Chinese Multinationals: Generational Differences and Perceived Subjective Well-Being

Abstract

This dissertation aims to explore the factors that impact the subjective well-being (SWB) and generational differences of employees working for multinational corporations (MNC) in China, focusing on the post 70s, 80s and 90s. Considering that the majority of MNCs utilise a Western-style individualist strategy, its relevance to the Chinese collectivist society needs to be evaluated. Based on the thorough literature review and interviews with the representatives of all three generations, assumptions are made for each of the cohorts.

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The Cultural Revolution generation, the Social Reform generation and Millennials have different self-perception, which is discussed in terms of six dimensions, such as career choice satisfaction, priorities between work and family, gender-related differences, perceived skills and self-impression, perceived traits of a good manager and readiness to potential changes / technology implementation. Further research directions and pertinent recommendations are formulated for MNCs operating in China.

Introduction

The Open Door Policy launched in 1978 denoted the commencement of a new era in the economic development of China. Today, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) level remains high, averaging approximately ten per cent, which shows that it is a developmental state (Knight 2014). Accordingly, many multinational corporations (MNCs) consider China as a valuable partner and the target for investment. One of the key challenges associated with the operation in the Chinese market is the attitudes of local employees towards their workplace and career. Most importantly, the generational differences that exist due to the historical events, social changes and other local factors need to be taken into account (Clark 2017; Jia et al. 2016; Harmel & Yeh 2015).

There are various studies that focus on the Western countries and the views of their employees, yet few authors explored the Chinese specifics related to the given area of interest (Yi, Ribbens & Morgan 2010). The most significant differences can be noted among those who were born after the 70s, 80s and 90s.

In this connection, it is evident that further research on the generational attitudes of employees in China working for MNCs is relevant in order to provide practical recommendations and increase the effectiveness of organisations.

Research question: What are the determinants that mainly affect the workplace attitudes of employees due to the generational differences for MNCs in China?

This dissertation aims to explore the current literature and the answers of the Chinese respondents who will be interviewed in the course of the study. The following research goals are formulated in order to address the abovementioned research question in a detailed manner:

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  • To overview the contemporary academic literature that discusses the employees’ work values in China;
  • To specify the determinants that identify the work attitudes within each of the generational groups: the post 70s, 80s and 90s;
  • To analyse the data collected from the participants and compare it with the literature based on such dimensions as gender, a work-family balance, career choice satisfaction, et cetera;
  • To draw pertinent conclusions and provide recommendations to MNCs operating in China, paying attention to the local environment.

It is hypothesized that gender-related attitudes, collectivism, social reforms, cultural identity and technologic advancement identify SWB at workplace across generations in China.

This dissertation is structured in a classical way, including the introduction, literature review, methodology, analysis and discussion, conclusions, further research directions and recommendations. The critical literature review is used to collect information related to key theories, concepts and events associated with the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Based on data collected from the recent evidence as well as the answers of the study participants in the course of interviews, findings are presented. In order to represent the findings, the excerpts from the interviews are provided.

The qualitative method analysis is applied to interpret the findings and provide relevant recommendations to MNCs operating in China. In addition, the paper discusses the gaps existing in research and practice in terms of a generational approach to managing employees in the workplace.

Literature Review

Identifying Major Concepts

Examining the Need to Change: Cooperation of MNCS and China

A multinational corporation is defined as a for-profit organisation that operates in at least one more country other than its home country. The two key characteristics of MNCs include their large size and the worldwide presence, which is expressed in export and import of produced goods and services. These corporations make a significant investment in foreign economies and open manufactures to transfer operations in their countries. In China, MNCs substantially contributed to the growth of the local market: “in 2004, 28% of China’s industrial output and 19% of its tax revenue was accounted for by MNCs” (Park & Vanhonacker 2007, p. 8).

Today, approximately 85 per cent of the intellectual property is possessed by MNCs, while they brought a lot of cash transfers along with managerial knowledge. The concerns regarding the behaviours of multinational enterprises with regard to employees are reported as foremost and least developed (Park & Vanhonacker 2007; (Akhtar & Renyong 2014; Cooke 2009; Foley & Lu 2007). Various conflicts occur in the Chinese workplaces due to a lack of proper understanding of the local culture and, most importantly, differences between generations.

One of the core trends in the area of the economic development of China refers to the fact that both local companies and multinationals consider launching more joint ventures and supporting the existing ones (Yin & Jamali 2016; Zhang 2009). This collaboration is mutually beneficial: on the one hand, the Chinese firms are looking for the ways to enter the markets abroad; on the other hand, MNCs need assistance in succeeding on the interior markets (Tian & Slocum 2014; Sardana & Zhu 2017; Schmitz, Froese & Bader 2018).

As reported in the study by the KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting organisations, such development needs to be encouraged by all the stakeholders since it is a path to overcoming the economic crisis (Future for MNCs in China: a KPMG study 2012). Namely, many Chinese organisations plan to double their workforce to meet the growing demands of the multinationals.

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Subjective Well-Being as an Indicator of Workplace Attitudes

In order to better understand the attitudes of Chinese employees on their career and the place of work, it is essential to apply the concept of subjective well-being (SWB). It is a multifactor construct, reflecting an individual’s idea of ​​himself or herself, his or her life and a social status. Most studies on SWB are generalised, and, according to Diener, Lucas and Oishi (2018), this is due to the fact that the concept of SWB is developed at the intersection of economics and psychology, utilising quantitative and qualitative approaches that reveal a socio-economic status and emotional responses of a person.

The socio-economic approach to investigating the views of people determines the level of subjective well-being through the levels of national income per capita and GDP. The majority of the recent studies question the issue of how much subjective well-being is rising with the growth of social welfare (Diener, Lucas & Oishi 2018).

One of the most important complexes of SWB is responsible for relations in the professional sphere: profession, professional identity, income, relationships, et cetera. The well-being of a person in labour has a great influence on the experience of subjective well-being (Rozkwitalska 2017). Work-related values ​​of an employee reflect his or her perceptions of ​​professional activity, including internal values ​​associated with self-realization, motivation, burnout and results of labour. The concept of SWB in the context of career is a criterion of professional identity and reflection of a subject’s attitude to the process and outcomes of the work.

