Research Methods

Question 1

Researchers have different assumptions and perceptions of how the world can be known and how we can come to better understand it. This difference in assumptions and perceptions coupled with matters of epistemology and ontology form the basis on which the research philosophies are formulated. Epistemology, in the philosophy of science is the term used to describe the most acceptable way of seeking knowledge (Easterby-Smith, Thorpe and Jackson 2008). Basically the term epistemology means the ground, the theory or the science of knowledge extending to the assumptions that must be made in order to understand the real knowledge plus the parameters that must be attained to certify the said knowledge as real (Blake 1993; Chia 2002). Closely related to this term of epistemology is the ontology which describes the researcher’s assumption or perception of the reality. In the world of social research, two major philosophical thoughts or research paradigms- positivism and constructivist (sometimes referred to as Intepretivist or post-positivism) - have emerged to describe how researchers can gain knowledge. The positivism school of thought holds that the goal of research is to describe that which can be directly observable and measurable (Crossan 2009). The world, according to positivism, is objective making it possible for scientific method to measure and interpret the relationship between variables (Gephart 1999). All variables operate on a standard law of cause and effect, and thus positivist believes that it is only through scientific inquiry that the truth can be known (Mennen 2010). This notion is informed by the assumption that reality does not change and can be understood by studying the phenomena objectively without interfering with it. In the research methods, positivists emphasis on quantitative tools –counting, measuring and experiment plus statistical analysis (Crossan 2009; Hatch and Cunliffe 2006; Lewis, Saunders and Thornhill 2007; Easterby-Smith, Thorpe and Jackson 2008). Positivist claim that any knowledge that is not empirical is unscientific, and thus invalid. Most of the physical and natural sciences have adopted positivism as their method of acquiring knowledge. However this research philosophy has not been fully accepted in the field of social sciences. Social scientists argue that “positivistic method strips context from meanings in the process of developing quantified measures of phenomena” (Gephert 1999, p. 1). Social scientist claims that they would want an inclusive research method that does not exclude the qualitative meaning from the data collected. For instance, modern psychologist can not understand how positivism can ignore the unobservable issues like emotions and thoughts or the happenings in the inside of the human mind. Viewed from a social science perspective, positivism registers more weaknesses in the realm that it tends to generalise outcomes from samples taken from specific social groups. This is not to forget that it is not always that positivism methods yield consistent results. In such a situation a more advanced approach is needed to explain the inconsistency. In addition, the fact that positivism relies on testing existing theories rather than introducing new ones is a challenge to the field of discovery.

Beside the above shortcoming, the greatest challenge to positivism comes from the alternative research philosophies, mainly the constructivism/intepretist. This research philosophy is more common with the social science world, where the researchers believe that the subject matter in social science is different from that studied in natural science (Hatch and Cunliffe 2006). Constructionists believe that past experiences and memories influence the way people perceive their external world. According to this philosophy, researchers cannot rule out bias because both they and the researched subject make interpretations based on their prior experiences. In their research methods, constructivism prefers qualitative techniques such as observation, description and questioning (Eriksson and Kovalainen 2008). The main distinction between constructivist and positivist is that the former believe in multiple realities while the latter believe that there is only one stable reality. According to constructivist, knowledge is relative to the knower, and thus, various researchers can arrive at different conclusions. Due to the concept of relative knowledge, constructivism research philosophy holds that it is not possible to know the reality, although researchers should strive towards that goal (Greener 2008).

In social science, as well as in management and organisation research, constructivism has become common on the basis that it addresses timely social, political and economic issues which positivism had hitherto ignored. However, constructivism is challenged for its epistemological relativism. Its assertion that it is not possible to know the reality undermines the noble goal of research, that of pursuing the truth. Constructivism is not concerned with ontological reality but on constructed reality. In the case of the research at hand – employee satisfaction- a constructionist research philosophy is the best to carry out the study. Since the primary aims of an employee satisfaction is to determine employee’s response to the various motivations and rewards measures existing in an organisation, a constructivist approach offer the best design. This kind of research is at best subjective, since it seeks to measure employees feeling and thoughts. As opposed to a positivist approach which would focus on testing existing theories through quantitative techniques, a constructionist approach will focus on building new knowledge by the use of qualitative techniques, mainly questionnaires and interviews. A study on employee satisfaction is deductive rather than inductive. This kind of approach will also enable the study unearth the different factors that affect the employee's interpretation of the existing motivation and reward framework such salary, promotion and career advancement. The constructivism emphasises on language and communication will come in handy in understanding the employees feeling towards the organisation. Qualitative approaches are more preferred since they allow the employees to be free to discuss their feeling towards a company and what they would wish the organisation to do for them.

