Cross-Cultural Comparison on Work Value Between US and China Research Paper

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Work Values

Cross-cultural comparison on work value between U.S. And China

A value is "what a person consciously or subconsciously desires, wants, or seeks to attain" (Locke, 1983). Peterson and Gonzalez (2005) say values "are motivational forces," and "influence the role work plays in people's lives." Dawis (2005) asserts that each person (P) has requirements that need to be met, most through their environments (E). In fact, Dawis claims that "Many of P's needs in adulthood can be met at work." The ones that matter most to P. are E's ability to deliver rein forcers (e.g., pay, prestige, and working conditions) that satisfy P's needs. Similarly, E has parallel and complementary requirements that can be met by P. And make P. A satisfactory worker. Thus, understanding work values has a benefit for both individuals (as they look for work environments that support their values), and also for organizations (if they recognize the advantage of employing satisfied workers).

Work values represent the desires, expectations and priorities workers bring to their jobs. From a theoretical standpoint, they can be defined as what workers most value, from a list of alternatives, out of their working experience. This definition implies that individuals attach meaning to their work activity, rather than viewing meaning as inherent to the job situation itself (Tilly and Tilly 1997). Work values "thus refer to general attitudes regarding the meaning that an individual attaches to the work role as distinguished from his [or her] satisfaction with that role" This essay is a comparative analysis of work values between China and U.S.

International Work Values

An inquiry into the work ethic concept reveals two directions of though, one of a theoretical entity and one of an empirical nature. The theoretical approach to the work ethics is more definitive and has been widely studied across the social sciences from psychology to economics. However, the empirical approach to analysing the work ethic is complex and remains open to debate among those in academe, in research, and in practice alike.

Work Values U.S.

Job values are a product of ever-evolving social and economic forces, and are not driven solely by the desire for monetary reward. Therefore, job values are inherently plastic and subject to change. For example, values show a high degree of variability cross culturally. How people view their work and the desired rewards they strive to attain from this work is different in the United States than it is in other countries (Kalleberg and Stark 1993). Furthermore, these desired rewards not only change over time even within the United States (Yankelovich 1985; Yankelovich 1994) but also within the working career of a single individual (Lorence and Mortimer 1985). This is especially true of young workers struggling to adapt to the realities of their job prospects (Johnson 2001; Johnson 2002). Thus, the value of work is not static but rather subject to significant change, and operates as a function of specific cultural, historical, and life course factors.

In reaction to the changing economic climate, especially in the face of globalized competition, the view of bureaucracy which glorified hierarchical control as a symbol of efficiency and strength throughout the post-World War II economic expansion was radically and quickly altered. Bureaucratic characteristics are now more likely to be seen as a major reason why the United States has lost ground internationally in recent years (Heckscher 1995; Fraser 2001; Smith 1990; Nocera 2002). Long-term job security is viewed as an archaic remnant of the past that allows those who are not performing up to standards to keep their jobs regardless of performance, and holds down the most talented employees under layers of hierarchy (Fraser 2001).

The impact of this major restructuring of the relationship between worker and firm was an increase in job insecurity concerns among employees. The fear of losing one's job and the perceived difficulty in finding comparable work in terms of pay and fringe benefits rose in the U.S. In the mid to late 1990's (Schmidt 2000). These fears were grounded in the realities of the labour market. Both involuntary job loss and the resulting earnings penalty were greater in the 1990's than the previous decade (Farber 1997; Farber 1998). Job satisfaction measures mirrored these fears as well, with trends showing historical stability since the post-World War II economic expansion followed by a "virtual free fall" in the mid-1980's (Capelli, 1997). By the late 1990's the rising level of job stress was characterized as "a threat to the health of workers" by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (1999).

Partly in response to these changing employment practices, and partly resulting from the changing definition of success in society at large, some researchers argue that American workers now place less emphasis on traditional work values such as security and promotional aspirations, and instead embrace individualistic notions of work focusing upon autonomy and interesting work (Florida 2004). As employment security is seen as a "false promise" in today's business climate (Pink 2001: 87; Bennett 1990; Zuboff and Maxmin 2002) and most workers believe that organizations are not committed to the welfare of their workforce (Cappelli, 1997), workers have rejected the notion of organizational commitment and instead emphasize the importance of marketable skills and contacts within their field in order to move from job to job whenever the opportunity arises (Sennett 1998). Workers see this as a strategy to "hedge their bets"; if one project comes to an abrupt end, they can always fall back on these skills and contacts in order to find additional work (Pink 2001).

Not only did workers' views toward their employers shift, so too did their relationships with other employees. While in the past people saw their co-workers as distant family members, today's workers regard this picture as an illusion (Pink 2001). Many now primarily identify with their professional peers, technical communities, and skill groups (Florida 2004; Pink 2001; Ross 2003), and value the idea of "career development" in which workers see their careers as a life-long process that involves changing jobs, and therefore groups of co-workers, multiple times (Bernstein 1997).

Work Values China

The People's Republic of China (PRC) is in the midst of a critical economic transition (Rosser & Rosser, 1996; Jones 2000). In China the economy and the production of each factory has been planned by the State since the Communist takeover in 1949, with an implicit guarantee of job security and enough to eat for everyone- a concept as having "an iron rice bowl" (Taormina, 1998, p. 477). The policies include rights to lifetime employment and social program including housing, nurseries, schools, and even medical care (Takahara, 19992). According to Weldon and Vonhonacker (1999), even though the iron rice bowl policies have been abandoned, they still affect the management of human resources in China.

In recent years China's economy has grown to become the third largest consumer economy in the world (Rosen, 1999). The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that China will overtake the U.S. And Europe to become the world's largest economy (IMF Briefs, 1999). However, the Western understanding of Chinese work values is inconsistent, as theories of Western management still prevail. The theoretical foundation of Chinese management is in the formative stage primarily because China has been a closed society for the past half century (Ralson, Equ, Stewart, Terpstra, & Kaicheng, 1999).

China's entrance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) will affect the fundamental economic interest of not only China but its foreign trading partners as well. According to WTO documents (1999), in 1998 China was the World's ninth largest exporter and the eleventh largest importer. Foreign opportunities for exporting to or investing in China will increase significantly. Managers in multinational companies that either employ Asian workers or trade with Asian firms will be at a serious disadvantage if they overlook the importance of Asian traditions and values (Robertson & Hoffman, 2000).

Historical and Cultural Environment

Indeed, the demise of the "iron rice bowl" has brought about many changes, socially, economically, and in the workplace (Jones 2000). To understand the economic environment of a national culture, one must consider within- cultural differences (Schneider & Barsous, 1997). According to Terpstra (1978) value differences between generations are due to a variety of factors, with the most important being societal objectives. Societal changes in China have been massive and have had considerable influence on the values of current Chinese workforce (Ralston, 1999). Yet for all the recent changes, China's economy and society are still very different from that in the West. (Martinsons & Hempel, 1999).


Triandis (1994) defines individualism as an attitude of independence from in-groups, achievement, freedom, autonomy, and fairness. He found collectivism to be a state of harmony within the group, interdependence, as sense of duty, and based in a society with a relationship-base. According to Hellriegel (1998) "individualism and collectivism are two cultural values that influence how teams and groups are likely to be accepted and operate" (p. 231). They further state that the basic difference between individualism and collectivism in certain cultures…

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