The main criteria for SWB in the professional sphere are job satisfaction, professional health, quality of working processes, financial condition and satisfaction, subjective economic status and income adequacy with regard to individual needs (Rozkwitalska 2017). The components of the well-being of representatives of various professions are studied, and attempts are made to identify factors of the professional environment that contribute to increase the level of SWB.

Concept of Generation as a Social Group

The first important attempt to represent the concept of a generation as a social group was initiated by Karl Mannheim, who formularised the problem of understanding the relations connecting people from one generation. The author argued that the generation is not a social group as the latter is a union of individuals interacting on the basis of naturally formed or pre-established relationships (Cassell 2017; Burnett 2016). Generations, according to Mannheim, do not correspond to these two characteristics, and, therefore, they cannot be considered a group, but they are a special social phenomenon.

However, Kim et al. (2018) claim that Mannheim defined the criterion of belonging to a generation as a class fitting, such as a place, position of a person in society. Class affiliation is an objective reality regardless of whether a given individual is aware of it and whether he or she recognises it (Teclaw et al. 2014; Srinivasan, John & Christine 2014). Thus, Mannheim defined membership in a generation as a type of social position. However, the author did not exclude the formation of subgroups within the same generation, which result from personal contacts between people who are members of a particular group.

Exploring the Key Characteristics of the post 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in China

Never before, companies encountered such a quintessence of accumulated knowledge, professional experience and youthful maximalism. Different views, misunderstandings, conflicts, contradictions, intrigues and other difficulties can be regarded as the signs of the modern workplace in MNCs in China (Lyons & Kuron 2014; Lyons et al. 2015; Lee 2016; Lee, Brown & Wen 2016). In combination, the employees of different generations are likely to redraw their perceptions about the workspace and the future of the work process. Digital transformation widens the gap between generations and sharply raises the question of adaptation to new environments (Dueck & Han 2014; Hollinshead 2017; Cheng 2014).

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The representatives of the late Millennials generation are the fastest to navigate under the conditions of rapid changes, while technology for them is an integral part of life: a smartphone, laptop and headphones.

On the contrary, people of the older generations, despite their professional experience and high competencies, sometimes do not even know which way to approach a laptop. Wen, Muthuveloo and Ping (2018) and Bruche (2009) assume that such a gap in worldviews is inevitable, and it is inexpedient to gather all the unskilled enthusiasts or merely qualified workers in one company: this will damage the microclimate in the team and the entire work process. Costanza and Finkelstein (2015, p. 320) argue that “scanning the environment, identifying workforce trends, developing appropriate HR policies and practices, and evaluating those policies and practices are long-established organisational best practices”. In an era of digitalisation, MNCs are expected to be prepared to transform their workspace, staffing structures and work culture so that they can confidently enter the future.

Post 70s and Cultural Revolution

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) was founded in 1949 and formerly known as the dynastic empire. Since PRC proclamation, the country experienced various important and dramatic events that significantly changed the values of its people. Yi, Ribbens and Morgan (2010) distinguish between the three main eras, including “Republican (born 1930-1950), Consolidation (born 1951-1960), Cultural Revolution (born 1961-1970) and Social Reform (born 1971-1976)” (p. 603).

The assumptions of these authors are grounded on the idea of perceptional differences elaborated by Egri and Ralston (2004), who explore the cross-cultural changes and generational differences of people in the United States (US) and China. It is stated that the understanding of how employees perceive their work is helpful to anticipate their resistance or receptivity of new interventions (Egri & Ralston 2004). In many respects, the social and political changes affected the views of different populations, whose perceptions vary depending on gender, career choice satisfaction, a work-family balance, et cetera. It should be stressed that people born at the intersections of the decades tend to adopt the characteristics of both them, which makes it much more difficult to predict their future decisions.

The 1970s were marked by the heyday of the Cultural Revolution, when the traditional Buddhist principles were extensively criticised. Yang (2016) notes the official task of implementing the Cultural Revolution stumbled out of following the Marxist-Leninist strategy of building socialism by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). However, Mao Zedong, being afraid of growing dissatisfaction with his policies on the part of officials, gave this concept a different meaning. The Confucian heritage was ruined and regarded as the outdated one, while the power of a single political leader was proposed as the way to the future success of the country (Yang 2016).

The general movement towards communism made parents to educate their children in the devotion to being a part of the society in its aspiration to common good and acting like a Little Red Guard. Perry (2018) claims that children and adolescents who lived in the 1970s witnessed this dramatic event, which unavoidably left an imprint on their entire lives. Yi, Ribbens and Morgan (2010) agree with the mentioned scholar, adding that this generation also encountered natural disasters and poverty, which stimulates them to consider any changes with great caution.

The self-sacrifice of the Chinese as a national feature was also suppressed at the beginning of the 1960s led by a shift towards the individualistic interests. Even though the period of the Cultural Revolution lasted until Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, the 1970s are regarded as the most influential years. In order to understand the modernisation of China better, one should consider it as a process of change, a long-term transition from one state of society to another.

As for the modernisation of China, this is a process of conversion from a traditional agricultural community to a modern industrial society. It is assumed that the generation of the 1970s faced more tragic events than any other subsequent population (Edge 2014). Due to their critical situation, they tended to obtain higher education and count only on their own efforts in both life and career. High wisdom and college education also allowed people to boost their skills and knowledge in order to apply them in the workplace and become competent professionals.

Post 80s and Social Policy

Until the 1980s, the Marxist understanding of social development dominated in many respects in the PRC. According to Wang (2014), even the processes of pre-revolutionary China were widely considered as went in line with the formation theory, which reduced the struggle of workers and peasants with Chinese landlords, foreign capital and Manchu domination to the explanation of the reasons and nature of its socio-historical dynamics.

Lian (2014) and Cherrington (1997) point to the concept of building socialism with Chinese characteristics that was put forward by the Chinese leadership in the early 1980s expanded the scope of research, focusing on the pursuit of new approaches. The recognition of the uniqueness of the ancient Chinese civilization and social thought, as well as their impact on modern development, became significant (Wang 2016). By the mid-1970s, it turned out that successful modernisation was not possible while maintaining the tradition, yet the attempts to completely abandon it also did not lead to success.

