2011. Vol.2, No.6, 579-583
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.26089
Understanding the Work Values of Chinese Employees*
Xiaochuan Jiang1,2, Jianfeng Yang3
1Institute of Industrial Economics, Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics, Jiangxi, China;
2School of Politics and Law, Jiangxi Normal University, Jiangxi, China;
3Research Center of Cluster and Enterprise Development, Jiangxi University of Finance and Economics,
Received June 2nd, 2011; revised July 9th, 2011; accepted August 12th, 2011.
This study aimed to explore work values in Mainland China. A total of 1,155 Chinese employees participated in
this study by filling out questionnaires. Data was analysed using factor analysis, analysis of variance, and regres-
sion. Results showed that Chinese employee emphasized social harmony and self-realization the most, followed
by prosperous development and material conditions. There were substantial relationships between work values
and gender, age, hierarchical levels, and organizational performance. However, tenure and organizational size
had no significant effect on work values.
Keywords: Work Values, Chinese, Employee, Collectivism, Social Harmony
Although traditional Chinese culture has influenced Chinese
people over thousands of years, strong winds of change have
been blowing across China during the last thirty years (Lan et al.,
2009). Work values of Chinese employees have evolved gradu-
ally, so research on today’s Chinese work values can provide
international human resource managers with valuable informa-
tion, helping them employ, predict, and manage employees’
behavior. The current study aimed to investigate work values of
Chinese employees and to determine the effects of individual
characteristics and institutional characteristics on their work
Values are transituational goals that work as major principles
of an individual or an organization (Schwartz & Rubel, 2005).
Work values are an important subset of values (Posner et al.,
1987). They are norms that employees use to judge and to
choose among alternative modes of behavior (Becker and
McClintock, 1967).Therefore, understanding employees’ work
values has great influence on the effectiveness, efficiency, and
morale of organizations (Viola, 1977).
Research on Work Values in China
Chinese researchers have used Western questionnaires to in-
vestigate Chinese employees’ work values in the last decade
and have gotten some valuable information about Chinese em-
ployees’ work values (e.g., Weiwei, 1999; Hua & Xiting, 2000).
However, there may be two issues needed to be noticed.
First, work values are results of the interactive effect between
personality and environment (Holland, 1985). In the last half
century, Chinese social environment have been transformed
substantially. Those changes must influence Chinese employ-
ees’ work values (Whitcomb et al., 1998). Since 1978, China
has been changing from a centrally planned economy to a mar-
ket economy with Chinese characteristics gradually. This trans-
formation make Chinese people more open to the world. Fur-
thermore, in the past several years, there are many natural dis-
asters, including earthquakes (e.g., Wenchuan), epidemics (e.g.,
SARS), and flooding (e.g., Jiangxi). On one hand, those disas-
ters caused the Chinese to suffer greatly. On the other hand,
they encouraged Chinese people to embrace certain values,
such as solidarity, patriotism, health, and security (Yan et al.,
2008). Finally, the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010
Shanghai World Exposition further enhanced the values of
solidarity and patriotism in China.
Second, as suggested by Huang (1995) and Neitai (2010) that
the influence of social environment on work values is so strong
that there may be substantial differences between dimensions of
Western work values and those of Chinese work values, re-
searchers should come up with specific dimensions of Chinese
work values. Recently, basing on the research of Huang (1995)
and Elizur et al., (1991), Neitai (2010) came up with a four-
dimensions model of Chinese work values: 1) material condi-
tions, stresses the self-material repayment of work, such as pay-
ment, welfare, and working hours; 2) self-realization, stresses
the inner experience gained from work, such as interest, ac-
complishment, skill diversity, independence, and creativity; 3)
social harmony, emphasizes to harmonize the relationships be-
tween people and between organizations, such as family con-
cord and getting along well with leaders; 4) prosperous deve-
lopment, accents material contribution to society, including
helping colleagues resolve difficulties, boosting company per-
formance, advancing country competition, and serving people.
The Impact of Individual Characteristics
Age. As China establishes its market economy, social com-
petition has become increasingly intense. There is great pres-
sure on young people, many of whom are a family’s only child,
to succeed so that their families can survive (Lan et al., 2009).
Consequently, younger people might stress values of achieve-
ment more than elder people.
Younger people experience the influence of Western values
more than older people. They learn English as a second lan-
guage; Western traditions, customs, and holidays, such as Val-
entine’s Day and Christmas, are increasingly popular among
Chinese young adults (Lan et al., 2009). There is more freedom
to express their own opinions, and the Internet makes the world
more accessible to them. Younger people experience the di-
mension of self-realization more than elder people. Therefore,
elder people tend to be more collectivistic and less individualis-
*This research was supported by grants from the Chinese National Scientific
X. C. JIANG ET AL.
tic, more conservative and less open to change, and more self-
transcendent and less self-enhancing (Erikson, 1997).