Constructivism research philosophy will find basis in most of the employee’s satisfaction theories. The Maslow Hierarchy of needs theory argues that employee satisfaction is a general attitude that is determined by such factors as self actualisation, esteem needs, belongingness and love needs, safety needs and the biological and physical needs (Maslow 1943, p.370; Weihrich and Koontz 1999, p. 468). Such attitudes can only be understood through a qualitative study other than quantitative approach. Satisfaction in this case is the contentment that employees feel after an organisation meets their need (Robbins 1998, p.170). Again, the constructivism approach fits well with Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation (Loiseau 2011). According to Herzberg’s theory, employee satisfaction can only be understood through looking at the “the two dimensions of employee satisfaction”: motivational and hygiene (Spector 1997). These two theories acknowledge that the factors that lead to employee satisfaction, or dissatisfaction thereof, are relative and not stable meaning that a qualitative approach is best suited to understand them.

Question 2

After determining the research philosophy, the other important aspect of a research process is choosing the sampling method. The sampling method used depends with the nature of the research at hand (Kothari 2009). Basically, there are three major types of sampling: Probability, Purposive, and Non-probability sampling. In probability sampling each, sample has an equal chance of getting selected. In purposive sampling, the researcher draws a sample on what, as to his opinion and purpose, considers being representative. Non-probability sampling is also known as non-rule there no guidance as to the composition of the sample. Among all these, probability sampling is the most widely used. A probability sample can be carried in four different types depending with the nature of research. A researcher can opt to use simple random sampling, stratified sampling, systematic sampling or the cluster sampling.

For a research on employee satisfaction, the best sampling method is the probability random sample. This is the most accurate of the sample selection methods (Babbie 2010, p. 192). Since in an organisation it would be difficult to interview all the employees, a representative sample selected randomly is the best to offer the employees general feelings. In a probability sampling, each of the employees in the selected organisation will have a “known and non-zero chance of being selected into the sample” (Elder 2009, p.4). In this sampling method, each of the employees will have an equal chance of being sampled (Davis 2002). The sampling frame for this study will be all the employees working in the selected organisation. It is from this list that the employees selected to participate in the research will be drawn from.

In order to get a representative feeling for an employee satisfaction research it is better to divide the population into subgroups. Employees in an organisation are not always homogeneous. The managers and the non-managers may have a different feeling of the organisation. In addition, different employees working in different departments in the same organisation may also have different feelings. To capture this heterogeneity, stratified random sampling is the best suited for this case. A stratified sampling divides the population of the study into subgroups (strata) tat are homogenous. To eliminate bias, each of the strata will have a proportional percentage of the research representation of its percentage of the whole number of employees. As Elder (2009, p. 9) observes, this sampling technique has a higher chance of reducing sampling error, it is more representative and allows “separate control over the design and section of the sample” within each subgroup.

By stratified sampling, employee population will be divided both along the managers – non-managers line as well as departmental divide. This will be the right sampling to get a representative feeling. In this method, the research will be able to determine whether the senior staffs have a different feeling of the organisation compared to the junior staff. This is informed by the knowledge that some organisations have a tendency to treat their senior staff with higher esteem while at the same time ignoring the junior staff. Stratified random sampling is also the best method to determine whether satisfaction, or dissatisfaction thereof, in the selected organisation is across all the departments.

Question 3

As Lindorff (2007) observes, in professional fields it is expected that researchers will be guided by acceptable professional ethics, and that looking at their research process, it would be easier to distinguish them from non-professional groups (p. 21). Bryman and Bell (2011) stress that “ethical issues can not be ignored” since they determine the integrity, or lack of it, of a piece of research (p.122). Any professional research, therefore, has to be founded on various outstanding and generally acceptable principles (Robertson and Athanassiou 2009; Bryman and Bell 2011). Ethical principles in research, according to Resnick denote the norms of conduct that demarcates the boundaries between the acceptable and the unacceptable behaviour (Resnik 2012). A researcher has to conduct the research in a way that the process not only protects the welfare and the safety of the participants but also the well-being of the wider society within which the research is being conducted (Sieber 2004).