In the view of the identified situation, it was necessary to empirically find the conditions for the synthesis of the traditional and modern national values. Giving the modernizing role to traditional culture has become the main task of the CCP, which has managed to find a solution to it based on the Chinese interpretation of the ideas of socialism. In other words, the central conflict of political development of the PRC of the late 1970s: between the universalism of economic transformation and the characteristics of historical development and national culture.

As a result of the struggle of opinions, the priority of the productive forces and Chinese conditions was balanced by the course towards building a socialist spiritual culture and openness to the outside world. Moreover, loyalty to Marxism was still proclaimed the main ideological and political constant determining the attitudes of people.

The agenda of modernisation and One Child policy were the core characteristic of the generation of the Social Reform that was born in the 1970s. They were often mentioned as modern realists due to the fact that the government encouraged them to seek the financial well-being, which was driven by the most drastic rates of rejuvenation in China. The country’s course on the economic development became more pronounced during this period, thus affecting people in a way that made them pragmatic and less emotional compared to the previous generation. At the same, poverty was reduced, and hunger was not a dominant factor in the life of those who was born between 1980 and 1989. Peacefulness and silence can be noted as the most vivid signs of this generation that preferred concentrating on the financial side of life rather than the political one.

The radical political movement is another core issue that meaningfully changed the views of the Chinese population in the early 1980s. The influx of foreign companies pushed the popularity of the Western ideology among the local youth.

A lot of students feverishly promoted the ideas of democracy, equality, free markets and neoliberalism, and the government westernised China. However, the military actions as well as political chaos during mourning services regarding the departed leader in Tiananmen Square in 1989 showed their failure. In particular, the death of Hu Yaobang, a pro-reform Communist leader, demonstrated that the social and policy changes led to anxiety in social consciousness (Edge & Armstrong 2014). As a result, people turned to become more conservative and focused on the financial achievements through building their careers. The intellectual progress of youth lived in the 1980s is discussed by Cherrington (1997), who mentions that the protection of the intellectual property in China became one of the main concerns.

Post 90s and Millennial Values

People born in the 1980s and 1990s are referred to as Millennials in this study. This group, known in China as the new generation, unlike the previous generation that was born before 1980 have an increasing impact on the consumption and habits in the workplace. The younger generation of China seeks to see the world, and many of them postpone the traditional stages of life (for example, creating a family) to travel more all over the globe.

Millennials born in the 1990s, especially those who do not yet have income, are largely influenced by their parents. In their turn, the parents also tend to be affected by their enterprising and technically sophisticated children. Recreation and entertainment are the main reasons for the trips of all Chinese tourists (Radaev 2018). Particularly, it is pertinent for people born in the 1960s, many of whom fly the nest left by children, and the Millennials of the 1990s looking for new experiences.

The 1990s are more often interested in the culture and heritage of the region. Today, Millennials turned into the most active and important part of the population, being the key consumers, distributors and users of modern technologies. At the same time, growing up in the era of the technological revolution, they are the most active users of social networks, blogs, instant messengers and services.

Millennials tend to buy less traditional attributes of success, such as cars, real estate and luxury goods compared to previous generations. For them, lifestyle, convenience and experience seem to be more significant than the fact of owning an object. Sharing (co-consumption) is on the Time magazine’s list of ideas that will change the world in the near future, and it is gaining momentum in development due to its proximity to the values ​​of the Millennials. They have made car sharing, sharing of umbrellas in China (Sharing E Umbrella) or sharing of paid but temporarily unused parking spaces (Justpark) popular.

By the end of the 1990s, migrants from the rural areas moving to urban regions dramatically changed the composition of the Chinese labour force. Chan and Nadvi (2014) state that the so-called Mingong primarily worked in factories, construction sites, agriculture and in the field of services (security guards, cleaners). Of all the population, 37 per cent worked in the manufacturing industry, while the rest mainly in construction (14 per cent), restaurants (12 per cent) and in other services (12 per cent) (Chan 2014; Warner & Zhu 2018).

Today, they account for 57.5 per cent of all those employed in industry, 37 per cent of those employed in the service sector and they make up the majority of 20 million homeworkers (Ng Yin-Ling 2016). The problems faced by this category of the Chinese workforce are associated with low wages and poor laws regulating their work (Chung 2015; Elfstrom & Kuruvilla 2014; Friedman 2014). In addition, a lack of skills and insufficient language knowledge makes them seek for low-paid jobs.

Methodology

Theoretical Framework

A theory of inter-generational value change is selected as the theoretical framework for this study. The identified theory is based on two key hypotheses that were elaborated by Inglehart (2016), an American political scientist and sociologist. According to the first hypothesis, the greatest subjective value is attached to what is relatively lacking, for example, money in relatively poor countries or quality of life and democratic freedoms in more advanced ones. The second hypothesis refers to the intergenerational time lag in the context of the socioeconomic environment. After a period of a sharp increase in economic and physical security, significant differences can be expected between the value priorities of older and younger generations, which are formed by different experiences of personal formation (Inglehart 2016).

There is a considerable time lag between economic changes and their political consequences. In 10-15 years after the beginning of the era of prosperity, age cohorts, whose years of personal development fell on this period, will replenish the existing generation. It may take another decade before these groups begin to occupy positions of power and reach the highest levels of decision making.

Based on the theory of inter-generational value change, it is possible to highlight in detail the methodological problems associated with the study of the transfer of values. However, Brym (2016) cautions against explaining any correlations between the values ​​of parents and children through the transmission process.

From Lakatos (2015) point of view, the relations between the value orientations of parents and children can be elucidated using four factors: general environmental, genetic factors, the influence of parents on their children, and the impact of the children on their parents. The abovementioned author also emphasizes the significance of the difference between the personal values ​​of parents and the values ​​that parents want to instill in their children. In other words, the interpretation of generational differences in the workplace should not be merely attributed to the process of transaction yet interpreted in a comprehensive manner.

In management and sociology, an individual is considered as a representative of a social type. If one strives to understand the attitudes of a person, his or her perception of external reality and the world of his or her self-consciousness, the rational language of categories and abstractions is insufficient (Mills & Birks 2014). It is necessary to approach an appropriate comprehension of the meanings that a person puts into various judgments and actions.

