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Motivation of Chinese frontline employees in a foreign-funded manufacturing company: A mixed methods study

Yichun Cao, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Work motivation of Chinese frontline employees in the manufacturing industry is a concern for both practitioners and researchers. While frontline employees play a pivotal role in the success of organizations, research on this specific population is limited. Accordingly, this mixed methods study was designed to explore how to motivate organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), a construct previously found to significantly correlate with both individual performance and organizational success. In the first quantitative phase, Chinese frontline employees' satisfaction of the three psychological needs identified in self-determination theory (SDT), namely autonomy, relatedness, and competence, their pay satisfaction, and perceived quality of leader-member exchange were utilized to predict their endorsement of OCB, using work engagement as the mediator. Using structural equation modeling (SEM), I found that frontline employees' satisfaction of relatedness and autonomy were positively associated with work engagement, which then positively related to their OCB (N = 521); and perceived quality of leader-member exchange and competence had significant direct relationship with OCB. Furthermore, I found that satisfaction of relatedness had the highest prediction on work engagement among the three psychological needs identified by SDT. So, in the second qualitative phase, I focused on understanding how to satisfy Chinese frontline employees' psychological need for relatedness. This phase of the study is important considering that, in the context of SDT, relatedness has been considered as a more distant motivator and, therefore, literature focusing on how to satisfy such need in the workplace is inadequate. Through interviewing 14 fulltime frontline employees and analyzing their responses, five themes emerged: relational-specificity, age boundaries, fairness, authenticity, and the negative impact of relatedness. These themes not only reflected participants' experiences of satisfaction and dissatisfaction of relatedness, but also revealed the efforts and challenges involved in satisfying frontline employees' need for relatedness. Therefore, this information can provide guidance to human resource managers in terms of how to satisfy such need. Limitations of the current research and future research directions are discussed at the end.

Subject Area

Asian Studies|Occupational psychology

Recommended Citation

Cao, Yichun, "Motivation of Chinese frontline employees in a foreign-funded manufacturing company: A mixed methods study" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI3685475.