Gender. Traditional Chinese culture emphasized the differ-
ent roles played by males and females in society (Lan et al.,
2009). For thousands of years, Chinese males controlled the
world, and females were simply auxiliaries to males. There was
an old belief that “ignorance is a woman’s virtue”. Women’s
success relied on the harmony of the family, the happiness of
husbands, and the education of children.
After 1949, the Chinese government to a great extent have
acknowledged the worth of women. Now, women need not a-
dopt their husband’s family name after they marry. After gradu-
ating from schools, many women are employed as marketers,
ad-agents, and managers, so they can contribute to the econo-
mic base of their family. Furthermore, because of the one-child
policy, many parents provide more opportunities for their
daughters to receive a good education and to find a successful
career (Lan et al., 2009). Thus, in China, women enjoy near
social equality as an important part of the workforce.
The Impact of Organizational Characteristics
People who always work together tend to develop shared
values, which may differ from the shared values of people in
other areas with whom there is less frequent contact (Enz,
1985). Organizational characteristics, such as organizational
performance and organizational size, can influence managers’
values (Posner et al., 1985, Posner et al., 1987). For example,
Manufacturing, compared to other functions in business or-
ganizations, is more tied to routine and technological demands.
Therefore, manufacturing managers rate the areas of flexibility,
competitiveness, and creativity less important than other mana-
gers do (Posner et al., 1987).
The Aims of This Study
Although work values have been frequently researched, there
is still a considerable gap regarding the data from today’s Chi-
nese mainland. This study aimed to contribute to Chinese work
values research by exploring its descriptive nature. Furthermore,
we had two research questions to be put forward:
1) Among today’s Chinese employee, are there certain indi-
vidual characteristics such as age and gender that are influential
over holding certain work values?
2) Among today’s Chinese employee, are there certain or-
ganizational characteristics such as size and performance that
are influential over holding certain work values?
A self-report questionnaire was distributed to each of 1,302
employees in 25 companies of 5 sectors: food, textiles, chemi-
cal, architecture, and real estate. Completed questionnaires
were collected though trained research assistants at the compa-
nies over one week. The demographics of the 1,155 participants
(89% of our sample) who completed the entire questionnaire
and provided demographic information are outlined in Table 1.
The 18-item Chinese Work Values Questionnaire (Neitai,
2010) was used. The questionnaire measured four dimensions
of Chinese work values: social harmony, self-realization, mate-
rial conditions, and prosperous development. The participants
Demographics of the participants.
Mean SD Range
7.9 8.4 1 - 42
Mean SD Range
33.8 9.0 18 - 67
Age range frequency
0 - 20 10 0.9%
20 - 30 529 45.8%
31 - 40 361 31.3%
41 - 50 192 16.6%
51 - 60 59 5.1%
>60 4 0.3%
Male 690 59.7%
Female 465 40.3%
General Staff 606 52.5%
Monitor 260 22.5%
Middle manager 228 19.7%
Top manager 61 5.3%
rated the importance for each item using a 6-point Likert scale
(1 = very unimportant and 6 = very important). We con-
structed a score for each dimension of work values for each
participant as the mean of their corresponding items.
We measured organizational size based on the number of
employees (1 = less than 50 employees, 2 = 50 to 100 employ-
ees, 3 = 100 to 500 employees, 4 = 500 to 1000 employees, 5 =
1000 to 1500 employees, 6 = more than 1500 employees) and
measured organizational performance based on organizational
annual revenues (1 = less than 5 million RMB, 2 = 5 million to
300 million RMB, 3 = more than 300 million RMB). The
demographic characteristics were measured in the following
way: Respondents were asked to indicate their sex (1 = female,
2 = male), hierarchical level (1 = general staff, 2 = monitor, 3
= middle manager, 4 = top manager).
Results and Discussion
Using AMOS 5.0 to perform a confirmatory factor analysis,
we found that the 4-dimension model was acceptable: RMSEA
= 0.070 (95% CI [0.066 - 0.074]), CFI = 0.93, NFI = 0.92, RFI
X. C. JIANG ET AL. 581
= 0.90, IFI = 0.91. Cronbach’s alphas for all 4 dimensions were
bigger than 0.72. Therefore, the Chinese values questionnaire is
From Table 2, Chinese employees valued social harmony
and self-realization the most, followed by prosperous develop-
ment and material conditions (F = 180.23, df = 3, p < .001).
They wanted to realize social harmony in and through their
work. This finding may be the outcome of a traditional Chinese
belief called the “Pursuit of Harmony”.
Female placed more emphasis on material conditions (t =
−4.77, p < .001) and self-realization (t = −3.08, p < .01) than
did male (see Table 3). This result is a little inconsistent with
the findings of Western studies that suggested females placed
more importance on the values of universalism and benevo-
lence and less on power than males, whereas males consistently
emphasized power, stimulation, hedonism, achievement, and
self-direction more than females (e.g., Lindeman & Verkasalo,
(2005) Schwartz & Rubel, (2005)). This difference may be due
Factor analysis results of work values.