In addition, an individual’s actions are not always completely realised by him or her, and in order to understand their deep meaning, it is essential to make a lot of efforts to decipher the externally observable behaviours and statements and interpret them in sociological terms. The rationalisation of ideas about human behaviour also requires certain theories within which these actions can be explained (Gentles et al. 2015). Therefore, a qualitative method of research that is primarily aimed at studying the problems of social interaction between people, structures, social institutions and organisations is selected for this dissertation.

Data Collection

The two key methods of data collection are applied to obtain relevant information based on the literature review identified in the previous section and interviews with the representatives of the post 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The evidence from scholarly articles published within the last 15 years was targeted as it vividly focuses on the trends of the mentioned periods. In particular, data related to the 1970s and 1980s is extensively discussed by researchers at the beginning of the 21st century. Accordingly, the generation of Millennials is a subject of the growing interest as their behaviours significantly differ from those of other categories.

The official reports of both local and global reliable organisations were also used as sources. The literature analysis was conducted by means of the critical synthesis as well as an objective presentation of various opinions.

The interviews as the most common method of collecting quality data is another method of obtaining necessary information utilised in this dissertation. The essential feature of this method is the purposeful and predetermined communication of the interviewer with the respondent (Jamshed 2014; Robinson 2014). This is due primarily to its versatility: one can gather information about the past, present and future of the people studied, as well as subjective and behavioural information. The main purpose of a formalised interview is to obtain the same type of information from each respondent.

In order to contact the potential respondents, one MNCs operating in China was reached, and consent forms were provided to employees of various generations, including the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The consent forms involved a brief explanation of study intent, research questions, and significance of the findings to them and their organisation.

Convenience sampling method was used to ask the employees to take part in the study, and the inclusion criteria identified for participants were their age, nationality, the willingness to contribute to the study and work for a MNC. In total, 15 respondents, both males and females, were identified, of which 5 persons born in the 1970s, 5 persons born in the 1980s and 5 persons born in the 1990s. The interview questions were elaborated based on the review of the studies exploring the attitudes of the Chinese employees of various ages (Appendix A).

Data Analysis

In order to conduct the interview analysis, a map of topics and concepts that are important in this interview and may have something in common with other topics or concepts from the books and articles studied will be created. The interviews with all the 15 participants will be documented by using audio recording technology, which will be clarified to the participants in advance. After that, the parts and quotes that reveal and supplement the assumptions are marked, assigning them a specific code (a word related to a particular topic). Furthermore, the concept map will be refined and complicated, thus replenishing with new ideas. The researcher extended the topics to find connections, gaps, tendencies, limitations and contradictions. In this way, several key collective topics will be discussed in order to answer the main research question.

Findings and Discussions

The total sample size was 15 respondents, containing the answers of 5 representatives for each of the generational cohorts: post 70s, 80s and 90s. The data analysis was conducted after all the participants were explained the purpose and goals of the study and signed the informed consent forms. In terms of confidentiality, all personal data was coded to keep it secure. The participants were explained that their contribution is voluntary and they can omit the questions they do not want to address. It was also noted that the results will be disseminated to them and the wider audience without any violation of confidentiality terms.

In order to structure the findings, six dimensions were distinguished based on the interviews:

  • Career Choice Satisfaction;
  • Priorities Between Work and Family;
  • Gender-Related Differences;
  • Perceived Skills and Self-Impression;
  • Perceived Traits of a Good Manager;
  • Readiness to Potential Changes / Technology Implementation.

Career Choice Satisfaction

In the course of analysing the answers of the respondents related to their work satisfaction, it was revealed that 4 out of 5 representatives of the Cultural Revolution generation and Social Reform generation noted that they feel they fit their jobs. In turn, only 2 respondents of Millennials expressed their happiness, while others stated that if they have better employment options, they would definitely change it. In particular, the following excerpt from the results shows that the career choice satisfaction criterion is closely associated with individualistic versus collectivistic values:

“I feel that I have more control over my career compared to my parents who consider their teams as a family and accept even not so good conditions of work. My openness towards change allows me to change jobs and remain flexible.”

The above statement was provided by a Millennial who is aged 23 and changed 3 jobs in pursuit of a more favourable workplace. Compared to the 90s, two other cohorts have little difference in their career satisfaction levels. They assess their choices as “a good decision” and “no need to seek for a new job”.

At the same time, one should emphasise the fact that the 70s is a rather resourceful generation. Hardened by historical ups and downs, they are stress-resistant and used to work a lot. The analysis of the recent literature demonstrates that they often perceive problems as a natural form of existence (Becton, Walker & Jones‐Farmer 2014; Leroch 2014). For instance, if an employer finds an approach and builds relationships based on recognition of their merits, they will be a reliable framework for the team of any MNC. This population is accustomed to rely on themselves in completing tasks and making decisions, taking responsibility for the consequences (Finer 2017; Morreale, Shostya & Villada 2018).

It should also be identified that their attitudes toward colleagues are much more friendly compared to younger generations, which is caused by the intention to work in cooperation and achieve common goals.

The work of employees of different ages in the same office can be compared with a meeting in the family of representatives of several generations. In particular, a mother will not impose on her son a pickle that he dislikes, make coffee for her husband that he does not drink or offer her sister a salad that she did not like last time (Beutell & Behson 2018).

On the contrary, she would try to think through entertainment and refreshments so that everyone is comfortable, which is pertinent to a working environment. If an employer observes that the employee is burdened by the office work, he or she can be offered to work at home several days a month. To offer a promotion that is completely uninteresting for him or her is pointless in this situation (Beutell & Behson 2018). If an employee is focused on building a career like the representative of the 1970s, it hardly makes sense to transfer him or her to a remote work, yet assigning new tasks in which he or she will show the result is an excellent option.

Priorities Between Work and Family

The employees of different generations have their own characteristics and approaches to work. Some of them value progressive careers and stability such as the Cultural Revolution generation, while others (Social Reform generation) consider that the balance between personal life and work is essential, and there are people that do not prioritise work (Xian & Forrest 2019). The latter, Millennials believe that the key issue is to “enjoy their life, but, at the same time, there is sufficient reason to state that in their free time, they “strive to change the world for the better”. This tendency is due to the cultural, economic and technological codes in which the mentioned generations formed as individuals and began their professional activities (Sadykova, Khairullina, Ustinova, Pelkova, & Efremova 2015).

