Changes in Chinese work values. A comparison between the one-child, social reform and cultural revolution generations

Publication Date01 April 2019
Date01 April 2019
AuthorSachiko Takeda,Marta Disegna,Yumei Yang
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour,Global HRM
Changes in Chinese work values
A comparison between the one-child, social
reform and cultural revolution generations
Sachiko Takeda
Department of Leadership, Strategy and Organisations,
Bournemouth University Business School, Bournemouth, UK
Marta Disegna
Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics,
Bournemouth University Business School, Bournemouth, UK, and
Yumei Yang
Department of Leadership, Strategy and Organisations,
Bournemouth University Business School, Bournemouth, UK
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate the changes in Chinese workersvaluesby comparing
the work-related values of the One-Child Generation (OCG), the Social Reform Generation and the Cultural
Revolution Generation.
Design/methodology/approach A survey was conducted with 918 Chinese employees, the vast majority
of them working for Chinese domestic firms in Guangzhou, Shaoguan and Harbin. The collected data were
analysed mainly using ANOVA, Tukeys pairwise comparison and KruskallWallis tests.
Findings The OCG was found to place less importance on income and job security, while possessing higher
tolerance towards the practice of nepotism, than the older two generations. The authors found no significant
differences in the levels of intrinsic values and altruism among the three generations. Additionally, the results
indicate overall low altruistic values and high extrinsic values across all three generations of Chinese workers.
Originality/value Chinas unprecedented generation of only-children as workers is an unknown factor.
It is only now, over a decade after the OCG first entered the job market, that a comparative study between
their work values and those of previous generations has become possible. This study exploits the momentum
and is one of the first studies to include the OCG in the investigation of work value changes in Chinese society.
Keywords China, Pay, Work values, Nepotism, Guanxi, Altruism, Generation, Job security, Aging,
Intrinsic values
Paper type Research paper
As many industrialised countries face aging populations (Galanaki and Papalexandris,
2017), researchers point to the importance of investigating the effects of aging on work
values (Twenge et al., 2010). This has been reflected in studies of aging (or generational
effects) on work values and attitudes ( for literature and meta-analytic reviews, see Ng and
Feldman, 2010; Twenge, 2010; Kooij et al., 2011). However, the majority of these works are
based on western samples (Cennamo and Gardner, 2008).
Despite the countrys increasingly important position in the global market, studies that
empirically investigate Chinese work values are limited in number (e.g. Chiu et al., 2002;
Ralston et al., 2008; Wang et al., 2010; Yang, 2011), and very little research has been
conducted on the aging or generational effects on Chinese work value changes ( for
exceptions, see Ralston et al., 1999; Egri and Ralston, 2004; Yi et al., 2010).
China ended its one-child policy at the beginning of 2016. However, the policy, which
lasted over three and a half decades since 1979, has created an artificially aging society as
the society consequently has fewer younger persons and is, therefore, aging fast with a
generation of so-called little emperors(Mcloughlin, 2005). Although research has been
Evidence-based HRM: a Global
Forum for Empirical Scholarship
Vol. 7 No. 1, 2019
pp. 24-41
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/EBHRM-06-2018-0040
Received 28 June 2018
Revised 2 October 2018
Accepted 12 November 2018
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
conducted on the characteristics of these only-children, very few, if any, studies have
investigated the work values of the One-Child Generation (OCG) and examined how they
differ from previous generations. It is only now, over a decade after they first entered the job
market, that a comparative study on their work values is possible. This study exploits this
momentum and investigates generational differences in Chinese employeeswork values.
Background discussions
Work values
Work values refer to the outcomes people desire and feel they should attain through work
and shape employeesperceptions of preferences in the workplace(Twenge et al., 2010,
p. 1121). Various work values, such as intrinsic, extrinsic, social, affiliative, growth, security
and leisure, are discussed in the literature (Twenge et al., 2010; Kooij et al., 2011). This study
predominantly focuses on intrinsic and extrinsic values as the difference between these has
been identified as one of the most basic and persistent work value distinctions (Ryan and
Deci, 2000; Twenge et al., 2010).
Extrinsic work values are connected to tangible rewards external to the individual.
One takes action in expectation that it leads to a distinct outcome, such as income,
promotion or security (Ryan and Deci, 2000). In contrast, intrinsic work values satisfy needs
directly and stem from the intangible rewards internal to the individual. One takes action
because an activity is inherently interesting and enjoyable, and is connected to, for example,
growth, autonomy and creativity (Schwartz, 1999; Ryan and Deci, 2000).
Besides the intrinsic/extrinsic dichotomy, Kooij et al. (2011) present another set of value
measurement categories, which include social and security values. Schwartz (1999) links
social values with the wider core values of contribution to society. These relate to altruistic
work values, which include the desire to help others and society through work(Twenge
et al., 2010, p. 1124). Social values (or altruism) can also be understood as one component of
intrinsic values (Twenge et al., 2010) while security values are more associated with
extrinsic values.
From extrinsic values, the current study focuses on income and job security, examined
separately. This study will not include promotion in the hypothesised investigation. This is
because one of the three generations examined in the study is much closer to the retirement
age and for them promotion, therefore, would not have the same significance as for the
other two generations. This study also examines intrinsic values (interesting work) and
altruism separately. Although altruism could be understood as one component of intrinsic
values, it may have different significance for Chinese workers as will be discussed later.
Additionally, the values related to guanxi and favouritism will be examined, as such
values play a key role in governing human behaviour in Chinese business and society at
large (Kim et al., 2013).
Life-span approach
The life-span approach advances the possibility for behavioural change at any point in the
life cycle(Sterns and Miklos, 1995, p. 259). Life-span theories posit that person-environment
transactions help shape the person-situation context in which motivation takes place
(Kanfer and Ackerman, 2004, p. 441). Schooling experience, for example, may contribute to
the formation of work values whereas value differences may condition job choices and
career paths. Kanfer and Ackerman (2004) identify intraindividual change trajectories based
on the nature of change across the life-span. They propose that older workerswork values
are impacted by age-related changes on the effort-utility function, which is determined by
the predicted amount of effort required for the requisite performance. This may point
towards a reduced effect of extrinsic values on older adults. To motivate older adults,
Changes in
Chinese work

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