Sample PhD Research Methodology Chapter

1.0 Introduction

This chapter designs a comprehensive research methodology tailored to the aim and objectives of the study. Specifically, the research methodology chapter is responsible for explaining the philosophical underpinnings, as well as explaining their role in examining the selected research phenomenon. Second, the researcher’s philosophical orientation is explained and the rationale for the chosen methods is provided. Finally, this chapter defends the selected data collection instruments and analysis procedures, paying close attention to their advantages and limitations. Ethical issues and methodological limitations are covered in the end.

2.0 Ontological Perspective

The process of designing a research methodology starts with the branch of ontology, which is primarily concerned with what exists in the human world and what knowledge could be acquired about this world (Anfara & Mertz, 2014). With the help of ontology, researchers can recognise the extent to which the objects they are researching are ‘real’ and what ‘truth claims’ can be made about these objects (Chawla & Sodhi, 2011). The spectrum of ontological stances ranges from naïve realism to relativism; the former assumes that there is a single reality, which could be understood using appropriate research methods, whereas the latter implies that realities exist as multiple mental constructions that change depending on the subject and context in which they exist (Crotty, 2020).

This study follows a bounded relativist position, according to which there is one shared reality within a bounded group (Easterby-Smith et al., 2012). This choice has been made because organisational culture is a context-specific phenomenon, meaning each organisation has its own culture that is manifested in its values, artefacts, stories, and symbols (Kumar, 2014). The existing literature shows that organisational culture is something that is shared by all employees, suggesting there is a single reality within this group (Crotty, 2020). Although there may be outliers, organisational culture is often viewed as the glue that connects the employees of the same organisation and communicates the reality in which they exist.

3.0 Epistemological Perspective

Having identified how ‘things’ are, it is relevant to identify how the researcher creates knowledge by selecting and justifying an epistemological stance. The methodology literature distinguishes between three major epistemological positions, depending on the relationship between the object and the subject (Anfara & Mertz, 2014). Objectivism implies that meaning exists within an object and there is an objective reality that exists independently of the subject (Dew & Foreman, 2020). On the other end of the spectrum lies subjectivism, according to which it is the subject that creates meaning and imposes it on an object (Saunders & Lewis, 2014). Finally, constructionism is a more balanced epistemological position, where the interplay between the subject and the object creates meaning but the reality of the object is still constructed by the subject (Kumar, 2008).

Since the phenomenon of organisational culture exists independently from the researcher, this study is in keeping with the constructionist stance, which allows for generating a contextual understanding of organisational culture and its role in employees’ well-being perception in the selected company. On the one hand, each employee has their views, values, and beliefs, which inevitably affect their perception of well-being (Pruzan, 2016). This fact implies that multiple realities are likely to exist, which are shaped and formed by the company’s employees, as well as the meanings they attach to the world in general and their employer’s organisational culture, in particular (Dew & Foreman, 2020). Still, since the researcher attempts to establish the relationship between organisational culture and employees’ perceptions of well-being and achieve an adequate level of generalisation, the adoption of subjectivist epistemology seems counterproductive. In turn, objectivism fully excludes the possibility of the existence of multiple sources of meaning, which explains why this epistemology has not been adopted either (Chawla & Sodhi, 2011).

4.0 Theoretical Perspective

The next step in designing a comprehensive research methodology would be to have a look at the researcher’s philosophical orientation that guides their action (Creswell & Creswell, 2017). Per Singh and Nath (2010), all theoretical perspectives could be broadly divided into two groups, namely those that are applied to predict the phenomenon in question and those that help in getting a better understanding of this phenomenon. Since this study is focused on the establishment of the relationship between organisational culture and employees’ well-being perceptions, using more than one method to identify the valid and logical truth seems reasonable. Therefore, the theoretical perspective of post-positivism, according to which a valid belief could be properly identified only using multiple methods because all methods are imperfect, has been selected (Anfara & Mertz, 2014). The research design of this study, including its ontological and epistemological standpoints, is presented as follows.