Speaking more precisely, these are people of different eras with diverse attitudes to life. For example, a participant who was born in the 1970s mentioned that “parents raised them strictly in an authoritarian manner, as a result of which their grown up children are still used to receiving directives at the workplace”.

The questions about the attitudes towards priorities regarding family and work caused some confusion in Millennials, who clarified that they are the only child, and great amount of attention was paid to them. The fundamental factors of the birth control policy were the promotion of late marriages and births, as well as the proclamation of the motto “one family – one child.” The “generation of “little emperors” growing now in China, according to modern sinologists, has much higher consumption standards than their parents (Jie 2017; Zhao et al. 2017). They will form the basis of the middle class and the core of the workforce of the country in ten to fifteen years.

Most high- and middle-income Chinese parents consider investing in their children’s future the most rational way to spend money. According to 3 respondents (the post 70s), they spend between 40 and 50% of income on their child. Consequently, one may suggest that Millennials tend to be less oriented towards a family as a value compared to their parents.

Many large Western companies are focused on ensuring that their workers find a balance between work and family. In a broader sense, the balance between work and personal life often remains for employers only a theoretical concept. Nevertheless, this issue is especially important to Chinese employees who tend to adhere to the traditions of respect for the elderly and care for the younger. Although adult children live separately from their parents in many families, there are the closest family ties between the two generations, and by law, adult children have obligations to support their parents. The Chinese traditionally have deep kinship feelings not only for parents and children and they maintain close ties with brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts and nephews.

In the generation of the post 70s, there are many workaholics who, from a young age, strive to run their long professional marathon in leading positions. These are bright personalities who have devoted most of their time to school, work, the diligent performance of their duties, preserving their incentives to success. For such people, scales that reflect the balance of work and life maintain a position in which professional life always outweighs personal.

If these people devote 12 hours per day for work, then the time that they can spend with their families and hobbies does not exceed several hours. Moreover, the significance that they attach to work is their conscious choice. They believe that to become successful, it is not sufficient to be smart and rational. It is necessary to work hard, take risks, faithfully fulfil one’s responsibilities and spend a lot of time at work.

The majority of the participants of the Cultural Revolution generation report that it is impossible to become a top manager without the mentioned aspects. For them, prestige and recognition from the part of colleagues and management imply vibrant advantages (Anderson et al. 2017; Ma, Hu & Gocłowska 2016; Yang, Yu & Wu 2018). Although such people do not have enough time to see their children, the latter attend the best schools and are supervised by personnel interested in their development, thus guaranteeing the future of the family.

In other words, according to the law of karma, long hours of work and making difficult decisions by such people in return provide a favourable life for themselves and their families. This study suggests that an increasing number of workers born in the 80s without families and children cannot find the time and energy for their hobbies. They are less satisfied with their life and work and show more signs of depression and anxiety. The representatives of this generation often reported that after completing all official duties, they did not have the strength to do sports, leisure or meet friends.

As for the 90s, the employees mentioned that they can literally observe their working hours, in the best way, fulfilling their duties within the framework of their positions. While remaining in the same position for many years under the same conditions, they can devote more time to their family (Krahn & Galambos 2014). Perhaps, this group of people will not send their children to a better school, but they can reason, analyse and make conscious decisions.

They pay attention to what their child has a fondness of and allocate more time to their personal lives, having time to read books and go to the cinema or theatre. Instead of busy hours of work, Millennials tend to make their choice in favour of closely monitoring the growth of their children and not distancing themselves from their personal lives. The Chinese families in Beijing and Shanghai, as a rule, fully illustrate family attitudes: father, mother and one child since this is a necessity that is dictated by concern for well-being, as per capita figures relate China to developing countries. There are many people, yet few natural resources and land.

A work-family balance for women is a particular question since their role was limited to caring for the family members for many generations. As soon as it comes to the working life of women making careers, the question arises of the balance between work and family (Lin 2014; Phillips & Feng 2015).

The role of women outside work is more complex than the role of men: a mother, wife, housewife, manager of family life and a person climbing the career ladder at the same time. Even with full employment, for example, being a head of the company, she is not able to free herself from such roles. Perhaps, the women can share their responsibilities at home with some assistants who will be engaged in studies and other activities of children, for example, playing the piano or football. This solution is practised by business ladies, while ordinary workers often cannot afford it.

At the same time, it should be accentuated that many Chinese men are happy to take care of all the housework, which contradicts the common stereotype about their unwillingness to do it. According to statistics, the most economical men are those living in urban areas: 100% of the respondents aged 28-32 pinpointed that they are ready to devote themselves to the home if the conditions permit or if necessary (Ngo et al. 2014).

Against this background, older generations are less confident: only 1 representative of the 1970s could completely connect his life with the house. In other major cities of China where other surveys were conducted, this indicator fluctuates around 33%, as reported by Liu, Zhuan and Zhou (2015). Thus, there is an insignificant difference between work-life balance perceptions in terms of gender in China.

Gender-Related Differences

Women who have received higher or secondary education, but have not achieved career success present a vivid fact in the recent Chinese history. The further growth of these women was taken into account when developing the state plan, and they enjoyed many privileges from the state (Gaetano, AM 2017; Ji 2015). For instance, the state provided them with employment and support in the field of healthcare along with the equal suffrage with men. However, since the end of the 1980s, this group of women has changed due to the development of a market economy and enterprise restructuring.

Women over the age of 40 who worked in the corporate and commercial sectors were dismissed for various reasons in the 1990s and became the first victims of a corporate restructuring (Foley et al. 2015; Hare 2016). According to statistics, in 1997, Chinese women employees constituted 56 million – 38.8 per cent of the total number of workers; there were 2.48 million women dismissed from work – 45 per cent of the total number of people who lost their jobs (Ngo et al. 2014; Van der Meer 2014). If these women were unable to find work, they could only live on cash benefits. It should be noted that women aged 20-30 who have received secondary and higher education also often could not find work in the 1990s (Tatli, Ozturk & Woo, 2017; Xia et al. 2014).

