon work outcomes. Gilberts (1996) Behaviour Engineering Model indicates that both work environment factors and individual factors impact on performance. The Job Characteristics Model of Hackman and Oldham (1980) indicates that the key jobcharacteristics are skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback.These characteristics work in conjunction with critical individual psychological states,to produce motivation, satisfaction and high performance. The purpose here is not toidentify every model or work environment issue, but simply to stress that the workenvironment can significantly impact on employee behaviour and performance, as thatis the conceptual basis for the instrument developed in this study.

    A familiar perspective on performance is expressed as Performance = f (ability xmotivation), indicating that performance comes directly from employee behaviours,which in turn are a function of employee motivation and ability (Wright et al. 1995;

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  • Ivancevich and Matteson 1987). Thompson (1993) advocated expanding the perfor-mance formula to be expressed Performance = f (skill + effort) * (efficacy of systembeing used), and suggested that, to improve performance with the least investment ofresources, the investment should be in the system. Noe (1986) hypothesized thatTrainability = f (Ability, Motivation, Work Environment Perceptions). Thompsonsand Noes approaches also support the idea that the interaction of employees and thework environment influences behaviour.

    Conceptual framework of the study

    Gilberts (1996) definition of performance indicates that performance consists ofbehaviours and accomplishments. Behaviours lead to accomplishments so the questionarises, What determines behaviour? Or, more specifically, What determines behaviourin the workplace? The conceptual framework of this study was that work environmentfactors are a major influence on employee behaviours (and ultimately, therefore,performance) in the workplace. Two perspectives that can be drawn upon in supportof the conceptual framework are Lewins Field Theory and the systems approach.

    Lewins field theory

    Lewin (1997[1943]) expressed the field theory equation as Bt = F(St). That is,behaviour at a point in time is a function of the situation at that time, where S includesboth the person and his or her psychological environment. Today we see B = f (p,e),indicating that behaviour is a function of the person interacting with the environment.If we accept the basic field theory concept, the implication is that employee behavioursdo not occur in a vacuum, but in a specific and unique work environment, which impactson behaviours, development and performance.

    However, not all agree that field theory is valid. Lewin (1997[1943]) himselfdescribed it as a method of analysing causal relations and of building scientific constructs.Some consider it no theory at all. Estes (1950) indicated he could not evaluate fieldtheory because nobody had yet developed one, including Lewin. Back criticized Lewinsuse of mathematics (Contractor 1998), and Eng (1978) suggested that, as a paradigmfor psychology, field theory had been found wanting. Gold, however, felt the idea thatfield theory was not really a theory was An unfortunate misunderstanding (1992:67). White (1978) did not accept Engs position that field theory had been tried andfound wanting. Field theory was meant to be a way of thinking about psychologicalphenomena, not a strict reductionist account (Cartwright 1959; Deutsch 1968).Lewins mathematics were meant to be used descriptively rather than formally (Estes1954). Field theory is part of the European curriculum in work and organizationalpsychology specified by the European Network of Organizational and WorkPsychologists (ENOP 1998), where it is considered a major theoretical approach (par.3.4.2). As such, it provides support for the conceptual framework of the study.

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  • The systems approach

    A number of approaches from systems theory have been advanced and will bementioned briefly. The systems approach has been characterized as reflecting pluralism(many elements and rich relationships), cybernetics (the elements mutually influenceand direct system variables) and the notion of the organization as an organic whole(Tuan and Ryan 2000).

    Originally a biological construct, General Systems Theory advanced the idea that thefunctioning of the organization is linked to the environment (Bertalanffy 1968[1950]).People populate the organizational systems that have a relationship with theenvironment and the implications for the conceptual framework of the study areobvious.

