Robertson by xiaohuicaicai


									Antecedents of Commitment among Public Employees in China

                           Peter J. Robertson
               School of Policy, Planning, and Development
                    University of Southern California
                      Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626

                        Carlos Wing-Hung Lo
                     Department of Management
                   Hong Kong Polytechnic University
                          Hunghom, Kowloon
                              Hong Kong

                             Shui-Yan Tang
               School of Policy, Planning, and Development
                    University of Southern California
                      Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626

        Presented at the Public Management Research Conference
                          Georgetown University
                              October, 2003

           Please direct all correspondence to Shui-Yan Tang
               Antecedents of Commitment among Public Employees in China

       Employee commitment has long been a focus of study for those interested in the design

and management of organizations. Commitment has been found to be related to a variety of

attitudinal and behavioral consequences among employees, for example, motivation level,

organizational citizenship, and turnover rates (Meyer & Allen, 1997). In turn, the positive

benefits of a committed workforce are recognized as important determinants of organizational

effectiveness. Committed employees who are highly motivated to contribute their time and

energy to the pursuit of organizational goals are increasingly acknowledged to be the primary

asset available to an organization (Pfeffer, 1998). They provide the intellectual capital that, for

many organizations, has become their most critical asset (Stewart, 1997). Furthermore,

employees who share a commitment to the organization and their collective well-being are more

apt to generate the social capital—found in relationships characterized by high levels of trust and

shared values—that facilitates organizational learning.

       In the public administration literature, there has been a long tradition that emphasizes the

importance of public officials' personal commitment to their profession as the foundation of

administrative responsibility (Friedrich, 1940; Gaus, 1936; Miller, 2000). In a recent article,

Miller (2000) demonstrates the inherent difficulties of resolving moral hazard problems in public

agencies by the use of penalties and incentives alone. He reaffirms Gaus's argument that

personal "commitment to professional standards" is the ultimate safeguard against "political

opportunism" (p. 320). More generally, public employees’ commitment to act in the interests of

their organization and/or the members of the public being served by their organization has been

recognized as important to the success of public organizations (Balfour & Wechsler, 1994; Perry

& Wise, 1990; Romzek, 1990).

        Considerable research has explored a wide variety of antecedents hypothesized to

influence commitment levels. This topic has been addressed from at least two different

perspectives, namely the organizational behavior (OB) and the rational choice (RC) perspectives

(cf. Robertson & Tang, 1995). Literature from the OB perspective tends to support the notion

that higher levels of commitment are generated by organizational practices that are congruent

with employees’ personal values (Balfour & Wechsler, 1994). Literature from the RC

perspective tends to emphasize the importance of organizational practices that credibly reward

performance with tangible benefits (Miller, 1992).

        While each of the two research perspectives has found evidence to support its respective

arguments, most of it has been based on research in the United States. To what extent can these

findings be generalized to other cultural and institutional contexts? Despite a recent increase in

the volume of research exploring the dynamics of organizational commitment in other countries,

the nature of any cross-cultural differences in terms of the conditions that influence employee

commitment are not yet well-understood. More research is needed to ascertain how the various

antecedents associated with the OB or the RC perspectives shape organizational commitment in

other cultural and institutional settings.

        This study contributes to that agenda by investigating the antecedents of commitment

among government employees in China, based on a survey of local environmental protection

officials in three cities. Respondents were employed in the cities’ municipal environmental

protection bureaus, with the majority of them having regulatory enforcement responsibilities.

Survey questions measured organizational commitment, six potential antecedents to commitment

identified in the OB and RC literatures, and five demographic control variables. Results of

regression analyses indicate that three of the antecedents—role fit, job challenge, and

management support—are significantly related to commitment in all three cities. Each of the

other three antecedents—extrinsic rewards, belief in mission, and environmental

consciousness—is significantly related to commitment in at least one of the three cities, but the

pattern of findings for these variables varies among the cities.

       In the pages that follow, we first provide an overview of some of the relevant literature

on commitment to describe the theoretical background of this study. We also consider findings

from cross-cultural research on commitment, and discuss how the different cultural and

institutional context of China might influence the pattern of antecedents that shape organizational

commitment among Chinese public officials. We then describe the methods used to carry out the

study. After a presentation of the findings, the paper concludes with a discussion of how this

study contributes to a better understanding of the multi-faceted determinants of commitment in

diverse public organizational contexts.

