A Comparative Analysis of Chinese and American Work Values’

‘’A Comparative Analysis of Chinese and American Work Values’’ Introduction Discussion Bibliography


Work values influence attitudes and behaviour at work which can have a major effect on productivity and performance especially if managers are aware of these work values. This research can be integral to human resource managers as it aides them when it comes to employing, predicting and managing behaviour. Much research has been carried out on Chinese work values but rarely have they been compared to the work values of Irish employees. In this paper, I will try to examine the differences or similarities between Irish and Chinese work values. It is hypothesized that the work values between these two nations will vary greatly.


Work related values refer to the goals or rewards people seek through their work. They can be divided categorically into four groups: intrinsic, extrinsic, social and power. These groups can be defined as (1) intrinsic: personal growth, autonomy and interest; (2) extrinsic: security and salary; (3) social: relationships and contribution to society; (4) power: authority and stimulus (Schwartz, 1999). When discussing the topic of work values it is essential that one must highlight the role in which culture has to play in differentiating these values. HOFSTEDE, TROMPENAARS (Schwartz, 1999) suggests that the differences in various cultural values can be used to determine links relating to work values. Several studies examining Maslow’s (1943) hierachy of needs also show similar but not identical rank ordering of needs across cultures. As it has been proven that there are several differences across different cultures , it must be noted what actually determines these differences. Previous research suggests that these determinants lie in the employees ethnic origin, cultural exposure and parent company’s nationality (Verburg & Drenthe, 1999) (Yang & Bond, 1990). In an article by (Wang, Ling, & Jaw, 2006), two specific instruments were addressed in order to determine the differences in cultural values and work values bewtween Asian and western employees. In order to measure culture, Hofstede’s (1980) four dimensions: (1) power distance; (2) masculinity; (3) individualism; (4) uncertainty avoidance were used. Power distance relates to the degree of inequality acceptable in a society (Hofstede, 1980). Masculinity refers to the degree in which values like assertiveness, performance, success and competitiveness associated with the role of men, prevail over values associated with femininity such as service, care for the weak and solidarity (Hofstede, 1980). With regards to results, it was found that Chinese employees tended to be more uncertainty avoiding than their counterparts (Wang, Ling, & Jaw, 2006). With regards to their work values Asian employees were found to score much higher than their western counterparts in terms of contribution to society, stability and security. When it comes to conducting the study, Chinese researchers have used western questionaires to further study employees work values and have found valuable information (WeiWei, 1991). However, some issues need to addressed in this situation. It would be foolish to ignore the everchanging Chinese social environment. Since, the 1980’s China has been changing from a centrally planned economy (Jiang & Yang, 2011) to a global market economy. As a result of these changes, China’s population has been opened up to more western influences. It must also be noted that over the past few years China as a region has been at the helm of many natural disasters and epidemics such as SARS, earthquakes and flooding (Wenquan & Ligang, 1999). On one side of the scale the Chinese population has suffered greatly but in turn they have grown to embrace some values more than others. Examples of these values include health, security and solidarity. (Huang, 1995) suggests that the emphasis of social norms between Chinese and western work values may be so significant that researchers should invent new Chinese work dimensions. As a result of Huang’s advice, (Neitai, 2010) came up with the ‘’four dimensions of Chinese work values’’. These four dimensions include: (1) social harmony; (2) self realization; (3) material conditions; and (4) prosperous development. Social harmony refers to relationship bewtween family and the organization, self realization refers to the inner experience gained from work, material conditions relate to salary, working hours and welfare and finally prosperous development relates to improving company performance, serving people and advancing China as a whole. In terms of work values relating to employees within the United States, Jurgensen’s (1978) study of over 57,000 job applicants at the Minesota Gas Company is crucial. Applicants were made complete a questionaire in which they ranked the importance of ten job characteriscs in relation to their wellbeing. What Jurgensen found was that surprisingly pay was the fifth most ranked job characteristic while job security topped the list. Several other researchers such as (Lindahl, 1949) and (Kovach, 1995) have used similar questionnaires in which U.S employees were asked to rank ten job attributes. Unlike Jurgensen, Kovach found that the age difference in employees led to differences in the ranking system. He found that senior employee’s were more self concious on ‘’being kept in the loop’’ rather than attributes such as pay and job security which which were found to motivate younger employees. An interesting element when comparing both the U.S and China is the importance of wages. Since the 1980’s, bonuses based on performanc ealone have become much more accepted in Chinese society (Easterby-Smith, 1995) with the Chinese government promoting the idea that it is glorious to be rich (Zhao, 1994). It has been suggested that this mentality installed in Chinese employees working overseas is quite evident as they have been known to talk openly about money whereas most U.S employees are hesitant (Redding, 1993). In relation to job security as a work value, Jurgensen’s model ranked job security as a number attribute between 1949 and 1975. However, when compared to the other models from the 1990’s, it can be found in 4th place. According to (Fisher & Yuan, 1998) job security in China is less important due to the fact that until the mid 1990’s many employees in China were working for state owned organizations and it was and still is very difficult to fire an employee until the end of their contract. We must also consider the fact that China’s workforce is becoming younger and more skilled which leaves them with better prospects of employment or remployment (Zhao, 1994). A final contrasting work value is that of interesting work, promotion and growth which are reasonably important to US employees at present, while the idea of partaking in interesting work seems to be very important. The importance of these values have come to light due to the significant amount of research conducted within the United States of personal work values (Fisher & Yuan, 1998). With regards to these issues in China, there seems to be very few, signifying that possibly the majority of non-managerial employees are not familiar with meeting ‘higher level’ needs in the work place (Lu & Kao, 2011). It could be said that the ‘luxury’ of interesting work is more of a privilege or expectation of employees in more developed nations. In studying the history of American work psychology, salary was seen as the principle motivator at the beginning of the century, while social factors and job satisfaction came to the forefront in the 1940s, and interesting work was not revealed as an important variable by employees until the 1950’s (Schwartz, 1999).


It may be interesting to study whether such a progression occurs over time in other countries as economic growth and living standards increase. Most managerial researchers in China validate their work by highlighting the fact that changes are happening very rapidly, and that work values may not be constant when the economic system is in the process of change (Chen, 1995). Forecasts such as those above, which are built on current literature, will probably not be significant in the future. It is also probable that value changes would be encouraged most willingly by younger employees as they may have been brought up with more western influences when compared to their seniors. Therefore, we might assume that preferences would vary between older and younger employees, with the older generation of employees having more traditional social and economic preferences while the younger generation adopting intrinsic and success oriented matters to a larger extent.


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