From the point of view of Marxism, the liberation of women is a measure of universal human emancipation. Women in the workplace are the main symbol of achieving equal status for both men and women, which is an important indicator of the level of political and social culture of any country. One of the weakest issues in the gender situation worldwide is the career position of women, and China is not an exception (Huang & Gamble 2015; Cho et al. 2015; Khaw et al. 2016).

The strong pressure on women over marriage leads to negative economic consequences since many are afraid to get away from an unequal financial status compared to their husbands. Such an attitude in the era of market reforms leads to a new gender gap in income (Fincher 2016). This is evidenced by failures in protecting the rights of married women to property, a sharply increasing gender income gap and reports on domestic violence as well as an information campaign organised by the state that stigmatised educated unmarried women (Chen & Lian 2015). Accordingly, 4 out of 7 women included in the study confessed that their work choice was identified by their husbands, who wanted them to work for the family business. At the same time, the impact of parents also seems to be strong. As stated by one of the female respondents,

“After graduating from my University, I wanted to work for a large IT company, but my mother and father were disagreeing, and I obeyed”.

The family role is closely associated with the collectivist society in which China develops. In this context, it is especially interesting to understand how MNCs can catch the local traditions at their workplaces. Woodhams, Xian and Lupton (2015), who explore the role of the Chinese traditional culture on women’s work attitudes, mention that they are well-represented across managerial positions. The key concern is how the Western theories are perceived by the Chinese females with regard to their experience and career orientations. Consistent with Woodhams, Xian and Lupton (2015), this study found that the Western impact is not essential since they fail to take into account the collective dimension.

Perceived Skills and Self-Impression

In terms of the perceived abilities to perform their job, the respondents provided almost similar results regardless of their age, while some differences should also be noted. The majority of the participants in each of the cohorts stated that they have three main guiding features in the behaviour and thoughts of working in a team: “the desire for common good, harmony and mutual sensitivity”.

A smart leader should take them into account and know that each of these concepts in life manifests variably, which occurs due to the contradictions inherent in them. Tang, Wang and Zhang (2017) specify the mentioned intentions as those lying in the foundations of Confucianism, since it was Confucianism that played a leading role in shaping the social behaviour of the Chinese. The essence of this concept can be expressed in a few words: nothing should be excessive as all extremes violate harmony in society.

However, one should clearly realise that any Chinese workers are not inclined to consider themselves untalented and unable to stand out from the crowd. The representative of the 70s and 80s show that they do not intend to blindly obey, being quite independent and smart enough to become a leader: “I have my own point of view on everything, which, however, I do not usually openly express”.

The mentioned cohort of employees seems to be rather sensitive to praise and criticism. Reasonable praise can encourage active and conscientious work and the desire to “prove oneself”, while irrational one can cause “faintness from success” or “get out of control”, meaning that they prefer an adequate attitude from an employer. At the same time, reasonable criticism may suggest how to correct mistakes, and unreasonable can quench enthusiasm or even cause bitterness. Therefore, the employees who were born post 70s and 80s assume that manager needs to periodically talk with employees face to face, to the best of their praise and mistakes.

As for the generation Y (post 90s), this generation will soon have to occupy the bulk of workplaces in the Chinese economy. The new generation is already changing the structure of employment, and the growing presence of Millennials leads to new working methods and radical transformations in management practices, which is consistent with the findings of this research (Calk & Patrick 2017; Jiang & Hui 2016).

It is anticipated that a change in traditional patterns of firms. The basis for such conclusions was the results of a survey of 2895 respondents, as well as about a hundred in-depth interviews conducted in the UK, Europe, China, the Middle East, India and Malaysia (Kaeding 2015). Researchers were interested in the self-esteem of recent graduates (generation Y) and how senior managers of the older generation evaluate it.

It turned out that employees of generation Y perceive themselves as knowledgeable, well-oriented in the digital world and self-confident. Although executives are satisfied with the savvy and energy of young professionals, they are rejected by such traits as their craving for fame, the desire for recognition, self-focus, a lack of teamwork and mutual respect. As noted by four of the interviewees, “we want our opinions to be heard, as well as rapid career advancement”. The problem lies, presumably, in the lack of patience among the representatives of generation Y: if their point of view does not find a response and if they do not see close career prospects, they are more likely to apply for resignation compared to the previous generations.

The researcher found that the frequent change of work, the lack of life skills of young personnel is the reason for the concern of managers that the generation that comes to replace them does not gain the necessary experience that is necessary for successful management decisions and skilful risk management. Zhou, Li and Gao (2016) identify the problem of retaining newcomers due to their zeal for a change of place was called as one of the main challenges facing modern organisations. This generation strives to fulfil their career expectations, and they feel happy only when their work brings them satisfaction (Kong, Wang & Fu 2015; To & Tam 2014; Zhu et al. 2015; Froese 2013). Prestige and stability factors are not important for this cohort, but the contribution to career growth matters. A range of tailor-made activities at work simulate younger employees to increase their motivation.

In order to better understand the intergenerational transition of family values with regard to work attitudes, it seems to be critical to refer to the notion of social mobility. As stated by the majority of the respondents, especially older generations:

“We perceive ourselves at work as those who continue the achievements of our parents, trying to do our best to meet their expectations and thinking less about our own aspirations.”

In consistence with Cheng, Wang and Smyth (2014), this refers to the idea of the intergenerational continuity, which is a vivid feature of collectivism. In addition, it should be stressed that those who experience the connection between them as employees and parents have higher levels of subjective well-being. As it can be concluded based on the interviews, these respondents pointed out that they are more satisfied with their careers. The advantages related to close ties with the family members lie, probably, in better interpersonal relationships and support from the relatives (Chen et al. 2016; Zupan et al. 2015). As a result, self-enhancement and improved self-image promote a more adequate and rational attitudes towards one’s job.

Perceived Traits of a Good Manager

In general, the expectations of the representatives of the three cohorts involved in this study are similar. Accordingly, a leader should adhere to the middle, he or she should not be too strict or too accommodating, should not praise employees too much, or criticise (Burke, Astakhova & Hang 2015).

A good manager should think when to make a comment or compliment an employee, and then it must be done in person. This idea is expressed in the well-known folk wisdom: “the first bird receives the first bullet, a person is afraid to become famous, and a pig is afraid to get fat.” The Chinese team does not need to rely on the fact that some of the employees, even very capable, will want to take on the solution of important issues or some responsibility and, thereby, become a bird that flies ahead (Ren et al. 2018; Zhu, Yang & Bai 2016). A capable leader is expected to be cautious and prudent, developing his or her talents and acting properly when the time comes.