Theoretical Background

       The extensive literature on commitment has explored different types or bases of

commitment to an organization, as well as a wide variety of antecedent conditions hypothesized

to influence commitment levels. For example, O’Reilly and Chatman (1986) suggested three

different types of psychological bonds that provide the foundation for commitment, namely,

compliance, identification, and internalization; Meyer and Allen (1991) distinguished between

continuance, affective, and normative types of commitment; and Balfour and Wechsler (1994)

identified the three dimensions of exchange, affiliation, and identification commitment.

       Research investigating the validity of these conceptual distinctions has suggested that,

instead of three general types of commitment, two broad categories are more consistently

verified empirically. In particular, a summary of the available evidence (Morrow, 1993)

indicates that organizational commitment can be differentiated between calculative/continuance

and attitudinal/affective bases of commitment. The former is more instrumental in nature,

reflecting a situation in which an employee remains with an organization because the benefits of

staying and/or costs of leaving are greater than the benefits of leaving and/or costs of staying.

The latter is rooted in a positive attitude towards and/or affective attachment to the organization,

wherein an employee is committed because of the connection s/he feels to the organization, its

mission or values, and/or its members.

       Calculative/continuance commitment is generally compatible with a rational choice

perspective. It reflects a “side bets theory” (Becker, 1960) in which employees will maintain

their membership in an organization if their sunk costs or personal investment in that

organization outweigh the advantages of leaving. From this perspective, employees are engaged

in an exchange relationship with the organization, and they make a rational evaluation of the

inducements they receive in exchange for their contributions to the organization (March &

Simon, 1958). Organizations build credible commitment that employees will meet their

obligations only by providing sufficient rewards in exchange for their time and effort.

Employees remain committed to this exchange relationship as long as they believe the exchange

is reasonable or equitable.

       Attitudinal/affective commitment is generally compatible with the dominant orientation

in the organizational behavior literature that views commitment as reflecting an employee’s

psychological attachment to an organization (cf. Meyer & Allen, 1991; Porter, Steers, Mowday,

& Boulian, 1974). That attachment may be to other individuals in the organization (affiliation),

to the organization as an entity (identification), or to its mission and/or values (internalization).

The connection may be primarily emotional (affective), or it may derive from the individuals’

deeply-held beliefs (normative). Whatever the source, this type of commitment reflects a desire

to be involved in the organization that goes beyond simply the lack of better alternatives.

       These two categories of commitment imply a focus on different types of antecedents to

commitment. The RC orientation toward calculative commitment suggests that the most

important antecedents are the benefits an employee accrues from participation in the organization

and the investments or sunk costs s/he has in that organization that would be forfeited if s/he left.

These would include most obviously the various extrinsic rewards that are received by the

employee in the present, as well as the possibility of increased rewards (e.g., through promotion)

in the future. It can also include organization-specific knowledge and skills that would lose their

value if the employee left the organization. Thus, demographic characteristics such as age and

tenure in the organization are also likely antecedents of this type of commitment.

       In addition to extrinsic rewards, many employees, especially those in professional ranks,

desire interesting work that they find meaningful and challenging, as well as the opportunity to

be involved in decisions that are relevant to the expectations, requirements, and outcomes of

their job activities. Likewise, contemporary employees prefer managerial styles that provide

necessary support and guidance while demonstrating respect for employees and their needs and

interests. The absence of challenging work and/or management support could reduce the

benefits or increase the costs of staying in an organization, thus reducing the level of continuance


       The focus on attitudinal commitment in the OB literature has included the exploration of

a wide range of factors thought to serve as determinants of such commitment. Most of these

focus on employees’ perceptions of or attitudes toward various aspects of their work experience

(Meyer & Allen, 1993). These include, for example, satisfaction with their pay, their jobs, and

their managers, thus reflecting some overlap with the likely antecedents of calculative

commitment. Perceptions of broader organizational characteristics, such as structural

dimensions and administrative processes, have also been considered. But what differentiates the

OB perspective from the RC orientation most significantly is its focus on factors that influence

the degree to which an employee feels as though s/he “fits” in the organization (cf. Chatman,


         The experience of fit is determined in part by the role the employee plays as part of the

larger organizational system. Employees are likely to perceive a good fit to the extent that they

get along well with their co-workers, understand the nature of their contribution to the

organization, and have the opportunity to learn and grow (cf. Maslow’s [1954] “higher order”

social, self-esteem, and self-actualization needs). Perceptions of a good fit are also enhanced by

an employee’s belief in the importance of the organization’s mission and by sufficient

compatibility between the organization’s and the employee’s values (Chatman, 1989).

