Psychological Science at Work


The indispensable research blog on the science of the modern workplace, covering everything from leadership and management to the behavioral, social, and cognitive dynamics behind performance and achievement.


How Your Culture Affects Your Work Attitude

After claiming to have fostered a million marriages, eHarmony is extending its online dating formula to employee recruitment, helping job-hunters and employers find the perfect match. It may be a stretch to liken a great job to a soulmate. But just as eHarmony tests potential matches on various dimensions of compatibility, so do organizational psychologists identify the seeds of an optimal employee-employer relationship.

Researchers have amassed decades worth of data showing what makes a professional “match made in heaven.” They refer to this measure as person-environment (P-E) fit — the degree of compatibility between individuals and some aspect of their work environment. This concept emerged from an long-standing theory that people are more likely to be attracted to, selected by, and succeed in organizations that fit their personal traits.

P-E fit takes several forms or dimensions. Historically, it was applied mainly to a person’s compatibility with the job itself and with the organization.  More recently, researchers have examined two additional and more relational dimensions — the individual’s compatibility with superiors, and with co-workers.

It’s difficult to find a match on all those dimensions. An employee may feel well suited for her job and for the organization, while disliking her boss and co-workers. Another may love his colleagues but have doubts about the organization’s mission.

An international research team led by Temple University industrial-organizational psychologist In-Sue Oh has found that each of these dimensions carries different levels of importance in different cultures. Oh and his colleagues theorized that workers in East Asian cultures, for example, are more concerned with developing relationships with coworkers than are employees in North America and Europe. This sentiment stems from the societal emphasis on interdependence and hierarchy, they argue. In contrast, North Americans and, to a lesser degree, Europeans, are more individualistic and tend to seek fulfillment from the job itself.

Oh and his team wanted to see how these dimensions of P-E fit affect work attitudes and performance. They examined nearly 100 studies conducted in Asia, Europe, and North America. All the studies focused on person-environment fit and work attitudes. The results of their analysis confirmed their theory on various levels. They found, for example, that:

  • A good relationship with colleagues engendered more organizational commitment among East Asian cultures compared to Westerners;
  • Tight relational bonds generated more job satisfaction among East Asians compared to North Americans and Europeans; and
  • East Asians who feel they match poorly with their bosses are more likely than Westerners to say they intend to quit, thereby suggesting that the adage, “people quit their boss, not their job” is more true in East Asian cultures. North Americans, conversely, are more bent on quitting when they feel a poor fit with their job and organizational culture.

In all, the findings show that East Asian workers are happier and more successful when they have a good relationship with colleagues and supervisors, while North Americans thrive when they enjoy gratifying job assignments and organizational policies.

Oh and his researchers say their findings are important considerations for the growing number of companies going multinational and opening up branches on foreign soil.  These organizations need to make sure their human resource practices account for both their headquarters’ national culture and the host nation’s culture.

In reporting their findings in the journal Personnel Psychology, the researchers suggest that organizations recruiting in East Asia should provide candidates with plenty of information about the workgroup and its leadership (through realistic “people” previews). Meanwhile, organizations recruiting in the US or Canada should emphasize job roles and organizational policies (through realistic job previews), they say.

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