IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

A comparative analysis of the Chinese and South African work ethic

Listed author(s):
  • Andre Slabbert
Registered author(s):

    Purpose - South Africa is a developing country, and within this context, it is essential to be economically competitive and proactive. Various sources reveal that the national productivity has been traditionally low, and continues to remain low. Within the context of the international arena, this is unacceptable. If South Africa is to become a recognised role player in the international arena, it is imperative to increase productivity like China. This paper aims to focus on the issues involved. Design/methodology/approach - A 65-item inventory which measures seven conceptually and empirically distinct facets of the work ethic construct, i.e. the multi-dimensional work ethic profile (MWEP) was utilised to critically distinguish between the Chinese and South African workforces. The samples approximated 150 subjects in each grouping. Findings which emanate from this study have distinct ramifications for the South African economy. Findings - It appears as if a linkage exists between productivity and work ethic, as illustrated by amongst others, Hamilton-Attwell and Du Gay and Pryke. Paradoxically, a number of other variables exist which impact on the productivity phenomenon, thus rendering a strict causal relationship between work ethic and productivity tenuous in nature. Despite this, it is a recognised reality that there is a substantive “negativity” in the work ethic of the South African labour force, possibly in relation to historical and cultural factors. The Chinese work ethic is diametrically opposed to that of South Africa. Research limitations/implications - In discussions with Chinese workers held in 2010, four primary schools of thought emerged: a firm belief that hard work will bring desired results; pride in personal accomplishments and hard work; fear of embarrassment or shame in case of failure; and immense patriotic pride in China and its achievements. It is the present authors' conviction that none of these apply to the South African labour force, and that most certainly could be partly responsible for the economic disparities between the two countries. Hence, additional research should be conducted to improve the current state of affairs. Social implications - Of the seven facets in the MWEP, six are positively slanted, while the other, leisure, can be construed as negatively aligned with a positive work ethic. Interestingly, if the Chinese sample is compared to the South African, this is the only facet where the latter obtains a superior score. The inference is clear: South Africans are essentially more concerned about having free time. In the overall context of the MWEP, this is a strikingly negative observation. Originality/value - One of the major challenges confronting South Africa, since the triumph of democracy in 1994, is low productivity of labour. Therefore, comparing South African work ethics with that of China will enable South Africa recognize the gaps in terms of behavior towards work and stimulate the countries international competitiveness.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

    Article provided by Emerald Group Publishing in its journal International Journal of Social Economics.

    Volume (Year): 38 (2011)
    Issue (Month): 8 (July)
    Pages: 734-741

    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:eme:ijsepp:v:38:y:2011:i:8:p:734-741
    Contact details of provider: Web page:

    Order Information: Postal: Emerald Group Publishing, Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley, BD16 1WA, UK
    Web: Email:

    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

    in new window

    1. S. Illeris & G. Akehurst, 2002. "Introduction," The Service Industries Journal, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 22(1), pages 1-3, January.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eme:ijsepp:v:38:y:2011:i:8:p:734-741. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Virginia Chapman)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.