Employees who perceive a better fit are more likely to display organizational citizenship

behavior (Organ, 1988) that reflects their high levels of affective commitment.

         Given the two different types of commitment and their multiple antecedents, no

straightforward conclusions can be drawn regarding which factors are most important as

determinants of organizational commitment. Every person is unique, of course, and thus the

factors that are most important to one person may be largely irrelevant to another. In other

words, each employee has an idiosyncratic “psychological contract” with the organization that

identifies what s/he wants, hopes, or expects from the organization in return for adequate role

performance (Rousseau & Parks, 1993). When employees perceive that the organization has

fulfilled its side of the contract, they are more likely to be committed; their commitment

dissipates when they feel that the conditions of the contract have not been met. This need for

reciprocity is apparently relevant to both calculative/continuance and attitudinal/affective


       While individual differences inevitably exert some influence over the factors that shape

organizational commitment, an interesting question is whether or not different factors play a

more or less important role in different contexts. Most of the research on organizational

commitment has studied employees in the United States or other western countries. Less

information is available on the antecedents of commitment among employees in countries that

constitute a significantly different institutional and cultural context. In particular, little is known

about the determinants of organizational commitment among employees in China. Given the

significant political, economic, and cultural differences between the United States and China, the

latter provides an intriguing context in which to explore the conditions under which public

employees are committed to their organization.

       Public organizations in China are structured and run differently from their U.S.

counterparts, in terms of recruitment, promotion, work environment, and political expectations.

As such, public employees in China may have different views and motivations towards their job.

In addition, the cultural orientations of the two countries are quite dissimilar, with Chinese

culture grounded in a Confucian ethic that is more collectivist in orientation. Given these

differences, it is possible that the factors that influence organizational commitment of employees

would be different in China as well.

       In the case of municipal environmental protection bureaus in China, loyalty to the party-

state has traditionally been a major condition of employment. Individuals are recruited into the

bureau often through their connections (guanxi) in the party-state establishment – in most cases,

political reliability is more important than administrative capability as a selection criterion.

Political loyalty to the party-state continues to be an important pre-condition for career

advancement within the bureau, as the Communist Party has maintained tight control over

personnel matters in the bureau (Burns, 2001; Chan, 2003).

         While the basic salaries for employees in the bureau are relatively low compared with

other professional jobs in the blooming business sector, bureau employees receive substantial

fringe benefits in the form of housing, bonuses, medical services, traveling allowances, and most

important of all, retirement schemes. Similar to other government officials, employees in local

environmental protection bureaus generally expect to stay within the same bureaucratic

establishment (xitong) – the environmental protection establishment – with few opportunities to

move outside government or other bureaucratic establishments (Lieberthal, 1992). In general,

government officials in China are seldom challenged directly by nongovernmental interests when

exercising their authority. Yet in the case of environmental protection officials, it is not

uncommon for them to face pressure from other party-state actors who may challenge their

decisions regarding various economic and development interests (Tang, Lo, Cheung, & Lo,


         In recent years, there have been systematic efforts initiated by the central government to

reform the bureaucracies towards more open recruitment, professionalism, merit-based

recruitment and appraisal, and streamlined operation (Burns, 2001; Chan, 2003; Lam & Chan,

1996). Although there has been pressure for municipal environmental protection bureaus to

gradually implement these reform measures, the progress has overall been quite limited.

         In addition to these institutional issues, cultural differences between China and western

countries might also influence which antecedents to commitment are most important among

Chinese public employees. Most of the organizational research exploring cross-cultural

differences has relied on the framework developed by Hofstede (1980; 1991). This framework

specifies four dimensions of value orientations along which national cultures have been found to

vary. Power distance refers to the extent to which a society accepts the fact that power in

institutions and organizations is distributed unequally. Uncertainty avoidance reflects the extent

to which a society feels threatened by and thus tries to avoid uncertain and ambiguous situations.

The individualism-collectivism dimension distinguishes between cultures characterized by a

loosely knit social framework in which people are supposed to take care of themselves and of

their immediate families only as opposed to those characterized by a tight social framework in

which people distinguish between in-groups and out-groups. Masculinity refers to the extent to

which the dominant values in society are ‘masculine,’ including assertiveness, the acquisition of

money and things, and not caring for others, the quality of life, or people.

