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The Role of Autonomy in Local Workers’ Organizational Identification in Chinese MNCs in North Americ

Cross-culture management scholars have been researching how to motivate diverse employees in multinational corporations (MNCs) for many years. The previous studies were focused on the Western companies’ branches in Eastern countries. With the rapid increase of Chinese investment in North America, a new problem happened—how to foster local workers’ organizational identification (OI) in Chinese MNCs in North America. Autonomy/ empowerment is often considered as one of the essential approaches to resolve this problem.

Autonomy refers to control or volition—the desire for individuals to have freedom to determine how to integrate their work with their sense of self. Psychological empowerment refers to an increase in intrinsic task motivation manifested in a set of four cognitions reflecting an individual’s orientation to his or her work role: meaning, competence, self-determination and impact. Self-determination shows one’s feelings of autonomy in making decisions in areas such as work methods, time, pace, and effort.

Erturk demonstrated that when employees are empowered by management, the employees will have the opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes in the organization. Involvement in decision-making processes makes it very easy for employees to accept and own those decisions. When the employees accept and own decisions, they will also accept organizational goals to a great extent. Then, they will perceive the organizational goals as their own goals. This situation increases the common attributes between the employee and the organization, thus fostering the degree to which an employee defines him- or herself by the same attributes as the organization. Therefore, when employees feel more empowered, they will also identify more strongly with their organization.

Autonomy also involves trust in the supervisor. Erturk argued that when trust in a supervisor interacts with psychological empowerment and perceived organizational support, a positive psychological state is created for stronger organizational identification, as the supervisor is a representative of the organization. Drucker stated that autonomy involves being allowed to fail in one’s job function to be able to learn from one’s mistakes and do better next time. This freedom and individual control to helps employees do what they want to do and increase their feelings of OI.

OI leads to psychological empowerment. Shamir stated that when the concept of self is based on belonging to an organization, the participation in the activities of the collectivity is likely to increase, because such participation affirms personal self-concept. According to Kark et al., one consequence of this affirmation of self-concept is an increase in feelings of empowerment. So, the more an employee identifies with an organization, the more he or she is likely to experience specific psychological rewards, such as enhanced feelings of empowerment. Therefore, it seems the link between OI and psychological empowerment creates an upward spiral, whereby psychological empowerment increases OI, which in turn increases psychological empowerment.

According to Hofstede’s theory, the USA and China have a big difference in the cultural dimensions of power distance and individualism. Chinese culture is higher power distance and less individualism than America culture. Power distance is from the organizational perspective; it can be defined as the degree of inequality among people that the population of a country considers as normal: from relatively equal (that is, small power distance) to extremely unequal (large power distance). Individualism is the degree to which people in a country prefer to act as individuals rather than as members of a group.

The power distance dimension has a negative correlation with autonomy. Randolph and Sashkin found that when power distance is high, people are not comfortable making decisions that their managers have previously made, are more accustomed to an autocratic management style, and are more likely to accept authority’s directions without question to avoid disagreement with leadership. Ji et al. suggested that subordinates in high-power-distance contexts must be cautious when interacting with their supervisors, because subordinates might worry about being viewed as incompetent by their supervisors.

In contrast, Lian et al. stated that subordinates with low-power-distance orientation (e.g., American) take active participation in decision making, prefer active and frequent communication with leaders, and build closer relationships with leaders. They may wonder why managers have been so slow to let go of control and welcome enhancing the movement to empowerment.

But empowerment may not be suitable for all organizations. Robert, et al. revealed that empowerment was negatively associated with employee satisfaction in India. It means individuals in some high-power-distance cultures (e.g., India) may tend to prefer a hierarchical structure, whereas individuals in other high-power-distance cultures (e.g., Mexico and Poland) may merely tolerate it.

The employee in an individualistic culture is likely to be empowered by a decision-making ability than an employee in a collective culture. De Mooij stated that in an individualist culture, people are typically encouraged to express their views. On the contrary, in collectivist cultures, there often exists a strong “we” consciousness where group decisions are preferred over individual decisions. Hofstede states that in a collective society, “everybody is supposed to look after the interests of his or her ingroup and to have no other opinions or beliefs than the opinions and beliefs of their ingroup.” Magnini and Ford argued that due to mental programming, service personnel in collective societies “are sometimes hesitant to express their opinions or make decisions without first conferring and ascertaining the ‘mass view.’” On the contrary, individualists perceive themselves as more differentiated and separate from others and concentrate more on establishing their individuality. Therefore, individualists likely have more comfort with empowerment than collectivists.


· The organization structure of Chinese MNCs in North America should be flattened, and less not hierarchical, and to decrease the power distance between the leader and followers, reducing the power distance by making local workers feel more equal to the leader.

· Encourage employees to participate in decision making, strengthen their autonomy and enhance their feelings of job control to foster local workers’ organizational identification.

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