Human Resource Practices Influence How Employees Spend their Time at Work

Topic(s): employee satisfaction, engagement, human resources management
Publication: Journal of Personnel Psychology
Article: Perceived Human Resource Management Practices: Their effect on absenteeism and time allocation at Work
Authors: C. Boon, F.D. Belschak, D.N. Den Hartog, & M. Pijnenburg 
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Human resource practices are important, and so is the way in which employees choose to spend their time at work. Both undoubtedly impact organizational productivity and effectiveness. New research (Boon, Belschak, Den Hartog, & Pijnenburg, 2014) explores the ways that an organization’s human resource management (HRM) practices influence the time employees spend on certain tasks, as well as the effects on absenteeism.


The article distinguishes between two ways that employees spend their time: core activities and contextual activities. Core activities are explicitly stated in a job description and contextual activities are not necessarily part of the job description but nonetheless add value to the organization. Core (or task) activities are short-term oriented with immediate payoffs for the organization. Contextual performance does not have immediate payoffs but instead has more long-term benefits for the organization.


Human resource management (HRM) practices affect employees in both positive and negative ways. There are three “bundles,” or types of general HRM practices:

  1. People flow bundle: practices concerned with developing employee skills and training.
  2. Employee relations bundle: practices that support employees such as work/life balance policies, job redesign, and facilitating team work.
  3. Appraisal and reward bundle: practices dealing with monitoring employees and directing their efforts towards organizational objectives.

These practices are communication tools for the organization, which are capable of sending various signals about what the organization values. Employees perceive these practices in different ways, which in turn affects their behavior. The study examined how employee perceptions of these HRM practices affected the time they allotted to task (short-term oriented) or contextual (long-term oriented) activities as well as the impact on absenteeism.


In general the researchers found that perceptions of the HRM bundles were related to employees’ time allocation. For example, employees who perceived that their organization was using the people flow bundle (development of employee skills), spent more time on contextual activities and less time on task activities. In this bundle, the emphasis on employee skills and training concerns long-term results, with employees similarly choosing to focus less on short-term task performance and more on long-term contextual performance.

Results also showed a relationship between certain perceptions of the different HRM bundles and lower job satisfaction and ultimately higher absenteeism. This implies that work situations perceived unfavorably due to organizational practices may lead to employee dissatisfaction, which ultimately leads to the employees being absent from work. 


This study shows how various HRM policies can encourage either short-term task activities or long-term contextual activities. Each has different relevance to different employee groups at different times and highlights how HRM practices can facilitate the strategic goals of the organization. Another important aspect for consideration is that organizations should be aware of the relative costs associated with certain HRM practices. For example, practices that encourage contextual activities divert employees’ time and effort away from task activities that have an immediate payoff and towards activities that have more long term payoffs. Organizations may want to consider which is more important for their success.


Boon, C., Belschak, F. D., Den Hartog, D. N., & Pijnenburg, M. (2014). Perceived Human Resource Management Practices Their Effect on Employee Absenteeism and Time Allocation at Work. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 13, 21-33.