Before plunging into any research, a study on employee satisfaction will first of all understand the legal structure governing employees-outsiders relation, the ethical principles and guidelines as well as the universally accepted principles of human rights (Bryman and Bell, 2007). Although there are many ethical principles, Lindorff (2007) give the three fundamental principles that must be observed in organisational and management research: justice, beneficence and respect for persons (p.22). These fundamental principles boil down to what Bryman and Bell (2011) described as the four areas of concerns: harm to participants, lack of informed consent, invasion of privacy and deception (p. 128).

The question of justice in research presents the issues of equality and fairness. Any benefit accruing from the research has to be “equally and fairly distributed” (Lindoff 2007; Bryman and Bell 2007). This is a critical concern in employee satisfaction research where the employees may be forced to bear the burden of research such as energy, time, and loss of privacy while their employers and the researchers share the benefit (Lindoff 2007; Bryman and Bell 2007). To be fair, Bryman and Bell (2007) emphasize that researchers should embrace the principle of reciprocity and trust. They argue that there is need of “openness and honesty” in disclosing research finding to all the participants (Bryman and Bell 2007, p.144). The principle of beneficence is the understanding that researchers should carry the interest of the participants at heart. They should not be so much driven by their research purposive while ignoring that the participants, and in this case the employees, have their own fundamental rights. This principle is closely linked to the third principle respect for persons, which bears that in every research, participants should be viewed as autonomous agents. They should be viewed as people with their own privacy rights, fundamental human rights.

Lindoff (2007) observes that every research has its own special challenges. For instance, in the research at hand –employee satisfaction- the researcher or the organisation is likely to exploit the participant both in terms of energy and time without any benefit to the employee. Any research that does not adhere to ethical principle is considered unethical and can lead to severe moral consequences. For instance, unchecked contact with employees may jeopardise the employee-employer relationship and may lead to former dismissal. The goal of such a research is to understand the employee satisfaction and not to put the employee into predicament or to directly castigate the employer. Any possible harm of such a research has to be minimised and the benefits of the outcomes maximised.

More to the above principles, ethical research demands that the confidentiality of the participant must be guaranteed. Whether it is a telephone interview, a structured questionnaire or a face to face interview, safeguarding the confidentiality of the respondent is a key expectation of an ethical research (Bryman and Bell 2011). In addition, the participation in an ethical research must be voluntary. This means that information from employees have to be sought through consent and mutual understanding. Another important principle that Bryman and Bell (2007) emphasise is the need to be objective. In this principle Bryman and Bell (2007) warn that it is good to reject any external influence such as that which may come from the research affiliations. However, as Bryman and Bell observes there is no clear boundary between ethical and unethical practices (2011, p.143). Thus, a researcher will have to contend with some difficulties in what and what should not amount to ethical conduct.

Question 4b

In collecting qualitative data, a researcher can choose to interact with the population of study on a one to one basis or study the population in a group setting. Either way, a researcher will be required to collect data. Interviews, direct observations, and focus groups are the main data collection methods in qualitative research (Wahyuni 2012). Direct observations involve an external observant who directly observes and records data. In focus group, a researcher assembles a sample of the population to discuss the issue at hand. An interview may be closely related to a focus group, but the subject in this case is interviewed separately.

For the purpose of a study on employee satisfaction, conducting an interview is the best way to understand employees feeling and experiences. According to Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009) an interview can be organized either as open-ended (unstructured), closed or structured or as a focus group. A closed interview is designed to restrict the subject to the main issue of the study (Creswell 2003). The advantage of this structure compared to the open-ended is that the respondent does not go astray. However, a researcher can still decide to semi-structured the interview. According to Saunders, Lewis and Thornhill (2009), a semi-structured interview is a hybrid between an in-depth interview and a structured interview.

Since the aim of an employee satisfaction research is to understand the employees’ feelings and experiences towards an organisation, the best way to design the interview is a semi-structured interview. The main strength of this structure is that it restricts participants to the important issues while at the same time giving them room to express their feeling and opinion freely. Since this design has some elements of in-depth interview, a researcher will have a deep understanding of the case at hand since the participant have the opportunity to offer deep elaborations of their reactions and even sometimes use examples. In this structure therefore, employees of an organisation will be able to air all their grievances towards their employer raging from training and development, salary and rewards not to forget the general working environment. Nonetheless, this method can be time consuming and sometimes too expensive. For instance, in an employee study of a big organisation, the researcher will be forced to interview a sizeable number of employees in order to attain an acceptable sample. Organising a large number of employees to participate in the interview is tedious and time consuming.


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