Four Secretaries and Their Jobs
Four classmates from a Chinese college all took jobs as secretaries after graduation. Five years later they had a reunion and discussed their jobs.
Kate Chen and Sandy Dai both work for a Finnish company in Shanghai. Kate is secretary to the Finn general manager, and Sandy is secretary to the Chinese local supervisor, a position only slightly lower than that of the Finn manager.
Lena Zhang was hired as the secretary to the leader of a small government bureau in the capital city of her home province. Christina Lu works for a state run enterprise in the same city where she was hired as the secretary to the manager for international trade. The company has never conducted business abroad so this office is new to the company.
Five years later Kate Chen is satisfied with her job but Sandy Dai is not. The Finn manager receives orders from the company??™s home office in Finland and he gives orders to those below him, including his secretary Kate. He tells her how he wants his time scheduled and she then makes appointments for him according to his instructions. She translates memos and other documents and interprets from Chinese to English and English to Chinese. If the manager does not like her work, he tells her right away. He is very demanding, but Kate feels that she knows what her duties are and knows what her manger expects. She is confident that she is doing a good job.
Sandy Dai often does not have as much work as Kate Chen does, because her boss schedules his own appointments and does a lot of the office paperwork himself. When he is out of town, she has time to study for the graduate entrance exam. However, she is not sure whether or not she is doing a good job. Her manager tells her what she is expected day by day. When people call or come to the office to see her boss, she greets them, takes their messages as well as their questions and requests and passes them on to her manager. Sandy thinks of her job as doing what her manager wants her to do. She pays close attention to his moods and behavior, and sometimes she is able to anticipate what he would like without him telling her.
Lena Zhang looks and sounds confident. She reports that she and her boss have a close working relationship. The boss has to write a lot of reports. He usually simply tells her what the report is to be about and she writes it for him. After all, she is more familiar with the details of the day-to-day operation of the office than he is, because he is away much of the time attending meetings. It is also part of her job to decide who among the many people who want to see her boss will be given an appointment, to handle some personal business for her boss, and to inform him of important people and events that he should know about. Lena Zhang is proud of the fact that her boss depends on her so much. She is a quick learner and able to handle all the complexities of relationship in exactly the way her boss would handle them. Lena Zhang is excited that her boss may soon be given a new and better position and she expects to move to the new office with him.
Christina Lu is the picture of the busy career woman. In the last five years she has put in long hours and has acquired many new professional skills. She says the first years with her company were difficult, because no one had a clear idea how to handle international business. She was able to help her boss with several projects by making use of what she had learned in her university studies. Because she could speak English, she accompanied company leaders on several trips abroad to visit foreign clients. Her hard work is starting to pay off, as she was recently assigned responsibility for the marketing of a product the company has developed in conjunction with a foreign company.
Using a scale of zero to one hundred, rate each of these work situations on power distance. You might want to give a different power distance score for each boss-secretary pair. In a class discussion defend the scores you give. Consider all the factors that influence the large and small power distance relationship.
(Adapted from Davis, L, Doing Culture: Cross-Cultural Communication in Action, Beijing: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press, 2005, p. 225-227)