    The term socio-technical system (STS) was coined by Eric Trist to emphasize thatthe interaction of people (a social system) with tools and techniques (a technical system)results from choice, not chance (Weisbord 1987). In developing the STS approach, Trist was guided by the earlier work of Lewin and earlier systems thinking (Fox 1995).The technical system is not viewed as a given that workers in the social system must adapt to (as in the case of, for example, an assembly line). Rather, the intent isjoint optimization of the two systems (Emery 1978). From its beginnings with Tristsstudies related to long- and short-wall mining, STS moved on to India (Passmore 1995)and has since been used worldwide as a basis for job design in a variety of settings and countries (Kolodny and Stjernberg 1986; Passmore 1988; Schoonhoven 1986).STS has not been without its critics. Pearson noted that socio-technical theory lacks astrong conceptual underpinning (1992: 907). Moldaschl and Weber (1998) discussedwhat they considered to be conceptual problems on a theoretical, methodological and practical level. It has been suggested that STS focuses on the internal aspects of the system at the expense of the external aspects, and hence does not addresscompetitiveness (Adler and Docherty 1998). Its critics notwithstanding, a number ofdistinct STS design approaches, specifically from Australia, the Netherlands, Scandinaviaand the United States, have evolved and are in use. These approaches are tending tomerge, according to van Eijnatten and van der Zwann (1998). STS is a significantconcept for explaining how social and technical systems in a work setting interact. In particular, the emphasis on joint optimization, which is concerned with therelationship of the employees of the social system and the work environment factors ofthe technical system, makes it appropriate as support for the conceptual framework of the study.

    Kurt Lewin and Fred Henry Allport were forerunners of open systems theory in thesocial sciences (De Smet 1998). Lewin conceived of individual and group behaviouras the reciprocal interaction of personality and environment and Allport was noted forhis concept of organizations as social event structures. Katz and Kahn (1978) proposedthe use of open systems theory to integrate our knowledge of organizations. A systemis considered open when it is open to its environment. Open systems theory supportsthe idea of employees interacting with, and being influenced by, the work environmentand is also supportive of the conceptual framework.

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  • Study methodology

    Developing the instrument

    From the literature, sixty work environment issues were selected that had, in each case,been shown by research to impact on employee performance. The instrument wasdeveloped with sixty scale items, using a summated rating scale. The summated ratingscale with multiple responses, also known as a Likert Scale (McIver and Carmines 1981),was chosen over the yesno single response format for its higher reliability (Nunnally1978).

    Testing the instrument

    The instrument was administered to a population of 280 assembly line employees from a plant that manufactures airbags for a number of automobile manufacturers. The population was approximately 70 per cent female, with an average age of 40, and30 per cent male, with an average age of 33. The population was overwhelmingly (95 per cent) Caucasian. The work environment could be described as light industrial.Meetings were held with plant team leaders to explain the purpose and objectives ofthe study. Team leaders reviewed scale item wording to ensure employee understanding.The pilot instrument was administered at regularly scheduled team meetings. Afterexplaining the process and answering participants questions, the team leaders left theroom. A team member collected the completed instruments, which were placed in asealed envelope and delivered to the training office. The completed instruments werethen picked up and retained. Of the 280 completed instruments, 273 were usable.

    Data analysis

    Cronbachs alpha, a split-half test and the Spearman-Brown prophecy tests (Carminesand Zeller 1979; Spector 1992) were applied to the data to determine internalconsistency and reliability. Coefficient alpha was 0.959. In the split-half test, correlationbetween forms was 0.89, Alpha part one was 0.906 and Alpha part two was 0.936. Boththe equal and unequal length Spearman-Brown tests were 0.942. The Measure ofSampling Adequacy (MSA) refined by Kaiser in 1974 (Kaiser 1974; Kaiser and Rice1974) was used to determine whether the data were suitable for factor analysis. TheMSA for the data set was .958 and the mean MSA of the individual variables was .901.The data were suitable.

    The perceptual factor model

    Common factor analysis was applied to the data to develop the employee perception-based factor model (Cureton and DAgostino 1983; Gorsuch 1983; Hatcher 1994; Kim and Mueller 1978a, 1978b). Two methods were used, maximum likelihood and unweighted least squares. Given the presence of low communalities, commonfactor analysis was preferable to other methods. In both cases, the solutions were rotatedto find simpler and more easily interpretable factors (Kim and Mueller 1978b; Nunnally1978). Oblique rotation was used with both methods, since there was no basis for

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  • assuming that the factors were uncorrelated (Cureton and DAgostino 1983; Gorsuch1983). The direct oblimin oblique rotation method was used.

    Three methods were used to determine the appropriate number of factors. The firstinvolved retaining factors with eigenvalues greater than 1.0 when the correlation matrixwas decomposed (Kaiser 1974; Kim and Mueller 1978b), the second used the scree-test first advocated by Cattell (1965a) and the last a review of the critical eigenvalues(Cureton and DAgostino 1983).

