Culture at Work

Cultural change and job satisfaction in a multinational manufacturing company

Real-world problem as basis for the project

  • Employees of a specific Japanese manufacturing company have reported low levels of job satisfaction for many years

Study objectives

  • Generate a cultural theory of job satisfaction
  • Generate a cultural theory of job satisfaction
  • Provide an in-depth case study of a manufacturing MNC in Japan
  • Make concrete suggestions for the company to improve JS

Key facts

  • HQ and factories in Japan
  • Foreign-owned, ongoing international expansion
  • ~10.000 Employees; ~500 foreign employees and expats
  • Top managment almost exclusively expats

Research Questions

  1. How is job satisfaction construed by different social groups and entities within the company?
  2. What are the consequences for this company and other organizations who want to raise their employees’ level of job satisfaction?


The study follows the theory-generating constructivist methodology of praxeology (Bourdieu 1997; Reckwitz 2003) and relational analysis (Bourdieu/Wacquant 1992; Everett 2003), which is used as a basis to create and analyze field notes and interview questions/transcripts.

As a resource on how to systematically generate theory from this data, Grounded Theory (Glaser/Strauss 1973) is used


Field notes from 5 months of participant observation in HR
Transcripts from ~ 40 face-to-face interviews with employees, managers
Transcripts and notes from 5 expert interviews

Preliminary Results

Organizational climate

Generally good in-group atmosphere in almost all departments, but strong perceived disconnect between different parts of the organization and between top and bottom

Case: Internal branding

An employee from a regional sales center feels pride for the company, but feels no emotional connection with the parent company. The switch of internal branding to reflect the parent company’s name and design elements is confusing and inappropriate to him

Employee Benefits

Traditional Japanese benefits like relocation budgets, company housing, gratuities from customers and nomikaibudgets have been eliminated, causing much dissatisfaction and even precarious situations

Case: Tanshinfunin

An employee was relocated fromNagoya to Kanto 6 years ago. His family still lives in Nagoya and he goes home once a month . Due to the company’s cutting of relocation aid, he cannot afford to move his family to Kanto. All of his disposable income is spend on traveling and housing –he cannot afford a smartphone or laptop to make video calls


Work-related communication seems rather efficient (with exceptions), but Human Relations issues are ignored, leading to distress.

Case: Employee survey

Every employee takes part in a biannual employee survey, yet many respondents claimed that they never learn about the results from their manager. Employee satisfaction and the employee survey are non-topics in most departments

Job security and career perspectives

Despite the company‘s policy of avoiding layoffs at all cost, many employees find themselvesin a situation of precarious employment.

Case:The 6h commute

An employeewho had a shaky relationship with his superior was given an assignment in an outside office that required 3h of travel time from and to work every day, with required daily check-in at the HQ office and no option for a permanent relocation. In addition to his private life, his performance suffered so much that his future career options in the firm vanished completely. He is encouraged by his superior to leave the company.

Top-down culture

There seems to be a fundamental conflict of bottom-up Japanese management and MC’s strong top-down culture

Case: Training program

An employee from human resources has developed a trainingprogram that has received very favorable feedback among colleagues. Following the rules of bottom-up management, the project was proposed to the manager, who obtained approval from his managerial colleagues as well. However, after several years of work, the project still hasn’t come to fruition due to the difficulty of getting top management on board with an agenda that did not originate at the top.

Case: Time management

Rigorous product cycles and downsizing in anticipation of economic developments leave employees with “not enough time to do their jobs” (in terms of targets as well as work ethics). Employees feel that top management is not aware of the actual working conditions in the departments

Case:Customer relations / performance

The parent company’s global guidelines and control mechanisms don’t allow to maintain customer relations as usual. E.g., cash payments and customer gratuities require lengthy compliance checks and are often denied.

Preliminary Conclusions

Different company cultures between parent and subsidiary seem to matter more than national cultures
Precarious life conditions are often hidden beneath the surface, despite sufficient pay
Due to different management cultures, many resources are being poured into communication that has no receiver
Even years after the acquisition, there is no feeling of inclusion and togetherness between parent company and subsidiary