Vlerick researcher Nele Soens successfully completed her PhD defense

Vlerick Business School wishes to congratulate Nele Soens who recently successfully completed her doctoral dissertation defence. She obtained her degree of Doctor in Applied Economics from the University of Ghent. This is a fantastic accomplishment in recognition of years of hard and dedicated work.

Philippe Haspeslagh, Dean Vlerick Business School: “It is our strong commitment as a school to keep high the academic values that underlie the solidness of our teaching and our reputation for quality. A thriving doctoral activity is a key ingredient in this.


Nele Soens received her Master’s degree in Business Engineering from the University of Antwerp. Since February 2004, she has been working as a research associate at the People & Organisation department of Vlerick Business School. Her research interests include strategic HRM, high-performance work systems, and the role of line management in HRM. Her doctoral dissertation research was funded by the Intercollegiate Center for Management Science (ICM).

Nele was a visiting PhD student at the Robert H. Smith School of Business (University of Maryland, USA), and she presented her research at several international conferences including the Academy of Management (AOM) Conference, EIASM Workshop on Strategic HRM, International Conference of the Dutch HRM Network, and workshops at Ghent University and Vlerick Business School.

Title: “Line managers’ contributions to high-performance work systems: an empirical study of the agents, outcomes, and mediators of HRM implementation”

Date of PhD defense: 7 September 2012
PhD advisor: Prof Dr Dirk Buyens

Line managers play a crucial role in the implementation of high-performance work systems (HPWS) within organizations. HPWS refer to human resource management (HRM) systems that are designed to optimize organizational performance by enhancing employee skills, motivation, and performance. Research has shown that line managers are highly involved in the implementation of HPWS practices including selective hiring, performance appraisal, extensive training, promotion from within, employee participation, info-sharing, and broad job design. However, few studies have examined whether and how line managers – as key implementers – contribute to generating the desired returns of HPWS. There is an extensive amount of research that has linked HPWS to desired employee and organizational outcomes, but this line of work has predominantly focused on the mere and overall presence of HPWS, lacking specificity about their actual implementation and the role of line managers herein.

The purpose of this dissertation is to shift the focus towards implementation of HPWS within organizations and enhance our understanding hereof by (1) specifying and distinguishing different agents that are involved in HPWS implementation (i.e., first-line managers, middle managers, and the HR department), (2) investigating relationships between HPWS implementation by these agents and desired outcomes, and (3) examining the mechanisms that underlie these relationships. To address these research objectives, we conducted three empirical studies that each develop different parts of our understanding of the agents, outcomes, and underlying mechanisms of HPWS implementation.

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