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Cultural fit and job satisfaction in a global service environment

by Mark R. Testa, Stephen L. Mueller, Anisya S. Thomas

Abstract * This study investigates the extent to which "fit" between national and organizational culture impacts job satisfaction in a global service environment. Using a diverse sample of cruise line employees (n = 744) and managers (n = 624), Hofstede's power distance scores were regressed against a job satisfaction measure along with a set of control variables. * This study stresses the need for international organizations to understand and promote national and organizational cultural fit in an effort to improve job satisfaction and customer service. Key Results * Results suggest that cultural congruence has a positive effect on job satisfaction at the employee level, but not at the managerial level. Introduction Improving service quality and customer satisfaction continues to be an imperative for service organizations in the global market place striving to gain competitive advantage. With increased international competition, greater cultural diversity in the work force, and the internationalization of consumer tastes and preferences, many large multinational firms in the services sector are seeking ways to deliver quality service on a sustainable basis (Zeithaml/Berry/Parasuraman 1996). For instance, in Citibank's attempt to become the "premier international financial company of the new millennium" it has implemented a series of quality initiatives designed to satisfy customers at every transaction all over the world (Rucker 2000). Much of the emphasis has been on creating a quality-based culture, which strives for employee commitment. Similarly, Accor, the French multinational hotel chain, focuses on comprehensive human resource practices to increase customer value (Aung 2000). Their goal is to leverage their nurturing and empowering competencies as a means for improving customer satisfaction.

These global service organizations recognize that there is a strong link between employee performance and customer satisfaction, whereby service employees contribute directly to customers' evaluation of service quality (Hartline/Ferrell 1996). As a result, job satisfaction has received renewed attention in the service sector management literature as a means for improving a variety of work-related outcomes (Hellman 1997), customer satisfaction in particular (Hallowell/Schlesinger/Zornitsky 1996, Hartline/Ferrell 1996, Testa/Skaruupa/Pietrzak 1998). A basic assumption in job satisfaction research has been that fit between the characteristics of the individual and factors in the work environment improves employee satisfaction with the job itself and/or the work environment (Knoop 1994, Kristof 1996, Livingstone/Nelson/Barr 1997, Powell 1998). Empirical research supports the view that job satisfaction increases as the fit between the values of the individual and the values of the organization increases (Furnham/Walsh 1990, Krisotof 1996, Lovelace/Rosen 1996, Powell 1998). In other inquiries, the question of value congruence and its effect on employee performance has been framed in terms of an organization's culture serving as the method and means for disseminating organizational values (Newman/Nollen 1996). From a management practice perspective, achieving congruence between organization and employee values becomes more challenging when cultural diversity within the organization is high and the markets are international. To make matters worse, much of the industrial psychological research to date has been conducted in Western nations with little replication within other cultural contexts (Smith/Dugan/Trompenaars 1996). This raises the question as to whether findings from studies conducted with North American workers can be extended to workers of other national cultures. Newman and Nollen (1996) for example argue that management practices should not be universally applied, citing the limited success of pay-for-performance programs in non-Anglo countries. Shane, Venkataraman, and MacMillan (1995) share similar concern with universality, particularly in multinational corporations' efforts toward stimulating innovation. An important implication of the research findings cited above is that senior managers need to understand how national cultural values influence work-related behavior of subordinates from countries, which differ from the home country culture. This may be an even greater concern in the cruise industry where cruise lines are recruiting from all over the world to meet labor needs. The cruise industry has grown some 1400% over the past 30 years, with the 60 % of this growth taking place over the past decade (CLIA 2001). As a result of increased demand of the cruise product, 40 new ships were built in the 1980's, 80 in the 1990's and plans are for an additional 52 new ships constructed over the next 5 years (CLIA 2001). The result of this growth is a need for employees to fill operational positions, particularly onboard the ships. The source of

