A Comparative Study of the Effects of Taiwan-United States Employee Categorization on Supervisor Trust

Article excerpt

This study used a 2×2×2 within-subjects of scenario experiment design to examine the effects of 3 key employee categorization criteria - relationship (guanxi), loyalty and competence - on the trust attitudes of 217 Taiwan and 132 United States corporate managers. The results revealed that U.S. supervisors display cognition-based trust (reliability and competence) toward their subordinates, which is primarily based on each subordinate's level of competence, whereas Taiwan supervisors display affect-based trust (affectionate attachment) based on the closeness of their relationship with the subordinate. Limitations of the study and suggestions for further research are discussed.

Keywords: employee categorization, relationship (guanxi), loyalty, competence, supervisor trust.

Living in an age of information overload, one has to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. For managers or supervisors, in the context of organizational behavior, this entails observing their subordinates in order to better understand and predict their performance. They then establish different types of interactive relationships as a basis for allocating limited resources to their subordinates (Cheng, 1995; Hsu, Cheng, & Huang, 2003; Hu, Hsu, & Cheng, 2004). These relationships are based on employee categorization and differential management style (Cheng, 1995; Deluga & Perry, 1994; Graen & Cashman, 1975).

Employee categorization in the Chinese corporate context is based on the distance of the relationship (guanxi) between a supervisor and the subordinate, and the employee's perceived level of loyalty and competence (Cheng, 1995). These three criteria have a significant influence on managerial behavior such as reward allocation, information sharing, and decision-making involvement (Hsu et al., 2003; Hu et al., 2004). Trust is another influential factor in the supervisor-subordinate relationship (Cheng) since it involves social personality attributes that help stabilize interpersonal exchange relationships in both social and corporate contexts (Cheng; Hsu et al.; Zucker, 1986).

Growing corporate globalization has spurred much research on managerial and organizational behavior across different national cultural contexts (Chen, 1995; Barley, 1989, 1994; Hofstede, 1993; Kim, Park, & Suzuki, 1990; Leung & Bond, 1984; Zhou & Martocchio, 2001). Prior research has highlighted differences in Chinese and Western management styles (Cheng, 1995; Redding, 1990; Westwood, 1997; Yang, 1995), which derive, in large part, from cultural values and social norms, as well as from the interactive relationship with subordinates (Leung & Bond). This study examined the effects of employee categorization by Taiwan (Chinese) and United States (Western) managers on supervisor trust for a better comparative understanding of supervisor-subordinate relationships.

EMPLOYEE CATEGORIZATION

The Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory, introduced in the 1970s and revised and refined in the years since, conceptualizes leadership as a process that is centered in the interaction between supervisors and subordinates (Graen, 1976; Graen & Cashman, 1975). Further LMX research has focused on the differential treatment by supervisors of individual subordinates (Gerstner & Day, 1997), with Dienesch and Liden (1986) determining that the exchange relationship is based on mutuality and characterized by affect, loyalty, and contribution.

Research has shown that the exchange relationship in the Chinese organizational context is also influenced by social cultural factors, in particular Confucianism, in terms of leadership, organizational culture, and work values, and is the key difference between Chinese and Western management styles (Cheng, 1995; Cheng & Liu, 1995; Redding, 1990; Westwood, 1997; Whitley, 1992). Regarding the Chinese differential style of management, Cheng identified the employee categorization criteria that Chinese supervisors use when interacting with their subordinates as follows:

Relationship (guanxi) Based on the differential mode of association and "relationshipism" in Chinese society (Chen, 1986; Fei, 1992; Huang, 1988, 1995; Yang, 1993, 1999), Cheng (1995) found that supervisors treat their subordinates in different ways according to the type of relationship (guanxi) that exists between them. …