        Because of a concern that the survey on which this framework was originally based was

biased towards western values, subsequent research intending to study Chinese cultural values

(Chinese Culture Connection, 1987) identified a fifth cultural dimension which has been labeled

Confucian dynamism (cf. Hofstede & Bond, 1988) or long-term orientation (cf. Newman &

Nollen, 1996). This dimension distinguishes cultures with a future-minded mentality oriented

towards persistence, ordering relationships by status, thrift, and having a sense of shame, from

those cultures oriented toward the past and present with an emphasis on personal steadiness and

stability, saving face, respect for tradition, and reciprocation of greetings, favors, and gifts.

        Limited research has explored the characteristics of Chinese culture, and most of the

existing data come from research in Chinese societies (Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong) that

are presumably more “westernized” than is the mainland. The evidence produced through this

research is not entirely consistent, which is not surprising given the ambiguity of the concept of

national culture, the difficulty of trying to measure it, the variations among otherwise similar

cultures, and the inevitable evolution of cultures over time. However, findings from various

studies (e.g., Fernandez, Carlson, Stepina, and Nicholson, 1997; Hofstede & Bond, 1988; Huo &

Randall, 1991; Newman & Nollen, 1996) indicate that Chinese culture reflects greater

collectivism relative to the high individualism of the United States and other Anglo countries, as

well as greater power distance and long-term orientation compared to western countries. Clear-

cut differences between Chinese and western cultures on the uncertainty avoidance and

masculinity dimensions are harder to discern, given considerable variation across studies in

terms of the relative rankings of these two value orientations among different Chinese and

western samples (cf. Smith & Wang, 1996).

       The volume of research exploring the topic of organizational commitment in a variety of

countries and cultural contexts has been increasing recently (Randall, 1993). However, there is

not yet sufficient evidence to identify any cross-cultural differences in terms of the conditions

that influence employee commitment. One of the most comprehensive studies to date (Palich,

Hom, & Griffeth, 1995) explored how the four original Hofstede cultural dimensions moderated

the effects of four antecedent variables on level of commitment. The research focused on

determinants of commitment that are “widely supported in the research literature (Mathieu &

Zajac, 1990; Mowday et al., 1982) and potentially moderated by culture” (Palich et al., 1995:

674; italics in original), namely, extrinsic rewards, job scope, participative management, and role

clarity. The results indicated that the culture differences in their sample do not moderate the

effects of these antecedents on commitment. However, all of the respondents in this study were

managers from western European countries or Canada, employed by an American multinational

manufacturing firm. Thus, it remains unclear whether more significant cultural differences—

such as those between the West and the East—would demonstrate moderating effects on these or

other potential antecedents.

       From the above discussions, it appears that the different institutional and cultural contexts

of China may produce a different set of antecedents for commitment from those found in many

western countries. Yet, given the complexities of these differences, it is difficult to form precise

inferences as to how the antecedents – as discussed in the rational choice and organizational

behavior literatures – may differ in the two contexts. In this exploratory analysis, we thus

propose the following tentative hypothesis:

       Six antecedents—extrinsic rewards, management support, role fit, job challenge, belief in

       mission, and environmental consciousness—are related to organizational commitment

       among local environmental protection officials in China.


       The data for this study were collected through the administration of a survey

questionnaire to employees of the municipal environmental protection bureaus (EPBs) in three

cities in China – Dalian, Chengdu, and Guangzhou – between April and November of 2000. The

survey was administered with the endorsement and support of the leaders of all three EPBs, who

assigned a specific department to be in charge of the survey. The respondents were from three

areas within each EPB: (1) the administrative sections of the EPB, (2) its service organizations,

including pollutant discharge supervision and management institutions, monitoring stations,

environmental publicity centers, and research institutes, and (3) the subordinate district

environmental protection offices (EPOs).

       Before the survey was administered, a briefing session was held with representatives

from all of the surveyed units. These representatives then distributed the questionnaires to

employees in their units, collected completed questionnaires, and returned them to the

department in charge of the survey. Responses were obtained from 1312 employees in the three

EPBs and their district EPOs, out of 1465 distributed, providing an overall response rate of 90%.

In Dalian, 368 out of 409 employees completed and returned usable questionnaires (90%); in

Chengdu, a total of 444 out of 476 officials did so (93%); and in Guangzhou, 500 out of 580

were returned (86%).