    A second major issue was the determination of which variables loaded significantlyon each of the factors. Loadings so small as to be uninterpretable may be statisticallysignificant with large ns, so 0.3 was used as one guide for a minimum loading forinterpretation (Gorsuch 1983). Not all will agree here, since some researchers feel aminimum loading of 0.4 should be required (Stevens 1996). Cureton and DAgostinos(1983) procedure for identifying non-salient and salient variables was also used.Loadings accepted for the factor model ranged from a high of 0.82 to a low of 0.34.

    A five-factor solution provided the most interpretable solution consistent with thedata. The five-factor solution accounted for 44.9 per cent (unweighted least squares)and 47.6 per cent (maximum likelihood) of the variance, with loadings as shown inTable 1. We recognize that a more stringent loading requirement for significance (e.g.three variables loading at 0.4 or more) would have resulted in a three-factor model.

    The factors were named and defined based on the variables that loaded significantlyon the factors. Based on the thirty-two variables that loaded significantly on the fivefactors, the perceptual model shown in Figure 1 was developed. Factors four and fiveare more tenuous than the first three factors, since some of their loadings are between0.3 and 0.4 (see Table 1), and fewer variables loaded. As noted above, some wouldprefer a three-factor interpretation here. However, factors four and five meet minimumnumber of variables criteria (Thurstone, in Kim and Muller 1978a) and relate toimportant interaction issues, so we elected to include them. There is considerablecurrent interest in personorganization fit in addition to the traditional reliance onpersonjob fit in human resources practices (Borman et al. 1997).

    More complete descriptions of the factors are shown in Table 2. Table 3 providesvariable names and the corresponding scale items for one of the factors, Commu-nication and participation in the work.

    The perceptual model was the basis for the development of a shorter diagnosticinstrument. Data developed with the diagnostic instrument indicate employees positiveor negative perceptions regarding the factors and most significant variables from thefactor model of their work setting. These perceptions can in turn be the basis for furtherinvestigation of specific factor or variable issues using qualitative techniques.

    Employees respond better to shorter instruments (Spector 1992), so the diagnosticinstrument was limited to twenty-five items by retaining only the six highest-loadingvariables from each of the first three factors, plus the four variables that loaded on factorfour and the three that loaded on factor five. The variables retained for the diagnosticinstrument, and the factors they represent, are shown in Table 4. One could argue thatthe diagnostic instrument could have been made even shorter for example, with onlytwenty scale items but this is a judgement issue.

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    Table 1 Salient variables of the five-factor solution

    Maximum likelihood Least squares

    Factors and variable loadingsVariables 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5

    1 Coaching .82 .66

    2 Feedback .56 .51

    3 Job involvement .47 .44

    4 Participation .72 .59

    5 Problem solving .49 .35

    6 Recognition .44 .46

    7 Reinforcement .41 .34

    8 Job design .58 .67

    9 Job security .35 .40

    10 Obstacles .33 .42

    11 Technology .41 .50

    12 Tools .59 .56

    13 Work schedule .56 .61

    14 Organized .43 .52

    15 Resources .49 .56

    16 Training .42 .58

    17 Work flow .38 .45

    18 Commitment .43 .46

    19 Expectations .56 .60

    20 Familiarity .60 .61

    21 Group performance .57 .59

    22 Job importance .55 .54

    23 Responsibility .63 .61

    24 Standards .72 .68

    25 Value fit .37 .34

    26 Adapting .35 .37

    27 Attitude .55 .49

    28 Likes job .62 .57

    29 Org. climate .37 . .37

    30 Co-workers .36 .38

    31 Cohesive .60 .58

    32 Aptitude .36 .37

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  • Findings

    The study provided a simple, inexpensive methodology for determining employeeperceptions of work environment factors and variables in particular work settings. Thismethodology involves the use of the instrument developed for this study, factor analysisof the resultant data and the subsequent development of a shorter diagnostic instrumentspecifically for the particular work setting under investigation.

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    Individual factorsImpacting Behaviour and

    Performance

    Work Environment FactorsImpacting Employee Behaviour

    and Performance

    1. Communication and Participationin the work.

    2. Organisation and Design of theWork.

    3. Characteristics of the WorkSetting

    4. Personal Fit: Employees, theWork, and Work Setting.

    5. Personal Fit: The Work Group,the Work, and Work Setting.

    Employee Behavioursat Work

    Resultant Performance

    Perceptualfactor model

    Figure 1 The underlying perceptual model developed from the study

    Table 2 Names and definitions of the factors of the underlying perceptual model

    Factor names Definition

    One: Communication and participation Concerned with relationships with the in the work company and supervision in carrying out

    their work.