Such qualities of Millennials as the desire to maintain positive self-esteem due to regular positive feedback from the leader, high spiritual needs and the presence of internal values ​​are the result of the impact of the social and economic conditions in which this generation grew (Dirlik 2014; Fish 2015). They report that the management of the organisations cannot change these characteristics of the young generation of employees yet should adapt its style to these features of young employees.

The latter also have some expectations regarding the behaviour of their colleagues. Common speech, bodily and emotional habits create a familiar routine of life and support a coherent reality for representatives of this generation. However, their colleagues from other generations violate the so-called “agreed reality” by their reactions and break the usual course of everyday life (Brown 2014; Cooke, Saini & Wang 2014). This can sometimes lead to conflicts, the reason for which is mismatch – a different interpretation of what is happening. Analysing the situation of social interaction, a person performs a cognitive act, determining the causes and consequences of one or another event or statement and evaluates its normativity.

Among the people who were born post 70s, by contrast, restraint is a valued emotion, which is associated with avoiding extremes in their expression. Restraint in communication with older employees is especially important since this is a manifestation of respect for their authority. The post 70s are generally oriented towards maintaining good relations with people around them and with representatives of older generations to harmonise society. They also tend to consider relationships as family ties, meaning that they consider gestures and facial expressions of different characters too “intimate” for the workplace.

Their opinion sharply differs from the opinions of young Chinese respondents, whose answers were largely different and presented above. In their turn, those employees who belong to the generation of the 80s often perceive the tension between a leader and employee as a merely workplace situation. In comparison with their counterparts, they seem to interpret the interaction mainly as professional in nature, and this trend was high especially among the Social Reform population. In addition, some of the subjects see family interaction in the observed situation, but this is characteristic only when analysed by older Chinese respondents.

Speaking of a manager image in conflicts, no differences were found in the responses of young and aged respondents. This data is consistent with available studies that state that Chinese employees are primarily focused on resolving a tense business situation, prefer passive, non-conflict management styles and resolve disputes (Yang 2014; Russo, Guo & Baruch 2014; Rowley & Warner 2013; Wang, Kwan & Zhou 2017).

Such an approach significantly differs from the Western approach to conflict resolution. Indeed, this may be the result of the collectivistic nature of Chinese social interactions and the importance of the concept of “saving one’s face. It may explain the more negative reaction of the Chinese respondents since they considered situations of business interaction, when one of the characters, apparently, “lost his face”, thereby destroying not only his personal reputation but also causing shame for his family.

Readiness to Potential Changes / Technology Implementation

Changes are inherent to modern workplaces since innovations allow for optimizing processes and procedures, making production more efficient. Millennials set the trend for thinner and lighter devices, the reason of which is not only aesthetic but also practical – such laptops can be carried almost everywhere (Zheng & Smith 2018; Zhou & Velamuri 2018). This generation also has special preferences in the design of the workplace area, which a component of their SWB. For example, as shown by social polls, the younger generation prefers technology in bright buildings (Berkup 2014). Younger employees actively use computers for voice communications, popularising this approach among colleagues. As a result, approximately 65 per cent of MNCs’ workers use personal computers as a telephone (Berkup 2014).

In this connection, it is necessary to pay attention to the audio component of computers – for instance, the presence of several microphones allows to better perceive the voice, avoiding extraneous noise, and the presence of buttons for controlling voice communications simplifies the corresponding actions of users. Employees of the older generations, both the 70s and 80s are less interested in devices and feel comfortable at their personal desktop, “with an individual working chair and a personal smartphone or PC” (Brown 2016; Lee, Zheng & Mnzm 2017).

When choosing a desktop computer for employees, one should pay attention to the presence of built-in proprietary protection systems and discrete graphics, which are valued by the 1970s (Zhang, Prammanee & Chantarathong 2014; Chepseba & Nziwa 2018). Nevertheless, they are sensitive to innovations and criticism, and it is quite difficult for them to adapt to the translation of the workflow into instant messengers, social networks and mobile applications

Conclusions

To conclude, this dissertation contributed to an understanding of the factors that underpin career attitudes among Chinese employees of three different generations: the post 70s, 80s and 90s. An original socio-cultural framework was designed for the interpretation of these differences. Collectivism, gender, cultural identity, the one child reform and technologic advancement are the pivotal factors that determine the views of workers in China.

Specifically, it was found that the generation of people who were born post 70s can be characterized by a greater commitment to their workplaces and higher career choice satisfaction compared to those born in post 80s and 90s. The identified generation faced the epoch of the Cultural Revolution, when China opened its doors to the outside world and allowed foreign companies to launch their branches in the local market. This cohort is closely associated with family values, obedience to employers, and some extent of resistance to changes.

The generation of the 70s precedes the requirements of discipline and order by establishing relations at the level of feelings and seeks that these feelings be in relation to a leader, to the team, to the company.

In this case, it is inappropriate for an employee to deceive, not justify the trust or to be negligent at work. In turn, this cohort expects that a manager will never say anything superfluous to his or her subordinate, but, at the same time, not counting on complete frankness, carefully analyses the words of subordinates and sensitively reacts to the slightest hints and subtexts. In turn, the generation of the post 80s, the Social Reform generation, is characterised by the period of social changes, when the country opened up to the outside world and allowed foreign companies to launch their branches in the local market.

As for Millennials who tend to compose the majority of the country’s workforce, they are more ready to changes and adopting innovations in work processes. At the same time, they value flexible schedules, different employment options, and are less committed to their families, in which they are usually the only child. Compared to the older generations examined in this dissertation, they are more likely to quit their jobs in case they consider the conditions inappropriate for their needs and expectations. In other words, they have lower work satisfaction yet the increased self-perception and prospects regarding a manager’s image.

It should be emphasised that the Chinese employees are committed to the cultural values of their national, in particular, collectivism. Despite the differences, all three generations complement and positively influence each other, united by the values ​​of the company in which they work. In other words, it means that management should convey these values ​​to everyone in an easily understandable manner. In addition, it is important that the representatives of generations want to listen and hear each other, and then the result and success are likely to be more positive.