       Given the Chinese regime’s apprehension that survey results may be used as a basis for

criticism of the government, it is typically difficult to collect survey data from public employees

in China. It is impossible to conduct these surveys without the endorsement, support, and

collaboration of the relevant government units. Hence, this survey provides a rare opportunity to

examine Chinese public employees’ perceptions of and reactions to various aspects of their

organization and their work environment. There was no evidence that leaders in any of the three

bureaus tried to influence the outcomes of the survey, and respondents were assured in the text of

the questionnaire that all data were collected solely for academic purposes and would remain

strictly confidential. Thus, it is reasonable to believe that the responses represent the true

opinions of the respondents.

       In addition to asking questions about the respondents’ demographic profiles and views on

various operational features of their agency, the survey measured seven variables pertinent to this

study, namely, organizational commitment as the dependent variable and six potential

antecedents as independent variables. These antecedents reflect the factors discussed above as

being relevant to the development of high levels of calculative/continuance and

attitudinal/affective commitment. Three variables—extrinsic rewards, job challenge, and

management support—are associated with the rational choice perspective’s focus on the benefits

received from the organization, and the other three—role fit, belief in mission, and

environmental consciousness—are related to the organizational behavior perspective’s emphasis

on psychological attachment to the organization.

       The survey items used to measure these seven variables are identified in Table 1. First,

organizational commitment was measured with a scale comprised of eight items (α = .81), most

of which were translated versions of questions used by Porter et al. (1974). Respondents

assessed their degree of agreement with these statements (and those comprising the independent

variables) using a five-point Likert scale ranging from “strongly disagree” (1) to “strongly agree

(5). One negatively-worded item was reverse-scored prior to calculating the scale mean.


                                     Insert Table 1 about here


       The independent variables were measured with scales comprised of three, four or, in one

case, eight items. Four of the scales (extrinsic rewards, management support, role fit, and belief

in mission) have reliability coefficients greater than .70 (typically considered a baseline for

adequate scale reliability). However, the coefficients for the other two are a bit lower than that

(α = .64 for job challenge, α = .67 for environmental consciousness), suggesting that results for

these variables should be interpreted cautiously. Finally, the survey included five questions to

ascertain demographic characteristics of the respondents (sex, age, education, years in unit, and

years in environmental protection) that served as control variables in the analyses.

       The relationships between the antecedent variables and organizational commitment were

assessed using regression analysis. Regressions were run for each city separately, as well as for

the sample as a whole. The next section presents the results of these analyses.


       Descriptive statistics and the correlation matrix for all the dependent and independent

variables are presented in Table 2. Overall, the average level of commitment in this sample is

relatively high (3.65) and the scores for all of the antecedent variables except for extrinsic

rewards are above the midpoint of the scale, indicating that the employees in this sample have

generally positive perceptions of the job and organizational conditions assessed in this study.

The correlations between commitment and all six antecedent variables are significant, indicating

that, individually, each of them is positively related to the level of commitment among the

employees in this sample. There are also a number of significant correlations among the

antecedent variables themselves, although non of these correlations are high enough to warrant

any concern about multicollinearity in the multiple regressions.


                                      Insert Table 2 about here


       Regression results are included in Table 3. It is worth noting first that the adjusted R2 for

each of the four regressions is .50 or greater, suggesting that this set of antecedent variables

explains quite a bit of variance (57% overall) in the commitment levels of the Chinese public

employees comprising this sample. The F-score for each regression is also significant at the .005

level. Looking at the results for the full three-city sample, coefficients for five of the six

antecedents are significant (p < .01), with only belief in government role not demonstrating a

positive relationship with commitment.


                                     Insert Table 3 about here


       Of the five significant antecedents, there seems to be a clear differentiation between three

of them with coefficients greater than .20 and the other two with coefficients less than .10. The

former – role fit, management support, and job challenge – are the only three variables to

demonstrate a significant relationship with commitment in each of the three cities individually.

Each of the other three antecedents is significantly related to commitment in at least one of the

three cities, but the pattern of findings for these variables varies among the cities. Extrinsic

rewards were a significant predictor in Chengdu and Dalian but not Guangzhou, while

environmental consciousness was a significant predictor in Guangzhou but neither of the other

two cities. Belief in mission, while not significant in the overall regression, was a significant

predictor of commitment in Chengdu. In essence, while three antecedents were common to the

public employees across the three cities, each city also had its own unique profile in terms of

which other antecedents were positively related to organizational commitment.

       Finally, while sex, age, and education are unrelated to commitment level among the

employees in any of these three cities, the two measures of tenure were significantly related to

commitment among the Chengdu employees. The number of years they had worked in the

environmental protection field was positively related to their commitment to their current

organization. In contrast, however, the number of years they had been employed in their unit

was negatively related to their level of commitment.