    Two: Organization and design of the Addresses how well the work itself iswork organized.

    Three: Characteristics of the work Relates to general policies and setting characteristics of the overall work setting.

    Four: Personal fit of employees, the How well employees perceive they fit theirwork, and work setting work and work setting.

    Five: Personal fit of the work group, How well employees perceive the overallwork and work setting work group fits with the work and work

    setting.

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  • The application of the methodology in this particular work setting resulted in a five-factor model. The factors were named (1) communication and participation in thework, (2) organization and design of the work, (3) characteristics of the work setting,(4) personal fit of employees and the work setting and (5) personal fit of the workgroup and the work setting. From this factor model, a shorter diagnostic instrumentfor this setting was developed.

    Limitations

    The specific factor model generated in this study cannot be generalized beyond thestudy population. However, the primary instrument developed in the study and themethodology used to develop the perceptual factor model and diagnostic instrumentcan be used in other settings.

    Some workplace issues were not addressed specifically (e.g. diversity, spirituality inthe workplace). For practicality, the number of scale items in the instrument was limited.An upper limit of sixty items was set and those items considered most important wereselected. When the diagnostic tool has isolated variables of concern and the locationof the problem (e.g. the department, demographic group or shift), qualitativemethodology can be used to get the details of specific issues of concern to that workgroup.

    Implications for future research

    A broad question for further study is, To what extent will the factors developed in thisstudy, and the variables that load on those factors, be shown to be common (or not)as the instrument is used in other work settings?

    There are more specific questions to be answered as well. To what extent will

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    Table 4 Variables retained for the diagnostic instrument

    Factor Variables retained

    One: Communication and participation Coaching, feedback, participation, in the work problem solving, job involvement,

    recognition

    Two: Organization and design of the Job design, tools, work schedule, work resources, organized, training

    Three: Characteristics of the work Standards, responsibility, familiarity, group setting performance, expectations, job importance

    Four: Personal fit of employees, the Adapting, attitude, likes job, org climatework and work setting

    Five: Personal fit of the work group, Co-workers, cohesive, aptitudework and work setting

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  • perceptual factor models be influenced by the demographics of work groups? Thisstudy involved a population that was a majority female and overwhelmingly Caucasian.What changes would be seen in the perceptual factor model in a work group that wasa majority male and/or a majority non-Caucasian? Beyond the typical issues ofdemographics are additional issues: broader issues of national and ethnic cultures, thedifferences that may be seen in different industries and different occupational groups,and how groups will differ based on the national setting in which their organizationsfunction. A study currently under way at thirteen sites in six countries using thismethodology may help to begin to answer some of these questions.

    Conclusions

    Using the methodology from this study, employee perception-based factor models of various work settings can be developed. These models can increase our under-standing of how work environment variables are viewed by employees in work groupswith different characteristics. They can also help to advance our knowledge of thevariables and factors that seem to be common across settings and those that seem to vary across settings. The diagnostic instrument can be a valuable precursor toqualitative work. While one could use focus groups for diagnostic purposes, the use of exploratory focus groups for diagnostic purposes could be impractical in work settings with several departments and shifts. The use of the diagnostic instrument canallow focus groups to be, in fact, focused both in location and potential issues theyexplore.

    The study provides a methodology that can be used with a broad range of workgroups in many different settings to produce a diagnostic instrument tailored to thatspecific work group and work setting. Data obtained by administering the maininstrument the Performance Environment Perception Scale (PEPS) can be factoranalysed to determine the perceptual factor model for that setting, and a shorterdiagnostic instrument, customized for that work setting, can be developed based onthe variables that load significantly on the identified factors.

    Since the instrument provides data on intensity and dispersion, practitioners can seeat a glance the extent to which work environment factors and variables are perceivedpositively or negatively, and can see the extent to which the intensity of this perceptionis consistent throughout the work group. Using this methodology could be particularlyuseful to organizations with multiple sites that may reflect different workforcedemographics or even be in different countries. Identifying the differences in employeeperceptions could suggest where needs for different human resource practices exist orcould identify problems unique to particular locations.

    Address for correspondence

    David RipleyDepartment of ManagementUniversity of CanterburyPrivate Bag 4800

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  • ChristchurchNew ZealandTel: +64 3 364 2987, ext. 7165Fax: +64 3 364 2020E-mail: d.ripley@mang.canterbury.ac.nz

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