Explaining the human resource management preferences of employees: A study of Chinese workers
Cai, Z. , Morris, J. and Chen, J. (2011) Explaining the human resource management preferences of employees: A study of Chinese workers. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 22 (16). pp. 3245-3269. ISSN 0958-5192
Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09585192.2011.560863
The forces of globalization, technology and the differences or similarities in institutional systems place substantial pressure on convergence and divergence in HRM practices. Moreover, local customs and the responses from employees also pose serious constraints on the degree of convergence or divergence (Rowley and Benson 2002). In other words, there is what might be termed an upward influence coming from the employees. Although companies may benchmark HRM ‘best practices’, the actual adoption and success of these practices depends, to a large extent, on perceptions and acceptance from employees. However, the opinions of non-managerial employees have been largely neglected in the studies of HRM (Cooke 2009; Legge 1995; Guest 2002; Edgar and Geare 2005; Qiao, Khilji and Wang 2009). Cooke (2009), after reviewing studies on HRM in China published between 1998 and 2007 in major business and management journals, reported that two-thirds of the studies had collected data from managers and most of them relied on managers as the sole source for information. Since the information has mainly been provided by managers, there is the potential for bias because feedback from the managers probably reflects the ideal or ‘best practices’ of HRM that those managers want to implement, rather than the actual HR policies or practices being used in the organization. Thus Cooke (2009, p.19) argued that ‘unless we can broaden our research catchment to include views from the widest range of stakeholders, particularly the employees, our understanding of HRM in China remains partial, from management’s lens’. This study explores the HR preferences of Chinese employees, both non-managerial and managerial ones, based on a sample of 2852 questionnaires from companies in China. A number of questions are explored. For example, what do they think of a ‘promotion-from-within’ policy? Do they prefer an individual-based bonus or a group-based bonus? Do they prefer a ‘downward performance appraisal method’ or a ‘multi-source performance appraisal method’? The research findings shows a strong ‘group orientation’ and a great emphasis on ‘soft factors’ such as seniority, loyalty and connections in many HRM areas. The debate on whether Chinese HRM will converge or diverge towards the Western models is still ongoing. Many argue that there could be further convergence towards the Western practices because globalization may place substantial pressure on firms to standardize practices and policies (see Chen, Lawler and Bae 2005). Others argue that HRM is highly context specific in which institutional and cultural forces have enduring influences (see Rowley and Cooke 2010), which indicates a divergent perspective. The third group supports a ‘cross-vergence’ view which argues that there will be signs of convergence in certain areas but Chinese HRM will keep its ‘Chinese characteristics’ (Cooke 2005, 2010; Yeung, Warner and Rowley 2008; Warner 2009a, b). This study supports the ‘cross-vergence’ perspective. It is argued that certain areas of Chinese HRM are converging to the Western model, but the influence of traditional Chinese personnel practices remains strong. A ‘group orientation’, a major emphasis on ‘soft factors’ and a trade union presence is likely to remain as the three main features of Chinese HRM in the long-term.
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