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Employment Practices of Multinational Companies in Organisational Context


Anthony Ferner and Olga Tregaskis of the Department of HRM, Leicester Business School, have been working on a long-term research project with researchers at Warwick Business School and King's College London. This is a major ESRC-funded survey of the employment practices of multinational companies in organisational context. The research was supported by successive grants from the ESRC, the latest in order to carry out comparative analysis of the UK and three other national surveys conducted in parallel in Canada, Ireland and Spain. The ongoing project forms part of a wider international comparative research programme run by the INTREPID network.  The INTREPID network currently involves aver 40 researchers from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, Singapore and Spain.

Aims and Objectives

The aim of the research is:

  • to map the employment practices of multinationals in the UK, both British and foreign-owned, and 
  • to relate these to such organisational factors as corporate structure, degree of international integration, nationality of ownership, and sector of operation. 


The survey was the first of its kind to focus on employment practices of multinationals based on a representative sample of firms operating in the UK. The survey looked at four key HR issues: performance management and reward systems, employee representation, organisational learning, and employee communication and involvement.

To overcome the key limitation of much of the research in this area, namely the absence of a good sampling frame, detailed preparatory work by the research team was undertaken to provide information on all overseas-owned MNCs in the UK and all UK-owned MNCs over a certain size threshold. Data were collated on nationality of the parent, sector, employment, turnover and UK contact details.

The main survey, completed in 2006, involved a 70-minute face-to-face interview with a senior HR manager, based on a structured questionnaire, from a sub-sample of the Phase I firms. In all, over 300 interviews were completed.

Themes for analysis

The study explored the HR impact of key aspects of MNC structure and organisation. These include broad structural factors such as country of origin, sector, size, and so on, and aspects of internal organisation such as the degree of international product diversification, the extent of international integration of operations, and international structures.

Analysis has explored the relationship between such organisational variables and aspects of HR/employment relations practices and policies such as ‘organisational learning’, employee representation, and the degree of central control over subsidiaries’ HR policies.

The survey provided a wealth of information on the structure of the international human resource function itself. This allowed us to explore the impact on HR practice of different configurations of the international HR function.

[1]INTREPID: “Investigation of Transnationals' Employment Practices International Database”

For further information please visit the project website at

Selected outputs

Paul Edwards, Tony Edwards, Anthony Ferner, Paul Marginson and Olga Tregaskis with Duncan Adam and Michael Meyer Employment Practices of Multinational Companies in Organisational Context: A Large-scale Survey. Report of Telephone Screening Survey. Available online at

Paul Edwards, Tony Edwards, Anthony Ferner, Paul Marginson and Olga Tregaskis with Duncan Adam and Michael Meyer 2007 Employment Practices of MNCs in Organisational Context: A Large-Scale Survey. Report of Main Survey. Available online at

Edwards, T., Olga Tregaskis, Paul Edwards, Anthony Ferner, Paul Marginson with Jane Arrowsmith, Duncan Adam, Michael Meyer and Ali Budjanovcanin (2008) Charting the Contours of Multinationals in Britain: Methodological challenges arising in survey-based research. Warwick Papers in Industrial Relations/Leicester Business School Occasional Papers. Available at:

Edwards, T., Edwards, P., Ferner, A., Marginson, P. and Tregaskis, O. (2010) Multinational companies and the diffusion of employment practices from outside the country of origin - Explaining variation across firms. Management International Review, 50, 613-634.

Marginson, P., Edwards, P., Edwards, T. Ferner, A., Tregaskis, O. (2010). 'Employee representation and consultative voice in multinational companies operating in Britain', British Journal of Industrial Relations, 48, 1, March, 151-80.

Tregaskis, O., Edwards, P., Edwards, T., Ferner, A., (2010) Transnational learning structures in multinationalfirms: Organizational context and national embeddedness. Human Relations, 63 (4), pp. 471-499.

Anthony Ferner, Olga Tregaskis, Paul Edwards, Tony Edwards, and Paul Marginson (2011) ‘HRM structures and subsidiary discretion in foreign multinationals in the UK’, International Journal of Human Resource Management, March, 22, 3, 483-509.

A Ferner and P Almond, forthcoming, ‘Performance and reward practices in foreign multinationals in the UK’, Human Resource Management Journal.

A Ferner, J Bélanger, O Tregaskis, M Morley and J Quintanilla, forthcoming, ‘US Multinationals and Subsidiary Discretion in Human Resource and Employment Relations Policy’, Special issue of Industrial & Labor Relations Review (Cornell)

T Edwards, P Marginson and A Ferner, forthcoming, ‘Multinational Companies in Cross-National Context: Integration, Differentiation and the Interactions between MNCs and Nation States’, Special issue of Industrial & Labor Relations Review (Cornell)

Contact for further information

Contact: Professor Anthony Ferner, (0)116 250 6441, email, or Dr Olga Tregaskis (0)116 257 7915, email

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