High-performance work systems: An empirical Investigation in Saudi Arabia

Author: Reem Alothmany

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 18 Mar 2025.

Alothmany, Reem, 2022 High-performance work systems: An empirical Investigation in Saudi Arabia, Flinders University, College of Business, Government and Law

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To date, research on high-performance work systems (HPWSs) in the Middle East, which is characterised and influenced by unique cultural factors such as wasta—the use of social connections to procure work—has been limited. Given the emergence of HPWSs and their components in Middle Eastern organisations, this thesis aims to understand the nature of HPWSs and how they drive employee outcomes in the Middle East, with consideration of cultural and contextual factors.

To achieve this aim, a mixed methods sequential exploratory design was employed to investigate HPWSs in the Saudi Arabian healthcare sector. In the first stage, 32 executives were interviewed to explore the nature or components of HPWSs, their implementation in the Saudi healthcare context and the factors influencing their implementation. The findings reveal that, in general, HPWS are associated with positive experiences of employees. The key results suggest the important influence of cultural, institutional and organisational factors on HPWS practices. Wasta, a cultural factor specific to the Middle East, was critical in influencing HPWSs and their functions, suggesting the need to further investigate it in the second stage.

In the second stage, a three-wave online survey was administered to 187 frontline healthcare professionals and examined how HPWSs could influence employees’ work attitudes and the boundary conditions that drive employees’ attitudes towards HPWSs. Informed by the findings of the first stage and the literature, this quantitative study tested the mediating effects of employee thriving and the moderating effects of wasta on the relationship between HPWSs and employee attitudes (i.e. job satisfaction, affective organisational commitment and career satisfaction). The results reveal that HPWSs are positively related to employee thriving at work, which, in turn, affected employees’ work and career attitudes. Wasta was found to moderate the relationship between HPWSs and thriving as well as the indirect link between HPWSs and employee attitudes via thriving. These relationships were stronger when wasta was low and weaker when wasta was high. These findings suggest that by implementing an HPWS, organisations may improve employees’ positive psychological states, thus foster desirable employee attitudes. Because the strength of this relationship depends on the level of wasta, it is recommended that practitioners and policymakers take measures to promote thriving and reduce the unwanted effects of wasta.

By examining the healthcare sector in Saudi Arabia, this thesis makes a significant and original contribution to addressing the paucity of evidence in this region and bridges the gap between HPWSs and the Middle Eastern context. This research has generated the earliest empirical evidence, both qualitative and quantitative in nature, to shed light on the ongoing development of theoretical knowledge regarding HPWSs, producing broad implications for the healthcare sector and the Middle East. At the forefront of investigating wasta as a boundary condition, this thesis produces pioneering work on HPWSs conducted throughout Saudi Arabia and provides a basis on which further research could build.

Keywords: High - Performance Work Systems, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Wasta, Thriving, Employee Outcomes, Healthcare

Subject: International Management thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Business, Government and Law
Supervisor: Zhou Jiang