Job performance in the global economy: how the meaning of job performance varies cross-culturally

In the Australian work context, together with other similar individualistic Western countries (such as the USA and UK), job performance is typically assessed in terms of task (in-role) behaviour – i.e., how well an employee performs their duties;  organisational citizenship behaviour – i.e., going ‘above and beyond’ role requirements such as helping other employees with their workload; and counterproductive work behaviours – i.e., absenteeism and poor work practices.

In this global economy it is important to be aware of how job performance is assessed in other cultures, particularly more collectivist culture such as many Asian and Latin American countries.

In a recent study Varela, Salgado and Lasio (2010) examined cultural variations of job performance in Latin American collectivist cultures to determine whether our job performance models transcended cultural boundaries. Their study involved 1,022 government employees from Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador.

Summary of key findings

The study found that in these cultures organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB), which in countries such as Australia tends to be a discretionary behaviour, was more likely to be an expected behaviour, specifically actions that benefit coworkers. OCB refers to a variety of non-enforceable behaviours that exceed role expectations. Employees voluntarily engage in OCB in response to emotional states or dispositional traits – i.e., if they are in a good mood or are generous helpful people, employees may perform actions that are not expected but that serve organisational interests. While in Australia such behaviour is highly valued but not expected, in more collectivist cultures OCB focused on actions that support coworkers is more likely to be expected and therefore to act as an in-role behaviour.

Another key finding was that in such cultures there is greater separation between hierarchical positions. Low-level employees are not expected to, nor perform well, tasks that are typically associated with managerial roles (e.g., coordinating) and managers and higher level employees view those tasks as privileges reserved for their positions. Managerial staff also regard with disdain some of the expectations commonly associated with lower level positions (e.g., punctuality).

Implications

The study has important implications for global organisations, or those who interact regularly with businesses in collectivist cultures. It may be necessary to modify performance appraisals for culturally diverse countries. Expectations of performance and management behaviour also may need to be altered based on these findings.

One way to better understand the job context and organisational culture of your overseas subsidiaries or business partners is to use RightPeople’s PeopleMetrics survey tools. We provide surveys for small teams through to large businesses. Our academic research team are recognized as world leaders in the construction of attitudinal and behavioral questionnaires and we use this experience and expertise to deliver effective surveys. The Employee Attitude and Commitment survey is designed for employees and the Leadership Development survey is specifically designed for managerial and leadership positions. These tools can be tailored to your needs and help you better understand the work context, what is required and expected of employees and managers cross-culturally and can feed into performance evaluations.

Contact us to find out more.