Academic journal article Business Renaissance Quarterly

Workplace Aggression: Is National Culture a Factor?

Academic journal article Business Renaissance Quarterly

Workplace Aggression: Is National Culture a Factor?

Article excerpt

Abstract

The global marketplace has placed enormous pressures on both employees and employers to understand the complexities of new and different environments. As the markets have opened to transactions involving individuals of diverse national cultures, organizational success becomes, in part, dependent on understanding all aspects of these divergent cultures. Using Bandura's social learning theory, Fishbein and Ajzen's theory of reasoned action, along with Ajzen's theory of planned behavior, as our theoretical framework, we propose national cultural propensity toward workplace aggression and the type of aggression (overt/covert) for each of Hofstede's (1980) dimensions of culture, power distance, individualism/collectivism, masculinity/femininity, and uncertainty avoidance. We further introduce a simple national cultural scorecard to help managers assess representative cultures in an effort to more fully understand and manage workplace conflict.

Introduction

The explosive growth of the global marketplace has placed enormous pressures on employers and employees to understand the complexities of new and different environments (Allinson & Hayes, 2000). This heightened awareness is particularly important in the case of expatriate managers, who must assume leadership positions in cultures often vastly different from their own. As the cultural diversity of the workforce increases, the challenge of seamless interactions is a major issue facing organizations (Zakaria, 2000). When an innocuous, non-verbal gesture in one culture is viewed as an insult in another, the importance of crosscultural awareness becomes abundantly apparent. Consequently, cross-cultural awareness training is both, essential and integral, to global venture success (Landis & Brislin, 1983; Mendenhall & Oddou, 1986; Tung, 1981).

One aspect of cross-cultural awareness training that has received relatively little attention in the literature is workplace aggression. Yet, understanding the root, and likely manifestation, of what could be termed cultural workplace aggression is of paramount importance to organizational harmony. Anthropologists suggest that cultures operate within what is known as cultures of honor, where a trivial matter might escalate into a dispute over reputation and social status (Cohen, Nisbett, Bowdle, & Schwarz, 1996). For example, Cohen et. al (1996) and Timmerman (2007) found vast contrasts in aggressive behaviors within the US between southern- born and northern- born individuals. While northern- born individuals were relatively unaffected by an insult; when faced with the same situation, southern-born individuals responded in a manner consistent with aggressive behavior. If such differences exist within US subcultures, it stands to reason that the variances would be even more pronounced across national cultural boundaries.

Framed by Hofstede's (1980) dimensions of national culture, this paper examines the likely influences of national culture on workplace aggression within the context of Bandura's (1965, 1973, 1983) social learning theory, Fishbein and Ajzen's (1975) theory of reasoned action, and Ajzen's (1985, 1991) theory of planned behavior. All three theories contend that behaviors are learned through direct experience and reinforced through social observation. Therefore, we argue that individuals' developmental environments (e.g., home life, country of origin) have direct causal effects on their predisposition toward aggressive behavior. We operationalize this by positing both the disposition toward workplace aggression and the overtness/covertness of that aggression for each of Hosteade's national culture dimensions. We further introduce a simple national cultural scorecard to help managers assess representative cultures, in an effort to more fully understand and manage workplace conflict.

Theorethical Framework

Social Learning Theory (SLT)

The formative theoretical underpinning for this research comes from Bandura's (1965, 1973, 1983) social learning theory (SLT), which argues that aggressive behaviors are learned in a social context. …

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