Abstract We integrate and extend the literatures on perceived organizational support (POS), organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), and comparative cross-cultural management by examining whether the POS-OCB relationship is contingent on national culture. In social exchanges between the organization and its employees, employees are likely to act as good citizens in reciprocity to the support provided by their organization. At the same time, it is possible that national culture couches and hence modifies the strength of these exchanges. We use meta-analysis to test the hypotheses. To test national culture as moderator, we use country-level cultural dimensions from Hofstede. Results suggest that the POS-OCB relationship can vary across cultures. While perceived organizational support has a positive influence on citizenship, the influence is stronger in some cultural settings. Higher levels of collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and femininity strengthen the POS-OCB relationship. Hence, the POS-OCB relationship is embedded within--and therefore moderated by--the cultural aspects of the larger society.
Keywords Hofstede * National culture * Organizational citizenship behaviors * Perceived organizational support * Social exchange
Perceived organizational support (POS) is an employee's "perception of being valued and cared about by the organization" (Eisenberger et al. 1990, p. 52). Support from the organization has been shown to be consequential for a host of positive work outcomes, including engagement, task performance, and citizenship (Kwon et al. 2010; Qi 2005; Eisenberger and Stinglhamber 2011 for a recent narrative; Rhoades and Eisenberger 2002 for a meta-analytic review). With the POS research domain becoming more mature, it also becomes ripe for new theoretical insights (Kwon et al. 2010; Qi 2005). For example, in a recent narrative review, Baran et al. (2012) note that "to date only a few of the relationships explicated in organizational support theory (OST) have been tested internationally." More importantly, these authors also note that "future research on POS should continue to explore whether the relationships hold across cultures, whether they differ in strength, whether new antecedents or outcomes are relevant, and why" (p. 139). This study responds to such calls for research by offering theoretical clarifications supported by meta-analytic evidence (Bausch and Krist 2007; Reus and Rottig 2009; Stahl and Chua 2012; Tan and Sousa 2013).
Specifically, we ask: is the relationship between perceived organizational support and employees' citizenship behaviors modified by cultural factors? Employees' organizational citizenship behaviors (OCB) are defined as "contributions to the maintenance and enhancement of the social and psychological context that supports task performance" (Organ 1997, p. 91; Organ et al. 2006). Within the broader theoretical landscape of social exchange theory, in which the POS-OCB relationship is typically embedded, the relationship can be viewed from at two, often competing, perspectives--social psychology versus anthropology (Ekeh 1974, p. 44-46; Parsons 1961). One perspective, presented by selected schools of social exchange thought in social psychology, is that employees act as citizens in reciprocity to perceived support from organizations for their individual interests (Blau 1964; Gouldner 1960; Homans 1958). If employees perceive that their self-interests are supported by the organization, they will reciprocate with citizenship behaviors. Much of this social exchange perspective can be traced to Homans' (1958, 1961) emphasis on conscious self-interests in reciprocity. Blau (1968) also noted that "many aspects of social life do reflect an interest in profiting from social interaction, and these are the focus of the theory of social exchange" (p. 452). This "self-interests" perspective is based on the belief that satisfying the psychological needs of the individuals helps promote positive social behavior (Ekeh 1974) and presumes a "contribution of self-interest to social morality" (Janowitz 1967, p. 638).
Focusing on a different aspect, a number of anthropologists honed in more pointedly on cross-cultural variations in reciprocity during social exchange. They posited that cultural beliefs of the larger society (assumed to be embedded in its members) strengthen or weaken moral reciprocity in social exchanges (e.g., Hofstede and Bond 1984; Hofstede and McCrae 2004; Levi-Strauss 1949, 1969; Mauss 1954). That is, people who engage in social exchange "do so as part of society" (Ekeh 1974, p. 33). This perspective can be traced back to Levi-Strauss (1949), who emphasized that reciprocity is embedded in the generalized moral norms of the society. Levi-Strauss explained that it is "the human mind, buried down deep in common humanity, unknown even to actor himself, that provides us with an explanation of social phenomena" (Ekeh 1974, p. 40). Society is seen as a "preexisting matrix of trust and moral obligation which couches all transactions" (Stolte 1975, p. 396). Social exchanges are no exception: as everything is embedded within socio-cultural beliefs, "social exchange is a supraindividual process and individual interests may be involved in it but they cannot sustain a social exchange process" (Ekeh 1974, p. 43). In such exchanges, the morality resulting from reciprocity is culturally determined (Levi-Strauss 1969, p. 138). Furthermore, the "basis of moral action is general," and the generic cultural beliefs of society form the "bedrock" that enables moral outcomes from reciprocity (Mauss 1954, p. 68).
