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Change in China? Taking stock of blue collars’ work values

Marina Anna Schmitz (CBS Cologne Business School GmbH, Koeln, Germany)

Journal of Chinese Human Resource Management

ISSN: 2040-8005

Article publication date: 20 June 2019

Issue publication date: 10 December 2019




This paper aims to provide insights into current issues, such as changing expectations and needs of blue-collar workers, from both an employee and HR perspective, to provoke further research in the business context on this crucial cohort, as well as broaden the current understanding of Human Resources Management (HRM) measures and incentives implemented by the respective foreign companies.


The author conducted semi-structured interviews with 25 Chinese employees of German multinational companies working in the automobile industry located in Shanghai. Among them, 17 were blue-collar workers and 8 were white-collar workers (General Manager or HR Manager).


Besides factors attributed to work conditions, all of the work values are located in the individual domain, regarding their level of focus (Facet C according to Lyons et al.). Work values in the growth orientation domain (Facet B according to Lyons et al.) show a mix between context- and growth-oriented factors. However, context-oriented factors are still outnumbering the frequency of growth-oriented ones. Regarding the modality of work values (Facet A), all of the categories (instrumental, social, cognitive and prestige) were reflected in the answers of the blue-collar workers.

Research limitations/implications

Due to the limited number of interviewees no final statement can be made on how age, education, gender, or other demographics influence certain work values. Additionally, Inglehart and Abramson (1994) also mention other potential explanations for observed differences, such as inflation or unemployment rates, and per capita gross national product which were not discussed in this research. Furthermore, the HR management selected the interview candidates regarding the blue-collar cohort which could indicate biased answers of the interviewees.

Practical implications

HRM systems (e.g. reward systems or job design) should be adapted to meet the individual preferences of employees and be sensitive toward a potential value change among certain generational cohorts. The findings showed that although pay is still on the mind of the blue-collar worker, career development seems to be even more important for the future blue-collar workforce. Therefore, companies should as well consider non-financial retention strategies in the future.

Social implications

Due to the talent shortage in China, employee’s ability to assert their interests, wishes and values could be taken to a new level. However, this does not hold true for the (still increasing) flood of migrant workers, often suffering from bad working conditions or discrimination incurred by their hukou status. Although recent changes in the labor regime have taken place (e.g. social insurance reform and labor contract law), the protection of migrant workers still remains insufficient.


By examining the work values of blue-collar workers, this paper draws meaningful implications for talent management with regard to work outcomes, in particular voluntary employee turnover, which is considered to be an issue of concern by both economists and businessmen.



Schmitz, M.A. (2019), "Change in China? Taking stock of blue collars’ work values", Journal of Chinese Human Resource Management, Vol. 10 No. 1/2, pp. 49-68.



Emerald Publishing Limited

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