       The purpose of this study was to explore the antecedents of commitment among public

sector employees in China. The antecedents included in the research were drawn from the

rational choice and organizational behavior literatures, with the goal of investigating the efficacy

with which these two perspectives explain the conditions under which Chinese public employees

are committed to their organization. Furthermore, the broader intent was simply to assess

whether or not the determinants of commitment for Chinese employees are different from those

for the employees in western countries who have comprised the samples for most of the research

on commitment. While the findings do not yield conclusive data on this issue, some observations

pertinent to these questions can be offered.

       First, both the RC and the OB perspectives appear to contribute to an understanding of

commitment for these environmental protection officials. It is worth noting that extrinsic

rewards were not the most important antecedent of commitment in this sample (and wasn’t even

a significant predictor in one of the three cities), in contrast to what might be predicted by

rational choice theorists. However, significant relationships between commitment and both job

challenge and management support in all three cities suggest that commitment among these

employees is shaped primarily by the quality of their jobs and their managers. To the extent

these officials view interesting work and supportive managers as basic expectations to be met by

their employing organization, the presence or absence of these factors is likely to be weighted

heavily in the employee’s calculations regarding their desire to remain a loyal member of that

organization and perform at a high level. This result may also be partly due to the fact that the

environmental protection officials generally expect to stay in the same agency in their entire

career, as is true of most government employees in China, and they understand that their pay,

benefits, and promotion opportunities are quite rigidly defined. Thus what motivates them more

to commit to their organization is rather their perception of job challenge and management

support (and the pride derived from these).

       Beyond these considerations, it is clear that the most important determinant of

commitment among the employees in this sample is role fit. This suggests that these employees’

felt attachment to their organization is greatly influenced by the extent to which they “fit in,” as a

member of a team and as a contributor to the organization. This feeling of fit is important above

and beyond the employees’ desire for good rewards, challenging work, and good managers.

While these basic requirements might be thought of as the “necessary”conditions for

organizational commitment, a good fit might approximate the kind of “sufficient” condition that

could potentially compensate for inadequate levels of any of the other three factors.

       While the significance of fit as an antecedent of strong organizational attachment is

compatible with the organizational behavior literature, the OB perspective’s emphasis on a belief

in the organization’s mission and/or congruence between organizational and employee values

received only limited support in this sample. The employees’ environmental consciousness was

a significant predictor of commitment only among the Guangzhou employees. Since extrinsic

rewards were not related to commitment in this city, it appears that these officials, generally

speaking, are committed to their organization more because of their desire to make a difference

than because of what they are getting in return. This may be due in part to the fact that, at the

time of the survey, a new bureau chief had just been appointed who was younger, better

educated, more committed and determined, and trusted more by the municipal leadership. This

new bureau chief provided stronger leadership and generated greater inspiration among the

environmental protection workers by stressing the importance of tightening environmental

regulation in the city and warning agency officials of having a lax attitude in their work. The net

effect of this leadership may well have been to enhance the link between the employees’

environmental consciousness and their commitment to the organization.

       In Chengdu, commitment was significantly related to these officials’ belief that

government should place a priority on addressing environmental concerns, possibly reflecting the

fact that this city has more pollution and less economic development than the other two, and the

city government is viewed as more backward in terms of its environmental protection efforts.

However, the level of commitment in this city was inversely related to the number of years the

officials had been employed in their unit, suggesting that their organizational experiences, over

time, are diminishing the intrinsic commitment that stems from their belief in the organization’s

mission. Alternatively, this could be due to the fact that, in an effort to streamline the

bureaucracy as part of an administrative reform process in the environmental system, the number

of staff in the agency had been reduced by retiring officials who were older, less educated, and

underperforming. This may have served to reduce the level of commitment of the older

employees who remained in the organization.

       A second conclusion to be drawn from the findings of this study is that there are no

obvious differences between the factors that shape commitment among these Chinese public

employees and those that shape commitment among employees in many other countries and

contexts. A considerable amount of research on the antecedents of commitment has

demonstrated that commitment is typically a function of a multitude of factors, at the individual,

job, group, and organizational levels of analysis (Meyer & Allen, 1997; Morrow, 1993). Indeed,

among the respondents comprising the present sample, issues at all of these levels have some

bearing on their level of commitment. These employees are more committed when their jobs are

challenging, when they fit in well with their organization and its members, and when their

managers and the organization are supportive. Ultimately, there is nothing very notable in this

profile, as it seems reasonably consistent with findings from a wide variety of employees around

the world.