In general, the foremost task of the management of the MNC, where employees of various generations work, is not to try to remake one of the others, but to get the maximum effect from combining experience with non-standard solutions and the speed of the younger generation. While some of the features were clarified, it is important to stress that the views of employees are rather complex, which necessitates the understanding of how culture can decrease the generational differences in attitudes to work in China.

Inefficiency of the Project and Further Directions

Openness to the outside world is used by China to deepen market transformations, to adapt the country to world norms and standards, and not only in the economy. In turn, the advancement of internal reforms contributes to the rapprochement of China with the rest of the world, its active inclusion in the process of developing common regulations, the emergence of new channels and tools to adjust the process of globalisation.

Traditional values as well as the historical and spiritual heritage of China, on the one hand, contribute to strengthening the country’s position on the world stage, and on the other hand, it is a specifically Chinese environment that needs adjustment of MNCs. For example, the Chinese respondents called unacceptable the situations where one of the persons, showing restraint, “lost his face.” Thus, he not only destroyed his personal reputation but also caused shame for his family, which is extremely negative in Chinese culture.

This dissertation presents a large review and analysis of the factors affecting the attitudes of various generations towards their workplaces and career-related issues. As it can be viewed from the conclusions, the key factors were identified and examined in terms of the family values, personal aspirations and cultural traditions. It is a special institutional context that shaped the perceptions of different generations, and it is not possible to distinguish between only single factors that led to the specific findings.

Instead, it is a range of issues, including education, social environment, self-identification and historical events, that largely determined the ways the employees of various ages behave. Thus, the revealed differences cannot be attributed to only one decisive factor. In this connection, one may assume that research should be continued with a focus on the legal basis to consider these differences from a different perspective (Burnett 2010; Huang, Weng & Hsieh 2016; Turner, Feinerman & Guy 2015; Yin & Jamali 2016).

This dissertation is also limited by the sample size and its diversity, which restrict the generalizability of the findings. The use of the literature review and interview methods also limits the study and poses the risk of subjectivity with regard to conclusions made in the course of interpretation of the results. In order to minimise this inefficiency, the researcher included a range of opinions presented in the academic literature and synthesised them in a critical manner. Further research needs to be focused on the formulation of specific strategies to be implemented by managers in MNCs operating in China. In particular, the generations should be considered in combination since any workplace integrates employees of various ages, which sets the necessity for their effective cooperation.

Another possible future research refers to the comparison of the Chinese context with that of the US or other Western companies that have their departments in China. The existing cultural gaps and opportunities need to be explored to identify the areas for potential improvement in treating Chinese employees and building proper relationships between them and foreign leaders. Accordingly, HR policies and management strategies are likely to benefit the both Chinese employees of various generations and MNCs from calibrating the existing differences.

Recommendations

The researcher now is in a position to comprehend how Chinese employees make sense of their career attitudes. The analysis and discussion presented in this dissertation allow for providing a fresh perspective on their career choice, development and satisfaction, which are critical for multinational corporations to understand how to manage their Chinese branches. Globally, a focus on the market economy provides a range of job opportunities for people, who are expected to succeed depending on their desire to compete with other precedents (Luo 2007; Kim, Han & Zhao 2014; Wang, Yuan & Weidlich 2017).

This tendency is individualistic and largely reflects male values related to achieving, competing and constant efforts. In China, the collectivist society and family traditions identify the way the employees perceive their careers, which makes the Western approach weak in the local environment.

In the view of the above-mentioned argument, it is possible to recommend the MNCs operating in China to introduce skill enhancement, learning through open discussion and leadership with a community orientation. First of all, this research assumes that the mere implementation of the Western style management cannot be effective in China, while its adaptation and adjustment should be targeted. Considering that people who were born post 70s and 80s are devoted to their families and show themselves as hard-workers, their aspirations to receive career promotion should be encouraged.

The paramount goal of these generations is to succeed at work and ensure their families with sufficient resources to educate children and provide other necessary products and services. On the contrary, Millennials value free time and travelling, seeming to be less committed to their family, which points to the need to offer them a more flexible schedule and employment options. For example, part-time shifts will definitely be attractive to them, while older generations will not accept it.

Second, it is essential for MNCs to take a look through another prism, trying to understand why the employees behave the way they behave. In the use of the limitations and advantages of various generations, there lies the source of the creation of a new type of workforce. For this, leaders and managers should have to adapt to working with the specific expectations and needs of the post 70s, 80s and 90s.

The skill enhancement initiative may be noted among the strategies that have great potential to increase employee engagement, thus increasing the overall productivity of a MNC in the local context. One of the ways is offering a gendered approach to training employees: female may benefit from removing gendered assumptions and conformist orientations. Language skills or leadership knowledge enhancement can be important for them, while men need more education on communication and conflict management skills.

Third, the most important issue for MNCs is to identify the potential of their employees and give them a job and reward according to their merits and expectations. In order for a subordinate to be able to realise his or her abilities, he or she needs to feel not only the respect of employers but also generations-specific values. For subordinates to work well, it is necessary to win their sympathies by creating conditions of emotional comfort and the feeling of a large family.

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Appendix A

Interview Questions

  1. What is your work experience in MNCs and how can you describe it?
  2. What affected your choice of job at the beginning of your career?
  3. Did any events, policies or people affect your work-related decision?
  4. Do you believe that your gender determines your success or failure at work?
  5. Do you prioritize family over work or vice versa? Why or why not?
  6. Do you think that the family values largely impact your workplace decisions?
  7. How the country’s policies or economy impact your workplace attitudes and satisfaction with the working environment?
  8. Do you prefer performing the tasks set individually or in collaboration with colleagues?
  9. Can you state that you are successful with performing your job? Why?
  10. Are there any global factors that impact your perceptions of your workplace and your position?
  11. Do you experience financial well-being and do you consider it is the most important part of your job?
  12. How can you define the key determinants that make you happy at your workplace?
  13. How often do you feel anxiety and can you understand its reasons?
  14. To what extent do you feel that the tasks you do at your work are worthwhile?
  15. How much time do you spend for work, walking and interacting with friends and family? Are you satisfied with that amount of time?
  16. Are you comfortable with using computers and other technology at the workplace?
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