The arguments we have highlighted above are not intended to suggest any major disciplinary biases. After all, both social psychologists and anthropologists, when brought together, would probably acknowledge that the POS-OCB relationship is an important relationship and that it could vary among cultures (Jackson 1988). Moreover, it would be difficult to argue that social psychologists do not believe in culture, or that anthropologists don not accept that some relationships are at least in the same direction across cultures. Yet the arguments reveal some history of theoretical tension (see also Faye 2012) and provide useful pointers on how our research question can theoretically contribute to the social exchange literature. In an attempt to further integrate these historical schools of thought, we ask: how can these perspectives be brought closer to one another?
Our integrative effort starts by accepting that self-interests play a role in social exchanges between the organization and its employees: employees are likely to act as good citizens in reciprocity to the (perceived) support provided by their organization for their individual interests. We also accept the argument that society couches and hence modifies the strength of these exchanges. The integrated perspective offered in this study captures both aspects: the relationship between perceived organizational support and employees' organizational citizenship behaviors is embedded within--and hence moderated by--the cultural dimensions of the larger society.
To test our hypotheses empirically, we rely on country-level cultural dimensions as moderators in a meta-analysis of the relationship between organizational support and citizenship behaviors in their affiliative (prosocial) forms (Eisenberger et al. 1986; Organ et al. 2006). In the light of findings indicating that cultural dimensions influence or modify a number of phenomena of importance in work organizations (e.g., Atwater et al. 2009; Li and Cropanzano 2009; Rockstuhl et al. 2012; Shao et al. 2013; Taras et al. 2010), our objective is to extend current knowledge by exploring the extent to which the POS-OCB relationship varies across cultures. We focus on the cultural dimensions outlined by Hofstede (1980, 2001) as moderators: individualism-collectivism, masculinity-femininity, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance. A recent meta-analysis confirmed that these cultural dimensions influence a large number of organizational outcomes (Taras et al. 2010).
We extend, in several ways, the knowledge base built by prior studies. First, researchers theorized and found support for an overall positive relationship between POS and OCB (Baran et al. 2012; Riggle et al. 2009; Rhoades and Eisenberger 2002). Despite the apparent universality of this relationship, can researchers assume that its strength is invariant across cultures? Researchers have provided both meta-analytic results (Taras et al. 2010) and called for research on how cultural factors are related to organizational citizenship (Gelfand et al. 2007; Organ et al. 2006, p. 138). Practically, this is a stringent need in a world where engaging in business beyond one's local culture is pervasive (Bartlett and Ghoshal 1998).
Second, our thinking about the POS and OCB constructs might need to change to accommodate the fact that these constructs do not exhibit a stable relationship in different cultural contexts. Meta-analytic tests are necessary to start addressing mixed findings originating from primary studies across the world (Bausch and Krist 2007; Reus and Rottig 2009; Stahl and Chua 2012; Tan and Sousa 2013). If guidance is sought in the existing literature, the likely role of the cultural context in the POS-OCB relationship is either unclear or puzzling. Power distance is one such example. As substantiated in existing work, some forms of social exchange generate increased citizenship under high power distance conditions (Begley et al. 2002; Botero and Van Dyne 2009). In other research, however, the same relationship is stronger in cultural settings with low levels of power distance (Farh et al. 2007). A test across multiple samples and contexts, as performed in the current study, can clarify existing ambiguities while stimulating more precise theory development.