Interesting article at knowledge@Wharton, entitled, Building Workplace Trust in Some Cultures Blurs the Line Between Professional and Personal Life. The article is on a study by Singapore Management University professor of Tan Hwee Hoon, and management professors S. Arzu Wasti and Selin Eser of Sabanci University in Turkey, probing the impact “different cultures have on trust in the workplace.”
The studies concluded that both Turkish and Chinese “societies subscribe to a hierarchical system”:
They [both] accept that authority is not shared equally between leaders and followers, preferring rules and structured circumstances to ambiguity and uncertainty. The opposite is a society with low ‘power distance’ and ‘uncertainty avoidance’, where both people with power and others without power could interact on an equal basis, there is greater tolerance for people’s opinions, and a preference for as few rules as possible.
Both cultures also blur the line between personal and professional lives:
The similarities notwithstanding, the study did find attributes unique to these two countries. Common to both Chinese and Turkish cultures was a blurring of the line between personal and professional lives. Their collectivistic cultures facilitated the spillover effect from professional to personal, such as the sharing of personal information, time and space which served to bond employees in their professional domains.
For both countries, benevolence was the most significant attribute in both personal and professional contexts. The Turkish sample viewed benevolence in a variety of ways. In the professional context, it took the form of career guidance, showing understanding, being forgiving of subordinates’ mistakes or being unselfish — for example, encouraging the respondent to take a better job offer.
“Both the Turkish and the Chinese employees view paternalistic behaviors in their supervisors as the basis for trust formation or reinforcement. This is similar to the Chinese context where a good leader who looks after the welfare of followers in exchange for allegiance and loyalty is seen as benevolent,” but with some differences:
The Turkish respondents’ interpretations of benevolence were more akin to attributes such as humility and closeness, and linked to experiences in the personal domain. The Chinese respondents saw benevolence in the form of team spirit/cooperation and support in the professional domain. In many of the respondents’ own narratives, it was significant that the supervisor went down to the level of the respondents and respected and understood their situation.
The Chinese valued ability more than the Turks:
While Turkey and China are similar in some cultural aspects, they differ in others. For example, the authors cited the GLOBE study led by Robert House of the University of Pennsylvania which puts China’s performance orientation at 4.45, which is close to the US figure of 4.49, whereas Turkey’s score is below the mean at 3.83. “It provides a clue as to why ability is valued more highly in China as compared with Turkey where this attribute is not so salient in relation to trust in the supervisor and between peers,” said Tan.
Even though I attended a Turkish high school in Istanbul for a year, I do not know enough about workplace culture in either society to opine on the study. I did though find it interesting how close China was to the United States in terms of its “performance orientation.” I would bet China is closer to the United States on this than either Korea or Japan, for instance. This China-Turkey study was conducted in Istanbul and in Shenzhen only. Is it even fair to extend its findings countrywide?