Multicultural public administration: Effects of language diversity and dissimilarity on public employees' attachment to employment

AuthorKerstin Alfes,Adrian Ritz
Published date01 March 2018
Date01 March 2018
Multicultural public administration: Effects of
language diversity and dissimilarity on public
employees' attachment to employment
Adrian Ritz
| Kerstin Alfes
KPM Center for Public Management,
University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
Organisation Studies and Human Resource
Management, ESCP Europe
Wirtschaftshochschule Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Adrian Ritz, KPM Center for Public
Management, University of Bern,
Schanzeneckstrasse 1, P.B. 8573, Bern,
A major part of research in public administration focuses on the
impact of ethnic diversity on outcomes such as performance and
turnover, and on the management of diversity with regard to dif-
ferent employee groups. Recent research, however, shows the rel-
evance of relational demography in the context of employee
inclusion in public organizations. So far, most studies have been
based on ethnic differences in countries that can be described as
mononational and monolinguistic. The current study advances this
stream of research by investigating how diversity and dissimilarity
measures affect public employees' attachment to employment in a
multicultural public administration in Switzerland. Evidence from a
hierarchical multilevel analysis revealed that language diversity and
the support for diversity from supervisors affected individuals'
attachment. However, our findings on individuals' language dissim-
ilarity related to the inclusion of minorities did not support the
assumed crowding-out effect between diversity and dissimilarity.
Implications and avenues for future research are discussed.
Research on relations and diversity among ethnic, national, and cultural groups has grown increasingly prominent as
ethnic minorities have entered the public workforce and immigration has taken centre stage as a key political issue
in the US and in Europe (Selden and Selden 2001; Pitts and Wise 2010). Public organizations are very committed to
diversity management as a result of equal opportunity policies and affirmative action programmes (Riccucci 2002)
or due to the effects of diversity as a measure of representativeness and legitimacy within politically diverse institu-
tions (Groeneveld and Van de Walle 2010; Peters et al. 2012; Andrews and Ashworth 2015).
A majority of the research in public administration focuses on the impact of ethnic diversity on a variety of out-
comes, such as performance or employee turnover (Choi 2009; Pitts 2009; Pitts and Jarry 2009; Choi and Rainey
2010), and on the management of diversity and the implications thereof for ethnic groups (Pitts et al. 2010; Groene-
veld 2011). Recent research shows how relevant relational demography is in the context of employee inclusion in
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12366
84 © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Public Administration. 2018;96:84103.
public organizations (Bae et al. 2017). This stream of research deals mainly with the implications of diversity within
organizations without an explicit policy focus. On the contrary, most studies in the area of representative bureau-
cracy are interested in the demographic composition of the public workforce that reflects descriptive congruence of
workforce and population (e.g., Andrews et al. 2005; Pitts 2007) and its transformation into behavioural outcomes
beyond the organization. The latter allows bureaucrats to actively represent non-dominant groups within society by
shaping policies in favour of ethnic minorities (e.g., Sowa and Selden 2003; Bradbury and Kellough 2007; Andrews
and Ashworth 2015).
The majority of studies of both streams of researchdiversity and representative bureaucracyare based on
ethnic differences in countries that can be described as mononational and monolinguistic (Turgeon and Gagnon
2013a). As certain demographics can be very salient in some countries but not in others (Meier and Hawes 2009),
cultural and national origin diversity become more relevant than ethnic differences in countries where social belong-
ing and representation by language instead of ethnicity or skin colour is a central issue at work (e.g., Belgium,
Canada, Greenland, Spain, Switzerland). However, only very few studies have focused on cultural and national origin
diversity (Shore et al. 2009). Although these types of diversity share underlying theoretical approaches with
research on ethnic representation and diversity (e.g., social identity theory), they differ in their multicultural setting
with cleavages along national, sub-national or linguistic lines. While cultural diversity is often measured based on
national origin (Barinaga 2007) or ethnicity (Richard et al. 2004), research on outcomes of language diversity as a
sub-type of cultural diversity is virtually non-existent (Shore et al. 2009). However, language is a powerful symbol
of ethnicity and can be seen as a major foundation of cultural and national or sub-national identity (Liebkind 1999).
This leaves open the question of whether language diversity as an indication of sub-national identities influ-
ences public employees' attitudes. Therefore, the core research question of this study is: How do dimensional
(diversity) and relational (dissimilarity) measures of language heterogeneity affect public employees' attachment to
employment? We are interested in attachment to employment because of an ageing and shrinking workforce and
growing competition on the labour market. Time-consuming processes related to withdrawal and selection have
costly implications for public organizations if the bond between employer and employee were to be loosened
(Gould-Williams and Davies 2005; Ritz and Waldner 2011; Chordiya et al. 2017). Individuals who are highly
attached to the organization are assumed to work instinctively to benefit the organization (Ouchi 1980) and individ-
uals' attachment to their employment is influenced by unit-level and individual-level factors (Tsui et al. 1992). In
general, research shows that unit-level diversity and individual dissimilarity is negatively related to attachment and
inclusion (Godthelp and Glunk 2003; Nishii and Mayer 2009).
The structure of this article is as follows: In the first section, we develop our theoretical framework and hypoth-
eses. In the section that follows, the specific setting of language diversity in Switzerland is presented. An explana-
tion of the dataset, the method for analysis, and the measures follows. In the next section the hypotheses are
tested using a dataset at the state level of Switzerland with 1,722 state employees nested within 156 organizational
units. Next, the main findings are discussed before limitations and concluding remarks are presented in the last
section of the article.
2.1 |Language diversity and attachment to employment
Language diversity relates to demographic differences among team members which are visible or readily perceivable
characteristics at the surface level(e.g., skin colour, gender, age, language) similar to dimensions of social category
diversityor demographic diversity(Harrison et al. 1998). Shore et al. (2009) subsume language diversity into cul-
tural and national origin diversity because it is inherently related to the shared ways of thinking, feeling, and behav-
ing of an identifiable group characterizing cultural differences. As a major foundation of cultural and national

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