M SD α 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
1. Age 33.80 8.95 -
2. Sex 1.40 0.49 −.16 -
3. Tenure 7.95 8.45 .67 .11 -
4. Hierarchical level 3.18 0.94 −.39 −.14 −.18 -
5. Organizational size 4.01 1.47 .12 .09 .31 .02 -
6. Organizational performance 2.59 0.53 .08 .06 .15 −.03 .51 -
7. Material conditions 4.04c 0.99 .75 −.12 −.14 −.03 .22 −.02 −.09
8. Self-realization 4.66b 0.95 .84 −.12 −.09 −.04 −.09 .04 .01 .33
9. Social harmony 4.85a 0.87 .72 −.07 −.05 −.01 .02 −.01 −.03 .35 .52
10. Prosperous development 4.06c 1.28 .94 −.03 −.03 .01 .01 .02 −.02 .29 .49 .57
Note: n = 1,155. Correlation coefficients whose absolute values are larger than .07 are significant at .05 level. Correlation coefficients whose absolute values are
larger than .09 are significant at .01 level. Parameter estimates in each column that share subscripts do not differ significantly.
Effects of gender, age, and hierarchical level on work values.
Material conditions Self-realization Social harmony Prosperous development
M SD M SD M SD M SD
Male 3.93 1.00 4.59 0.95 4.82 0.88 4.04 1.30
Female 4.21 0.94 4.77 0.93 4.91 0.86 4.11 1.25
t −4.77*** −3.08** −1.59 −0.90
Younger people 4.08 0.97 4.71 0.92 4.87 0.86 4.08 1.26
Older people 3.91 1.04 4.52 1.03 4.82 0.91 4.04 1.37
t 2.36* 2.60** 0.77 0.33
Staff 4.20a 0.96 4.62b 0.99 4.88 0.89 4.06 1.34
Monitor 4.02b 0.96 4.63b 0.88 4.88 0.82 4.13 1.15
Middle manager 3.78b 1.00 4.73b 0.94 4.82 0.87 4.02 1.25
Top manager 3.44c 1.00 5.06a 0.89 4.84 0.82 4.03 1.41
F 17.62*** 4.05** 0.27 0.28
Note: Parameter estimates in each column that share subscripts do not differ significantly. Younger people indicate the participants are less than 30 years old.
lder people indicate the participants are more than 30 years old.* p < 0.05, **p < 0.01. O
X. C. JIANG ET AL.
to traditional Chinese culture that encourages male rather than
female to contribute to society and country. Furthermore, Chi-
nese female’s self-awareness just began to wake up, they strive
to the equity between female and male as soon as possible, so
they would like to place more emphasis on the rewards of work
than males do.
There was a significant negative relationship between age
and material condition (r = −0.12, p < .01) and self-realization
(r = −0.12, p < .01) (see Table 2). Furthermore, comparing
younger participants (less than 30 years old) and older partici-
pant (more than 30 years old), we found that younger partici-
pants place more emphasized on material condition (t = 2.36, p
< .05) and self-realization (t = 2.60, p < .01) than older practi-
tioners did (see Table 3). Because of different living and work
experiences, younger people are more susceptible to material-
ism and individualism and experience more intense self-
awareness than elder people. Consequently, younger people
want to achieve greater material and psychological rewards
form their work than elder people do. Furthermore, most of
younger people are single children. They are the “little suns” of
their families. Therefore, they want their work environment to
be both materially and psychology fulfilling.
Hierarchical levels influenced material conditions (F = 17.62,
p < .001) and self-realization (F = 4.05, p < .01) substantially.
Ascending the hierarchical level, business practitioners place
more stress on self-realization and less on material conditions.
High-level employees generally have better material conditions
than low-level employees. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of
needs theory, they are tend to value self-realization more than
Regressing organizational performance on work values, sta-
tistically controlling the effects of gender, age, tenure, hierar-
chical level, and organizational size, we found that with an
increase in organizational performance, employees placed less
emphasis on material conditions (B = −0.09, p < .05). Employ-
ees working in companies with higher organizational perform-
ance would have better working conditions and material bene-
fits. Thus, they would express less desire for material condi-
tions. Finally, organizational size did not impact work values
As in any empirical study, our project has limitations. First,
the issue of social desirability might be a concern. As previous
research, we ask participants to judge importance of every
items, then participants might have thought some kinds of work
values were important only because they believed these items
Predictors of work values.
conditions Self-realization Social
Age −0.10* −0.19** −0.08 −0.04
Gender 0.10** 0.11** 0.05 0.04
Tenure 0.06 0.05 0.08 0.03
level −0.19** 0.15** −0.01 −0.01
size 0.03 0.06 −0.03 0.05
performance −0.09* 0.00 −0.01 −0.05
Note: *p < 0.05, **p < 0.01. All the coefficients are standardized regression
are socially correct. Second, the sample of this study is a con-
ventional one. However, our sample size was very large, en-
suring a diverse and representative sample. In future, we should
use more valid methods to measure work values and get more
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