The Happiness Potential of Chinese Workers in German Companies in China

MBS China Happiness

A Study on Understanding Chinese Concepts of Happiness

China continues to be one of the most important trading partners for Germany. Branch offices and subsidiary companies in the Middle Kingdom have become an elementary part of the competitive strategy for German companies. Alongside mastering political challenges, one of the largest challenges is successfully and profitably integrating Chinese workers into their businesses. Occupying oneself with Chinese culture – now thousands of years old – becomes almost indispensable for achieving this. However modern influences on today’s younger generation are also relevant factors in being able to better understand the “mindset” of Chinese employees.

  • What moves them, what unites them?
  • What motivates them, what is important for them?
  • And in the end, what makes them happy?

Considering the happiness research, a decisive role is attributed to the cultural setting in which daily work is carried out. The success factor happiness influences worker motivation, performance and the constitution of corporate culture, and cannot be underestimated. Happier employees miss fewer days off work and are more productive. With this in mind, researching current and historical concepts of happiness anchored in the Chinese psyche becomes particularly interesting. A comparison with Europe may help to show differences and commonalities and help achieve a fundamental understanding of the success factor happiness (see MBS Working Paper 01/2017). In addition to this, the management has the opportunity to derive targeted measures for addressing the specific Chinese understanding of happiness and to adjust working conditions and incentives in the company accordingly.

As part of an MBS study, 280 Chinese employees in German companies in China were surveyed on the subject of happiness. This resulted in interesting impulses for new ideas for German management personnel in China. Numerous aspects of the positive combination of happiness and business culture were corroborated by the surveys.

Confucian Values

Above all, Confucian values are still relevant to the respondents. The aspects of trust, learning and harmony are classified as very important and are found both in demands on the employer as well as in employees’ perceptions of happiness. More than 80 % of the respondents combined increased personal learning and harmony with happiness. In addition, trust plays an irreplaceable role for the respondents in their perception of happiness. Employees would like to be able to build up trusting relationships both with co-workers as well as with executives. The study however showed that almost one half (49 %) are not satisfied with their relationship networks (Guanxì) in their company, and 44 % of the survey participants said their management did not impart corporate values credibly, nor live up to them in practice. Additionally, the desired values such as teamwork and creativity are not yet taken into consideration in the company sufficiently, so there is a discrepancy to the current situation in the company in each case.

MBS China Happiness

The relevance of informal discussions and social relationships extends especially deeply into the working life in China. 82 % of the survey respondents agreed with the Chinese saying “Sharpening the axe is not a waste of time when cutting wood”. In order to create a level of trust, it may be necessary to make sufficient time available for networking. Another saying shows how to handle conflicts: “Even when a transaction fails, humanity and justice must remain” (86 % approval level). For the survey participants, politeness and respect should be the compass for saving face (Miànzi) also in difficult situations. On the other hand, 53 % of those surveyed said they were having difficulty with Miànzi in their company.

Income and Consumerism vs. Tradition

The typical dualism of opposites in China also applies to the respondents’ ideas of happiness. On the one hand, especially young people in China strive to achieve a high income and a consumer lifestyle; on the other hand, they consider the tradition in which money has never been a central tenet to be highly significant. Nevertheless, money and wealth have been growing into central elements of the Chinese people’s own status and play a significant role above all in large cities. After all, about 87 % of those questioned are of the opinion that a high income can make them happy. In particular, striving for money showed a significant increase for those questioned living in low income households.

However this dualism makes another point of view possible simultaneously. 82 % found a deeper sense in their own actions to be especially important for happiness. Also living in harmony (83 %) and feeling loved (69 %) are of particular relevance for happiness to those questioned. Entirely in the spirit of a holistic view with its roots in oracles and Daoism, for 87 % unhappiness is always a part of their experiencing happiness. In addition, 87 % are of the opinion that a person’s individual happiness benefits through “adjusting to the surroundings”. With “adjusting to the surroundings” according to Confucius, active situative behavior according to society’s standards is intended, in order to guarantee harmony.

This study was able to determine a significant correlation between the level of happiness (with Sonja Lyubomirsky’s Subjective Happiness Scale [SHS] serving as a reference) and satisfaction with work, earnings and corporate culture within the company. It is noticeable, that the age group (aged 30-34) most strongly represented here is the unhappiest in a relative comparison. Furthermore, the study confirms that the level of happiness has a demonstrable effect on the respondents’ motivation and commitment. The happier the respondents were with their work, the more prepared they were to carry out voluntary overtime. In addition, satisfaction with work has a positive correlation to the level of happiness.

The correlation between happiness and the company culture and economic success shows what power and opportunities are hidden behind this subject. In general, it is important for German companies overseas to take the specific understanding of this country and with it intercultural management into consideration, especially in view of the success factor happiness. Analyzing the latest trends and traditional awareness helps to successfully integrate the factor of happiness into a company. The aim should be to make a high level of happiness obtainable for as many employees as possible, and in this way at the same time to improve business returns – a “win-win situation”, from which both sides can only benefit.

MBS Prof. Dr. Christian Schmidkonz
About Prof. Dr. Christian Schmidkonz 43 Articles
Prof. Dr. Christian Schmidkonz is Academic Director of the International Business master's program at Munich Business School. His teaching and research focuses on Conscious Business, Happiness at Work, and Business in China and Taiwan. Christian Schmidkonz holds a degree in Economics from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. He studied Chinese at Fu Jen University in Taiwan and is an alumnus of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). After holding positions at the ifo Institute for Economic Research and at the international management consultancy Capgemini, he won the "Multimedia" start-up competition organized by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology as an entrepreneur in 2008. In 2020, Christian Schmidkonz was awarded the "MBS Teaching Award", which was presented for the first time.
MBS Felix Behringer
About Felix Behringer
Felix Behringer is a Master International Business graduate of MBS.