The Reluctant Employer: an Exploration of the First Employment Decisions and Early Employment Experiences of Small Business Owner-Managers

David, Hefin (2013) The Reluctant Employer: an Exploration of the First Employment Decisions and Early Employment Experiences of Small Business Owner-Managers. PhD thesis, University of Gloucestershire.

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The broad aim of the research presented in this thesis was to explore the process by which small firm owner-managers become employers, their early experiences as employers and the impact of these experiences on their subsequent management decisions. The research topic derived from the researcher’s interests and experience in human resource management and small business and was designed to contribute to a richer understanding of early employment in small firms, as there was a lack of published research in the field. The study used an interpretive, qualitative approach. The research design derived from an analysis of four pilot interviews, in which issues emerged that were then explored in the literature review. These issues included motivation to become an employer; the use of social capital within networks as an alternative to employment; the experiences and learning process of the owner-manager during and after the decision to become an employer; and subsequent employment policy and behaviour. The main fieldwork comprised a further fifteen semi-structured interviews with micro-business owner-managers, eight of whom had become employers and seven who had not. The analysis of both the pilot and subsequent interviews was conducted through thematic analysis that gave rise to approximately fifty themes. These were then reduced on the basis of inter-case frequency to ten key issues. A ‘thick description’ of these was presented and used as the basis for the development of a model of the process, as presented in Chapter Five. The findings highlighted the use of social capital as an alternative to initial staff employment, that once exhausted led to the hiring of first employees by members of the ‘employer’ sample, most of whom could be characterised as ‘reluctant employers’. Contrary to expectations, the first employment experience was not of high salience to the majority of these owner- managers. Instead, the later experiences of employment were perceived by the employers to be of greater significance, in particular the emergence of skilled and trustworthy employees enabling the gradual development of early formal structures in the firm. In some cases, such an employee was perceived as significantly contributing to the business and its growth potential - one who in the thesis is referred to as ‘first line manager’ These positive experiences of employment tended to be self-reinforcing, leading to further enhancement of the owner-managers’ self-concept as employers and bringing some stability and formality to employment relations practices within the firm, with the characteristics of these employees tending to become informal templates for further employment decisions. In developing the model, an understanding is advanced of the various tensions to which owner-managers were subjected in becoming employers. These included finding a balance between the use of social capital versus employment, the desire to recruit versus perceptions of the risk of needing to terminate employment, the benefits of additional human capital versus the costs and other risks, and different degrees of formality in employment practices. The implications of these insights are profound, in the light of the need to facilitate employment in small firms. They point to ways that support practices might be better tailored to meet the needs of this significantly large group of owner managers. It is suggested that through sustained engagement and mechanisms which serve to support owner-managers in the development of social and business networks, both social and economic benefits will be accrued.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Advisors:
Thesis AdvisorEmailURL
Uncontrolled Keywords: Owner-Managers; Employers; Small firms
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HF Commerce > HF5001 Business > HF5549 Personnel management. Employment management
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Business
Depositing User: Susan Turner
Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2018 11:44
Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 08:39

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