this labor is no less than 100 different countries, with as many different nationalities represented within several individual cruise lines. A truly multicultural environment is the result, in which a tremendous variance in cultural values and beliefs exists. The importance of understanding the impact of cultural congruence is compounded by nature of the cruise environment. Given the need for safety, particularly onboard the ships, a highly structured, autocratic environment is the norm. Subsequently, differences in national culture in the cruise industry and the rigid organizational culture that exists may create challenges for senior managers attempting to promote positive employee attitudes and behaviors as a means for improving service quality. The importance of understanding the impact of national culture on key organizational outcomes is supported in early work by Hofestede (1980) who proposed that an employee's nationality played a significant role in shaping values. To date however, few empirical studies have investigated the effect of congruence between national culture and organizational culture on work-related outcomes. Far less work has been done on cultural congruence in the cruise environment. In this study we investigate the extent to which fit between an individual's national culture and the organizational culture affects job satisfaction within the context of a large international service organization. Job Satisfaction Job satisfaction has a rich history in the management literature as in important employee attitude. While it may not be clear whether job satisfaction directly affects worker performance (Iaffaldano/Muchinsky 1985), research shows that job satisfaction is related to important work-related outcomes such as organizational commitment (Mathieu/Zajac 1990), pro-social behavior (Bettencourt/Brown 1997), and organizational citizenship (Organ/Lingl 1995, Organ/Ryan 1995). Further, job satisfaction has been linked to customer-oriented behaviors (Hoffman/Ingram 1992), and more recently to customer satisfaction--both directly (Testa/Skaruupa/Pietrzak 1998), and indirectly (Hallowell/Schlesinger/Zornitsky 1996). In an effort to understand how individual differences relate to job satisfaction, a variety of demographic variables have been investigated including age and tenure (Kacmar/Ferris 1989, Lynn/Cao/Horn 1996), gender (Mason 1995), and education level (Kutz/Borja/Loftus 1990). A natural extension of the individual differences model is to look at the relationship between minority status and job satisfaction. Milliken and Martins, for example, argue that homogenous groups are more likely to be attracted to each other than heterogeneous groups (Milliken/Martins 1996). That is, people find interaction with others who share similar backgrounds, values or experiences positively reinforcing. While past research suggests that organizational,

demographic and minority factors may play a role in predicting job satisfaction, the role of national culture on job satisfaction is not clear. Cultural Fit Currently there is little research on the role that national culture may play in job satisfaction. The work on diversity does provide some support for the notion that culture and job satisfaction are related based on the tokenism argument (Kanter 1977) and the heterogeneity argument (Tsui et al. 1992). For example, in an international service firm with high cultural diversity among its employees, the cultural "minority" may feel uncomfortable in a work environment that they perceive to be "foreign". Familiarity and expectations are also affected. In contrast, the cultural majority tends to feel more at home in an environment composed of similar people and values and perceives the work environment as having less surprises. Subsequently, the majority experiences less stress due to language barriers, unfamiliarity with customs and body language, and other cultural nuances. In other words, the environment is perceived to be more conducive (familiar) to the majority (home) culture than the minority (foreign) cultures.

Job Satisfaction and its effects on Organisational Performance

Ask people in the hospitality industry about Job Satisfaction and very few besides HR specialists can really respond with specifics. Studies in human behaviour within organisations have shown that it is indeed the satisfaction of employee needs that determine their level of happiness with the establishment. People may express their unhappiness at work by voicing their displeasure, passively waiting for the situation to improve, or worse still, by allowing conditions to deteriorate. High staff turnover and underperforming teams are often the result of discontentment at the work place. Unfortunately the reverse is not always true, that is to say that greater employee happiness does not automatically ensure greater productivity or lower staff turnover. Attempting to strike a balance between organisational goals and employee welfare would help us in our business endeavours. Let us see how. Generally, job satisfaction includes elements that evoke feelings of response within employees in areas such as: Nature of work, Remuneration, Relations with co-workers and Growth path. There is also that unique personality factor specific to each individual that needs to be considered. Rewards must be designed for employees that are either given by the establishment (extrinsic) or experienced by oneself (intrinsic). Many

managers erroneously attempt to apply their reward formulae universally to all employees. Basic extrinsic reward needs of employees must first be met. One must consider that people in our industry experience tough work conditions spread over long hours. Remuneration must be perceived as fair in relation to similar job profiles in the industry. Providing adequate equipment and a secure environment would encourage workers in doing a better job. People have a need for social interaction and a friendly and supportive set of co-workers and bosses help boost morale and create harmony in the work-place. Even more important, are the rewards that are intrinsically experienced, such as selfesteem from a feeling of accomplishment. When someone does a good job, they feel good. This leads to increased alertness and focussed attention the grounds for better productivity. On the other hand, conditions such as overworked employees, lack of control in decision-making, unclear objectives, problems with bosses or co-workers, incongruous demands or limited opportunities for advancement are a breeding ground for disaster. Unhealthy work conditions lead to increased staff turnover, absenteeism, corporate stagnancy, customer complaints and thefts. To successfully motivate an employee one must first determine what makes him or her tick. Next, convey to them realistic organisational goals they are expected to achieve. Finally link those specific rewards to their performance. Employees should also be backed up with structured devices such as organisational charts, job descriptions etc. to enable them to meet their objectives. From time to time, an organisation may need to introduce changes to make for a more conducive work environment. It may offer the opportunity to learn new skills or develop a fresh method for feedback on performance. Also, some sort of variety in tasks to be performed would keep boredom at bay. Take time out to clear the air of misunderstandings and tensions. Empower your employees with the spirit of concern and support. Develop opportunities for advancement through challenging work. Build trust through managerial competence and ethical behaviour. Create a workspace that is both interesting and enjoyable. Inspiring your team and providing them with tools that facilitate their progress are fundamental in channelising their efforts towards company advancement.