       Yet this consistency may itself be pointing to an interesting finding, namely, a

commonality across cultures that employees tend to be committed to their organization to the

extent that they experience the organization as being committed to them (cf. Miller & Lee,

2001). Research in both the private and the public sectors supports the notion that organizational

practices which take employee needs and interests into account are likely to generate higher

levels of commitment. This may reflect a universal desire by employees to have positive

organizational experiences, in return for which they will readily commit themselves to the

organization. The extent to which an organization cares about the well-being of its employees is

readily reflected in the myriad structural factors, social processes, and leadership activities

utilized to accomplish the work of the organization. How these features are enacted in the

organization is thus critical to the development of employee commitment (Robertson & Tang,

1995). A growing literature (e.g., Lawler, 1992; Pfeffer, 1998) is providing useful guidance to

practicing managers regarding how to design and develop “commitment strategy” (Walton,

1985; Black, 1999) organizations that are supportive of their human resources. A high level of

such “organizational commitment to employees” has been found to be related to such employee

outcomes as more dedication and motivation, greater creativity and initiative, and a stronger

sense of cooperation and community, and such organizational outcomes as improved quality,

reduced turnover, and better financial performance (cf. Miller & Lee, 2001).

       The notion that employees are committed to their organization when they perceive that

the organization is committed to them ultimately reflects an integration of the rational choice and

organizational behavior perspectives on commitment. It captures an essential theme in the RC

perspective that individuals are engaged in an exchange relationship with their employing

organization, and their commitment to that organization is largely a function of their satisfaction

with the conditions of exchange. Their willingness to remain with the organization and to

perform at a high level thus depends on the extent to which the organization provides them with

sufficient inducements to warrant their continued contributions of time, energy, and expertise.

Compatible with the OB perspective, however, a wide array of such “inducements” are important

to people, such that extrinsic rewards are not usually the primary factor affecting their level of

commitment. In fact, people appreciate the sense of belonging that comes with their perception

that they fit well in the organization, and the resulting emotional attachment significantly

influences their desire to remain with the organization and work hard to insure its success. This

attachment can be undermined, of course, if the work is boring and/or management is not

supportive, and these factors often play a more important role than extrinsic rewards in

determining levels of employee commitment.

       Ultimately, this integrated perspective suggests the importance of reciprocity as an

important condition underlying the development and maintenance of cooperative relationships

(cf. Axelrod, 1984). To the extent that employees perceive that their commitment to the

organization is reciprocated by the organization’s commitment to them, they are more likely to

engage in behavior patterns that are intended to benefit the organization. In order for

organizations to establish “credible commitment” that employees will act in ways that further the

organization’s interests, it is imperative that organizations act in ways that further their

employees’ interests. Ironically, what employees often want from their organizations—

meaningful work, greater discretion, opportunities for growth and development, supportive

managers—are not inherently costly to provide yet can yield direct benefits to the organization.

Instead of assuming that organizational and individual interests are in conflict with each other,

this conclusion suggests that they may be better aligned than is frequently assumed (cf.

Robertson, Trivisvavet, & Wang, 2003).

       It is interesting to find that similar dynamics appear to be operating among Chinese

public officials. They seem to prefer essentially the same kind of organizational conditions as

their western counterparts, which may be surprising given the different institutional and cultural

forces that shape the values and expectations of people in China. If nothing else, these results

suggest that contemporary organizational trends – for example, towards greater participation and

empowerment, less autocratic and more facilitative managerial styles, and increased emphasis on

person-organization fit – may be just as important and useful in such divergent cultures as China

as they are in the western societies where they have become popularized. Whether or not such

approaches can be successfully implemented in the Chinese institutional and cultural context

remains a challenging question that should be addressed in future research in this area.