Figure 1: Research Design

Source: Constructed for this study

Post-positivism can be viewed as a natural evolution of the positivist theoretical stance, primarily driven by the growing complexity of the social sciences, which requires examining social phenomena from multiple vantage points to make relevant and accurate predictions (Khan, 2011). As previously noted, employees’ values, attitudes, and beliefs, which form their realities and affect their perceptions of well-being in the organisational context, make this social phenomenon multifaceted and complex (Bryman & Bell, 2015). That is why using several methods is expected to help the researcher decipher this relationship and possibly extrapolate the produced findings to different contexts (Daniel & Sam, 2011). While post-positivism is less rigorous and ‘scientific’ as compared to positivism, some scholars argue that the social world is too complex to be explained by applying natural science methods. Interpretations of reality cannot be isolated from the cultural and social context, in which the research phenomenon is taking place (Easterby-Smith et al., 2012). Still, the application of natural science methods enables the researcher to identify certain patterns, allowing for examining the relationship between organisational culture and employees’ well-being perceptions in more detail.

5.0 Methodology

Based on the above explanation and justification, this doctoral project follows a mixed-method approach, which implies the collection and analysis of qualitative and quantitative data within the same study (Singh & Nath, 2010). A mixed-method research design enables the researcher to obtain data using multiple data collection instruments, adding to the breadth of this investigation and allowing for assessing the relationship between organisational culture and employees’ perceptions of well-being more comprehensively (Cohen et al., 2017). With that being stated, following a mono method can ensure a much higher level of detalisation as compared to a mixed-method approach (Howell, 2012). Still, within the organisational context, different truths are likely to exist among different stakeholder groups, which substantiates the need to examine and compare these truths in order to identify how they are similar or different (Daniel & Sam, 2011).

This project follows the research strategy of a case study, which enables the researcher to develop an in-depth description of the target organisation and its culture. One of the main advantages of this strategy is that it implies using multiple data collection techniques, which goes in keeping with the selected research design (Bryman & Bell, 2015). Although the case study strategy does not represent the world, it focuses on a single case in relation to the selected research problem and illustrates the contextualised case of the relationship between corporate culture and employee perceptions (Singh & Nath, 2010). Although some scholars believe that case studies have limited generalisation because they are primarily focused on a single object or case, it is still possible to compare the case study findings to existing theory and, hence, provide broader implications to similar contexts outside the selected case (Yin, 2014). Since this project not only draws on existing theory but also attempts to come up with a new theory linking organisational culture to employee well-being in the workplace, it incorporates certain aspects of both inductive and deductive approaches (Pruzan, 2016).

6.0 Data and Methods of Collection

Two primary data collection methods, namely self-administered questionnaires and semi-structured interviews have been selected for this study. The former method implies collecting primary quantitative data from individuals who self-report their perceptions of and attitudes towards the research phenomenon (Singh, 2010). In turn, in semi-structured interviews, a researcher asks questions within a predetermined thematic framework but the questions are not set in order or phrasing (Billups, 2019). Self-administered questionnaires have been selected because they not only enable the researcher to obtain a large amount of primary data in a short period. They also generate primary data that could easily be quantified and processed graphically and statistically, which goes in keeping with the post-positivist nature of this study (Saunders & Lewis, 2014). In turn, semi-structured interviews allow for generating highly detailed data that answers the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions, leading to more comprehensive and detailed research findings (Cohen et al., 2017).

The decision to incorporate both self-administered questionnaires and semi-structured interviews in the research design allows for offsetting the drawbacks of each of these data collection instruments. For example, in questionnaire surveys, respondents’ answers are usually limited to a set of predefined, concise response options, which may not necessarily reflect how they feel about certain things (Novikov & Novikov, 2013). Concurrently, during interviews, interviewees can provide whatever responses they want, regardless of their length or content. At the same time, interviews are commonly considered a time-consuming data collection procedure (Carson et al., 2001). Due to this reason, as well as potential access issues, it is problematic to engage a relatively large number of individuals in interviews. Alternatively, questionnaires can be distributed among a sizeable population of social actors in a fraction of the time needed to conduct an interview (Daniel & Sam, 2011). Therefore, by utilising both self-administered questionnaires and semi-structured interviews, it is possible to make the most of these instruments while overcoming their drawbacks.

7.0 Sampling

For this study, two samples were drawn to approach the relationship between corporate culture and employees’ perceptions of well-being from different vantage points. First, judgemental sampling, a non-probability sampling technique where units to be sampled are selected by the researcher based on their professional judgement, was chosen to approach the most knowledgeable and experienced managers of the target company (Creswell & Creswell, 2017). While the researcher was not intended to cap the number of interviewees included in the sample, a total of 14 top managers agreed to participate. The selection of this sampling strategy is explained by its ability to ensure a deep focus on the researched phenomenon because the interviewees exist in the same context and share similar opinions and values. In turn, managers were selected because they are expected to have a more profound knowledge of the selected company’s organisational culture and its nuances than their subordinates. Interviews were conducted online using Zoom.

