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
School of Policy, Planning, and Development
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0626
Presented at the Public Management Research Conference
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.
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  “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
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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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
d. years in unit
e. years in environmental protection
Descriptive Statistics and Correlation Matrix
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Mean Deviation
3 city sample
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
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