What Is Known About Different Work Cultures?

Question:

What cultural issues may an employer need to take into account concerning communication, uniforms, beliefs, and traditions? I am a year 12 high school student in New Zealand studying Marketing. The question I have concerns my perception of one of many parts to a workplace communications assignment. Being from New Zealand and having never been overseas I haven’t got to experience many cultural differences. What is normal? I have studied the Maori (native New Zealand culture) in school so I am somewhat aware of different customs. Maybe you have encountered or know information that would be really interesting. That would be much appreciated. Thanks.

Signed,

An Assignment


Answer:

DearĀ An Assignment:

When I taught in Belgium, I interviewed twice Geert Hofstede, at his workplace and in his home, in the Netherlands because I had read his book Culture’s Consequences published in 1980. At that time, his book housed the most extensive comparison of organizational culture ever done. He was an employee of IBM when he conducted his research for the book. He gathered data on those employed by IBM in 60 different countries and based his book on 40 of them. (Most probably, because IBM sought to train its employees in its corporate way of doing and thinking, greater differences would be found in those not employed in the same multicultural corporation.)

He found considerable differences. For example, some countries such as United States and Anglo employees were the most individualistic and South American and Asian were collectivistic, meaning that that they were more inclined to value what their group did. Also there were vast differences in attitudes about what men and women were permitted to do. Scandinavian countries treated women more as equally qualified to work at the same kind of occupation and South American and Japan were the opposite–men had more important work as compared to women. My travels to Japan and China bore this observation out. My interviews of women, however, when I studied the workplace in Sweden, proved that males and females were not treated completely equal. Hofstede’s research also studies what he labeled power-distance; that is the acceptableness of those with authority to boss. Scandinavian folks again were the least agreeable to wide difference between those at the top giving orders and those at the bottom having no say, whereas the Philippines and Mexico were among those where the power distance was large.

My studies of superior-subordinate relations in the U.S. indicate that there is an individual difference in how orders and assignments are given versus requested. The more educated consult verses shouting orders and this differs according to the kind of occupation and socio-economic status. Also I think, although I did not study it, those with a more liberal theology versus fundamentalist faith consult before assigning work and do not give orders as the military does.

Most probably you can find Hofstede’s book and later work to learn more and also of other scholars more recent research in your library or on the Internet, such as John Childs, Mike Pacanowsky & Nick Trujillo, Deal and Kennedy, etc. I am attaching a recent article on organizational communication culture that includes several scholars whose work I have studied and lectures I have listened to. Please send me a copy of what you prepare for your assignment. I’m sure you will find studying this huge topic interesting. You and your instructor are to be commended for so sophisticated an assignment.

Tell your instructor of our site and its Q&A Archive.

William Gorden