High-performance Work Practices in Europe: Challenges of Diffusion

  • Peter Totterdill UK Work Organisation Network (UKWON)
  • Oliver Exton UKWON
  • Rosemary Exton UKWON
  • Michael Gold Royal Holloway University of London


Although the evidence supports the role of high-performance work practices (HPWPs) in underpinning improvements in organisational performance, it is striking that so few companies in Europe seem willing to introduce them. The purpose of this article is to examine the barriers to the dissemination of HPWPs, and especially the challenges and dilemmas it presents to policy makers at the design stage. The article is based on in-depth, semi-structured interviews with the principal officials responsible for seven HPWP programmes across six European countries, as well as on extensive secondary material. The interviews were analysed to identify key issues of concern, and then grouped to provide general insights into the operation of HPWP programmes. The article identifies a number of challenges common to all the programmes that need resolution, including tensions between research and dissemination, whether programmes should aim at breadth or depth, and the role of the social partners. It accordingly advocates a new research agenda that focuses on policies to achieve their wider diffusion, which will be of particular value to policy-makers. It also proposes that research should be directed away from replicating studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of HPWPs and towards analyses of constraints on dissemination and the means to overcome them.

Author Biographies

Peter Totterdill, UK Work Organisation Network (UKWON)
Joint Chief Executive, UKWON
Oliver Exton, UKWON
Rosemary Exton, UKWON
Michael Gold, Royal Holloway University of London
Professor of Comparative Employment Relations, School of Management, RHUL