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Power distance in cross-cultural environment: Observations from two Chinese companies in Europe

Academic Editor: Ergun Gide

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  • Cultural differences have a strong influence on the work and study climate in cross-cultural environment. A difference in power distance has been shown to be a major factor in decreasing motivation, especially when the superior follows a hierarchical leadership style but the subordinates expect equality. This can lead to high turnover rates in companies and low learning outcomes in schools if not taken into consideration. In this paper, we use examples to demonstrate how the problems appeared in two case studies of Chinese companies operating in Europe. The findings have been categorized into five themes: hierarchy, authority, closed communication, promotion, and unequal treatment.


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  • Figure 1.  Power-distance indexes for a few selected countries, including those for the two cases studies (Norway and Germany), the home of the authors (Finland) and the country of the host company (China)

    Figure 2.  Core of family in Western and in Chinese cultures. In Western culture, the core family is based on one's own choice (marriage), whereas, in Chinese culture, it is something into which you are born. One cannot choose his or her parents, brothers and sisters

    Figure 3.  Lack of discussion was also interpreted as a lack of interest; as an example, the colleague was only interested in talking about the forthcoming lunch, rather than discussing the matter in more detail

    Figure 4.  Guanxi in Chinese society (left) can be described as a circle with multiple layers; the inner circle is trusted most and the outermost layers least. One KBB employer also described the company organization as a layered circle (right), wherein locals form the innermost circle

    Table 1.  Characteristics of all participants interviewed during the data collection. Some of them may not have been cited in this paper, but they all influenced the theoretical conclusions drawn; their interview data may be found elsewhere

    Name Nationality Age Gender Position Education Work years Company
    Moss Scandinavia 49 M Senior manager ≥Bachelor < 1 CDD
    Johan Scandinavia 54 M Senior manager ≥Bachelor 2–3 CDD
    Erik Scandinavia M Formal CEO ≥Bachelor CDD
    Temper Scand.-Israeli 47 M Senior manager ≥Bachelor 1–2 CDD
    Cosimo Scand.-Italy 45 M Key account Bachelor 3–5 CDD
    Li Chi Scand.-China 44 F Administrator Master CDD
    Antonie France 38 M Vice CEO ≥Bachelor 2–3 CDD
    Ahmad Brunei 37 M Junior manager ≥Bachelor 1–2 CDD
    Katya Azerbaijan 39 F Chief accountant Master 1–2 CDD
    Ping Pong China 38 M CEO Bachelor > 5 CDD
    Wu Wei China 38 M Project manager ≥Bachelor > 5 CDD
    Xu China 40 M Account manager Master > 5 CDD
    Jia Ke China 38 M Senior manager Bachelor > 5 CDD
    Gao China 29 M Junior manager Master < 1 CDD
    Si Si China 40 F Senior manager Bachelor > 5 CDD
    Mr. Schneider Germany 50 M Engineer ≥Bachelor KBB
    Mr. Hoffmann Germany 56 M Sales ≥Bachelor 2–3 KBB
    Mr. Wolf Germany 30 M Engineer ≥Bachelor < 1 KBB
    Mr. Hunter Germany 50 M Senior manager ≥Bachelor 2 KBB
    Mr. Fischer Germany 60 M Trainer ≥Bachelor 1–2 KBB
    Mr. Weber Germany 40 M Senior manager ≥Bachelor KBB
    Mr. Müller Germany 60 M Senior manager ≥Bachelor 1–2 KBB
    Clara Germany 38 F Senior manager ≥Bachelor 1–2 KBB
    Claudia Germany 25 F Secretary Master KBB
    Sabine Germany 40 F Sales ≥Bachelor KBB
    Benjamin Belgian 50 M CEO ≥Bachelor < 1 KBB
    Daria Russia 40 F Sales ≥Bachelor KBB
    Mr. Wang Germany-China M Cross-cultural trainer ≥Bachelor KBB
    Mr. Miao China 61 M Group CEO ≥Bachelor ≥20 KBB
    Mr. King China 50 M Formal CEO ≥Bachelor ≥20 KBB
    Mr. Da Li China 20 M Assistant ≥Bachelor KBB
    Mr. Hui Hai China M Vice CEO ≥Bachelor KBB
    Mr. Zhao China 40 M Team leader Doctor 1–2 KBB
    Li Jie China 28 F HR assistant Bachelor 1–2 KBB
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