The Multidimensional Value of Organizational Information Technology in Retaining Chinese Rural-Urban Employees: A Self-Esteem Perspective


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date20 Oct 2023


Information systems (IS) studies in the workplace context focus on developing and implementing information technology (IT) as well as exploring the resulting organizational changes. These studies mainly examine rational IT capabilities, such as task performance and information efficiency (Avgerou 2005, Orlikowski and Baroudi 1991). However, the rational and technical perspectives can be limited and insufficient when explaining certain phenomena.

Specifically, in the unique China rural-urban immigrant context, employees possess an unusual understanding of the role of organizational IT in their workplace. Rural-urban immigrants are individuals from rural areas searching for employment opportunities in large cities. Due to the objective rural-urban disparities in China, many people from rural areas have migrated to cities. In 2020, there were 285 million so-called rural-to-urban migrants in China. As these migrant workers settled in the urban cities, they faced significant challenges in terms of material and public resources, which gradually formed implicit discrimination toward this group (e.g., stigmatized words like “NongMinGong” in Chinese, which means workers from villages). The stigmatization of this group of people results in various problems. Specific to the workplace, the high turnover rate is an indicator of one such problem. The mobility rate of migrants greatly exceeds that of urban residents, especially in the service industry. However, in practice, managers find that, with all other factors being equal, some employees consider the organizations’ IT as a significant factor that influences their choice of organizations and turnover intention. Moreover, their explanations about the impact of IT rarely involve words such as helpful and effectiveness; instead, identity-relevant words such as modern and high-end are more common.

Reviewing relevant literature, we find that existing IS knowledge cannot explain this phenomenon. Therefore, based on the literature on rural-urban immigrants, IS, marketing, and organizational behavior, this study proposes that organizational IT platforms, which signal a “prestigious, modern, high-end” organization, could retain rural-urban immigrants suffering from stigmatization. Specifically, drawing on IS and marketing literature, this study theorizes that organizational IT platforms have both instrumental (e.g., help finish tasks) and symbolic (e.g., signal a modern, advanced organization) values to employees. Based on the self-esteem and organizational behavior literature, this study proposes that the instrumental and symbolic values of organizational IT influence employees’ turnover intention via the mediation of personal trait-based personal self-esteem (PSE) and social identity-based collective self-esteem (CSE) correspondingly.

To examine the hypotheses, two rounds of surveys were administered within a Chinese beauty and health corporation, which primarily employs rural-to-urban migrants. A total of 248 valid cases were left after matching the two waves of surveys. Results show that most of our hypotheses are supported.

This study has several contributions.

First, this study follows the socio-technical paradigm and identifies new IS knowledge in an important and pervasive context. The significance of considering the context of IS innovations in developing countries cannot be over-emphasized but is often overlooked (Avgerou 2001). This study is the first to discuss organizational IT artifacts as a social object in the rural-urban immigrant context. By introducing the self-esteem perspective (Luhtanen and Crocker 1992), this study provides evidence that IT can have surprising impacts in a specific social context. Specifically, organizational IT artifacts can influence important work outcomes, such as employees’ turnover intention via the self-esteem of rural-urban immigrants.

Second, this study emphasizes the importance of the IT artifact’s symbolic value at the micro level, which is underestimated in previous IS studies. In the past, research on organizational human–technology interaction focused on usefulness and usability (i.e., instrumental value). This focus, however, is inadequate in some situations (Rafaeli and Vilnai-Yavetz 2004a). The present study points out that the role of symbolic value should not be ignored under specific contexts (i.e., rural-urban immigrants). The underlying mechanism is employees’ CSE, and the results of data analysis support the proposition. Additionally, as socioeconomic status increases, the impact of symbolic value and CSE diminishes.

Third, this study contributes to organizational behavior literature by recognizing organizational IT as an important asset to increasing organizations’ attractiveness. The role of the symbolic value of an organizational asset in attracting employees has a solid foundation in organization impression management literature. For example, office buildings and the color of the logo are found to convey the symbolic meaning of organizations. However, studies rarely treat organizational IT as an asset with symbolic and signaling value. This study extends this literature by considering organizational IT as one such asset. This study also finds that the symbolic value of IT is stronger for individuals with relatively low socioeconomic status.

    Research areas

  • Symbolic value, IT artifact value, rural-urban immigrants, Self-esteem, social identity, socioeconomic status, turnover intention