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                                           Table 1

                         Scale Reliabilities and Survey Items:
            Organizational Commitment, Antecedents, and Control Variables

1. Organizational Commitment—average of the scores from 7 questions (α = .81)

       a.    I am proud to tell others that I am part of this organization
       b.    I find that my values and the organization’s values are very similar
       c.    I talk up this organization to my friends as a great organization to work for
       d.    I am willing to put a great deal of effort beyond that normally expected in order to
             help this organization to be successful
       e.    This organization really inspires the very best in me in the way of job
       f.    For me this is the best of all possible organizations for which to work
       g.    I would like to work for this organization for the long term
       h.    I feel very little loyalty to this organization (reverse-scored)

2. Extrinsic Rewards— average of the scores from 3 questions (α = .79)

       a. I am generally satisfied with the amount of pay and fringe benefits I receive
       b. I am paid fairly for what I contribute to this organization
       c. This organization provides me with a fair opportunity for advancement or

3. Job Challenge— average of the scores from 3 questions (α = .64)

       a. Generally speaking, my work is exciting and challenging
       b. I have a lot to say over what happens on my job
       c. The management of this organization usually seeks my input into decisions that
          directly affect my work

4. Management Support— average of the scores from 4 questions (α = .75)

       a. My supervisor treats me with concern and respect
       b. My supervisor gives me the support and guidance I need to be effective in my
       c. The management of this organization usually makes decisions without consulting
          knowledgeable employees (reverse-scored)
       d. Leadership in this organization has defined a clear mission for its employees

5. Role Fit— average of the scores from 5 questions (α = .78)

       a.   I can work independently
       b.   I can see how my work contributes to the mission of the organization
       c.   I get along well with my coworkers
       d.   Good teamwork is essential for me to do the job well
       e.   Doing my job is often a learning experience

6. Belief in Mission— average of the scores from 3 questions (α = .72)

       a. Society must give priority to solving environmental problems
       b. Government must give priority to solving environmental problems
       c. Government should invest more money in environmental protection

7. Environmental Consciousness— average of the scores from 8 questions (α = .67)

       a.   We are approaching the limit for the number of people the earth can support
       b.   The balance of nature is very delicate and easily upset
       c.   When humans interfere with nature it often produces disastrous consequences
       d.   To maintain a healthy economy we will have to develop a steady-state economy
            where industrial growth is controlled
       e.   Humans must live in harmony with nature in order to survive
       f.   The earth is like a spaceship with only limited room and resources
       g.   There are limits to growth beyond which our industrialized society cannot expand
       h.   Mankind is severely abusing the environment

8. Control variables

       a.   sex
       b.   age
       c.   education
       d.   years in unit
       e.   years in environmental protection

                                                                 Table 2

                                     Descriptive Statistics and Correlation Matrix

Variable                                                                                                          Standard
                   2      3      4       5       6       7       8        9       10      11      12      Mean    Deviation
3 city sample
(N= 1013)
1. Org.            .016   .067   -.047   -.022   .053    .388    .589     .571    .541    .243    .185    3.65    0.53
2. Sex             .      .093   .084    -.002   .026    -.001   -.008    -.016   .077    -.012   -.024   0.62    0.49

3. Age                           -.160   .455    .475    -.025   .003     .081    .111    .047    .048    37.88   9.00

4. Education                             -.145   -.104   -.047   -.077    -.024   -.055   -.032   .049    5.30    0.79

5. Years in Unit                                 .726    -.065   -.089    .032    -.006   -.018   .051    9.78    8.14

6. Years in                                              -.055   -.056    .061    .050    .000    .069    10.89   9.04
7. Extrinsic                                                     .472     .174    .436    .091    -.067   2.77    0.84
8. Management                                                             .300    .532    .172    .077    3.44    0.67
9. Role Fit                                                                       .317    .258    .208    3.97    0.40

10. Job                                                                                   .103    .018    3.33    0.67
11. Belief in                                                                                     .384    4.16    0.64
12. Env’t                                                                                                 3.93    0.51

Note: All figures are Pearson correlations; boldface are significant at the p<.05 level

                                              Table 3

                                  Regressions Results:
              Organizational Commitment on Antecedent and Control Variables


                         3-City        Chengdu         Dalian       Guangzhou

Extrinsic Rewards                .086***             .114***     .113*          .031
Management Support               .314***             .339***     .282***        .247***
Role Fit                         .368***             .348***     .414***        .404***
Job Challenge                    .210***             .174***     .193***        .286***
Belief in Mission                .037                .086*      -.016           .037
Env’l Consciousness              .070***             .033        .083           .093*

Sex (0=male; 1=female)           .009                 .037       .001          -.031
Age                             -.002                 .010      -.008          -.045
Education                       -.002                -.033       .012          -.021
Years in agency                 -.061*               -.122*     -.083           .086
Years in field                   .083**               .119*      .096           .000

Adjusted R2                     .565                .559         .497           .605
F                            119.851***           49.036***    29.319***      39.123***

No. of respondents              1009                  418        316            275


All entries are standardized coefficients
* p < .05       ** p < .01     *** p < .005


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