Exploring the Determinants of Job Satisfaction of Civil Servants in Beijing, China

By Yang, Xingkun; Wang, Weijie | Public Personnel Management, December 2013 | Go to article overview

Exploring the Determinants of Job Satisfaction of Civil Servants in Beijing, China


Yang, Xingkun, Wang, Weijie, Public Personnel Management


For decades, job satisfaction has been an important and intriguing topic for scholars and practitioners of management and psychology. As a social science construct, it is "one of the most intensively studied variables in organizational research" (Rainey, 2009, p. 298) The factors that influence job satisfaction have been widely analyzed, though the findings are often inconsistent or even conflicting. For practitioners, job satisfaction is important because it is associated with a number of desirable organizational outcomes such as high productivity, low absenteeism, and low turnover rates. In addition, it is also argued that pursuing job satisfaction reflects the humanitarian concern that employees deserve to be treated respectfully (Ellickson & Logsdon, 2001).

Job satisfaction is important in the public sector because public employees are often perceived as not being "happy workers," and their low morale may be associated with low productivity (Durst & DeSantis, 1997). Though considerable progress has been made in the research on job satisfaction in the pubic sector, existing studies focus disproportionately on private sectors (Ellickson & Logsdon, 2001). In addition, most research has been conducted in the Western context; very limited evidence about job satisfaction of Chinese civil servants has been reported. Job satisfaction of Chinese civil servants may be an interesting case because these civil servants work in institutional and cultural contexts that are very different from those of their Western counterparts. Chinese civil servants work in a unique party-state system that shares little with the Western political system. Moreover, Chinese civil servants may be influenced by deeply rooted traditional culture and fast-changing social and economic conditions.

Differences in institutional and cultural environments provide a unique opportunity to test the generalizability of theories originated in the Western context, such as the three-dimensional model of job satisfaction that is commonly used in exploratory research. Therefore, a study of the Chinese context may not only produce practical policy implications but also further the development of a general theory of job satisfaction. We examined the effects of job characteristics, organizational-environmental factors, personal attributes, and some interaction terms on job satisfaction. The results support the three-dimensional model as a relatively comprehensive model in exploring determinants of job satisfaction.

Literature Review and Research Hypotheses

Job satisfaction has been defined in two major ways. Some scholars defined it as a positive feeling about one's job. Locke (1969) defined job satisfaction as "the pleasurable emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one's job as achieving or facilitating the achievement of one's job values" (p. 316). By contrast, others have defined job satisfaction in a neutral way. Gordon (2011 ) defined it as "employee's reaction to what he or she receives from the job" (p. 191). In this sense, job satisfaction was like a continuum that ranged from negative to positive feelings (West & Berman, 2009). Job satisfaction is defined in the neutral way in this article. It is the degree to which employees like their jobs.

The determinants of job satisfaction have been one focus of research. An early theory of job satisfaction is Herzberg's (1966, 1968) two-factor theory. Herzberg differentiated job satisfaction from job dissatisfaction. Motivators such as achievement and recognition were the primary causes of job satisfaction, while hygiene factors such as salary and security were the main causes of job dissatisfaction. This theory was consistent with Maslow's (1943) theory of hierarchical needs in that meeting the basic level of needs would motivate people to pursue higher-level needs such as achievement and self-actualization. However, tests of the two-factor theory showed mixed results. …

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