Second, the researcher followed the strategy of convenience sampling, which allows for collecting research data from the most easily accessed respondents, to draw a questionnaire survey sample (Gray, 2017). At this point, around 760 employees of the target multinational company were contacted via social media platforms and asked to participate. According to the existing methodology literature, the sample size plays a crucial role when it comes to data validity and reliability, which explains why the researcher intended to include as many employees in the sample as possible (Easterby-Smith et al., 2012). 549 questionnaires were returned to the researcher, out of which 32 were excluded due to missing values. Therefore, the questionnaire survey sample consisted of 517 participants. This sample size should be enough to ensure an adequate level of validity and reliability and make sure the produced findings are generalisable to a certain extent (Dew & Foreman, 2020). All questionnaires were distributed online using Google Forms.

8.0 Analysis Strategy

As previously noted, post-positivist studies tend to use multiple methods, which translates into employing several analysis instruments within the same research project (Novikov & Novikov, 2013). This study is not the exception to this rule. The primary data obtained using self-administered questionnaires was processed both graphically and statistically. This data was quantified by assigning a code (e.g., ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘4’, etc.) to each response and inserting the constructed set of raw data in Microsoft Excel, which was also used to design charts and graphs. The quantified data was then inserted into an SPSS spreadsheet to make it suitable for statistical analysis. Descriptive statistics and linear regression were used to analyse the primary quantitative data and establish the relationship between organisational culture and employees’ perceptions of well-being and test the Null Hypothesis and Hypothesis 1 presented in Chapter 2. In addition, the analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted to test Hypothesis 2 and identify whether those employees who belonged to an older generation perceived the role of organisational culture in their well-being differently than their young colleagues. The key methodological choices, including analysis methods, are presented as follows.

Figure 2: Methodological Choices

Source: Constructed for this study

The researcher also used a content analysis technique to process the primary data generated by the interviewees. Unlike graphical or statistical analyses, the content analysis does not demonstrate cause-and-effect links between variables but rather enables the researcher to get a deeper understanding of interviewees’ perceptions, feelings, and lived experiences (Carson et al., 2001). The recorded interviews were first converted into text transcripts using word processing software. Afterwards, the transcribed data was processed by NVivo to create codes and nodes according to the main themes of this project, such as ‘organisational culture’, ‘employee well-being’, ‘work-life balance’, ‘employee recognition’, and ‘job satisfaction’. This software was also used to identify the frequency of the aforementioned themes and other tendencies in the interviewees’ responses.

9.0 Ethical Issues

Before obtaining primary data from the participants, they were provided with an information sheet that covered all the important aspects of this project, including its aim and objectives, anticipated outcomes, and research procedure (Saunders & Lewis, 2014). Informed consent was obtained from each potential interviewee and survey participant to make sure their participation was voluntary. They were explicitly communicated both verbally and in writing that they were able to withdraw from the data collection process at will. Moreover, this process was made fully anonymous to prevent the potential leakage of personal data and contribute to the participants’ intention to take part (Singh, 2010).

10.0 Methodological Limitations

Although the designed research methodology is characterised by a relatively high level of replicability, it could be argued that the adoption of bounded relativism does not add to the generalisability of the produced empirical outcomes (Daniel & Sam, 2011). The point is that the mental constructions of reality held by those managers and employees who participated in this project may not necessarily match one another, leading to multiple interpretations of how their well-being is affected by the employer’s organisational culture (Saunders & Lewis, 2014). Another limitation is that self-administered questionnaires significantly limit the researcher’s ability to decipher hidden meaning that exists in organisational practices and events, which makes this study biased towards making predictions rather than deepening our understanding of the research phenomenon (Novikov & Novikov, 2013).

11.0 Chapter Summary

Ontologically, this study is framed within bounded relativism, which implies that reality constructions exist within a boundary of a peculiar group. In turn, from an epistemological viewpoint, this project adopts constructionism and the post-positivist theoretical perspective. Since this study follows a mixed-method approach, the researcher obtained primary qualitative and quantitative data from 14 top managers and 517 employees of the target business entity by means of semi-structured interviews and self-administered questionnaires, respectively. The collected data was processed, thematically, graphically, and statistically using NVivo, Microsoft Excel, and SPSS.


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