Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Mechanisms Linking Nationality and Subjective Well-Being in Managers in China and the United States

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Mechanisms Linking Nationality and Subjective Well-Being in Managers in China and the United States

Article excerpt

Subjective well-being (SWB) refers to satisfaction with one's life and experience of more frequent pleasant emotions as compared to unpleasant emotions (Diener et al., 1999). In the workplace, SWB affects the productivity of employees, their ability to make decisions, and attendance (Danna and Griffin, 1999). Because employees spend a substantial part of their lives at work, and are dependent on their job to meet several personal needs, their work and personal lives are intertwined. As a result, stressors may originate from the conflict be tween these roles and that conflict may affect the overall well-being of an employee (Danna and Griffin, 1999). Yet despite the causes and effects of SWB related to the workplace, SWB remains an under-explored subject in the work domain. As Danna and Griffin noted in their review of past research, "Indeed, for a variety of reasons these [health and well-being] issues should occupy a much more prominent niche in mainstream organizational research" (1999: 357; words in brackets added).

While cross-cultural studies on SWB have found differences in average SWB scores of respondents across countries and have attributed it to various factors including individualism-collectivism, status of human rights, and wealth (Diener et al., 1995), not much research has been conducted to examine the mechanisms that link nationality to SWB. Accordingly, our study aims to extend past research by identifying the role of two work domain factors--work locus of control and family-work conflict--in explaining cross-cultural differences in SWB. We examine these linkages in the case of managers in the United States and the People's Republic of China.

With a population of nearly 1.3 billion and a gross domestic product of nearly $8.86 trillion (Central Intelligence Agency, 2006), the People's Republic of China (referred to as "China" in the subsequent text) has emerged as an important player in the world economy. The international marketplace recognizes significant business opportunities in China: joint ventures, outsourcing partnerships, low-cost suppliers of a wide variety of goods from toys to high-tech electronic products, and significant and largely untapped markets (e.g., Erickson, 2001). Cross-cultural researchers have highlighted the difficulties managers face when seeking to transfer management techniques such as human resource management practices and policies into the Chinese context (Teagarden and Von Glinow, 1990) and have documented the myriad ways that the eastern culture in China differs dramatically from western cultures such as the U.S.

In addition to differing economic, legal, political, and educational systems in the U.S. and China-such as the smaller proportion of private sector jobs (Lu et al., 2002) and the intensely competitive educational system (Tang, 1999) in China-research over the past 20 years demonstrates that Chinese and U.S. managers differ considerably on a number of cultural dimensions such as individualism-collectivism, power distance, and long-term orientation (e.g., Chen, 1995; Earley, 1989, 1993; Hofstede, 1991, 1993; Hofstede and Bond, 1988; Ralston et al., 1993; Schwartz, 1994; Shenkar and Ronen, 1987; Smith et al., 1996). Of these dimensions, a greater volume of research has focused on the differences between the U.S. and China related to individualism-collectivism, which refers to the extent to which individuals are connected to their society (Earley and Gibson, 1998). Pursuing individual goals is more important than pursuing group goals in an individualist society. A meta-analysis of individualism-collectivism research (Oyserman et al., 2002) supported Hofstede's (1991) assertion that people in the U.S. were higher in individualism and lower in collectivism compared to the Chinese.

Another cultural dimension with significant differences between the two nations is power distance. In high-power distance societies, employees are thought to accept hierarchy and power differences and comply quickly and automatically with the decisions of the powerful (Hofstede, 1980, 1986). …

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