Workplace Culture: Collectivism vs. Individualism
The Research of Geert Hofstede
After a decade of research conducted in fifty countries, Professor Geert Hofstede published his six dimensions of national culture, which was a comprehensive study on culture and its influence on values in the workplace. Culture, as defined by Hofstede, is the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others.
The concept of culture has made its way to the forefront of modern attention. From the global culture of humankind to the obscure nuances of rural lifestyles, the cause and effect of culture are continuously researched, theorized, discussed, and redefined. The perception, evaluation, and reaction of an organization to internal and external factors shaping the environment are a representation of the culture present within a company. Dominant societal culture influences employee behaviors and, therefore, is a significant component of the overall performance of an organization (Arikan & Enginoglu, 2016).
My Interest in Culture and Influence
When writing about culture and influence, I seek to acknowledge and compare the differences between individualistic and collective societal cultures on the performance and behavior of employees. My articles will discuss the relationship between the collective values of a society and its influence on the individual to alternating degrees of risk aversion, intolerance to uncertainty, and acceptance of power distance.
Individualism Versus Collectivism
Individualism values the individual, while collectivism focuses on the group. Both ideologies have substantial influence over leadership and organizational management. However, in practice, organizations are neither entirely one or the other; instead, representations of individualism and collectivism are present in some capacity in every company and every leader.
Within an individualistic culture, focus and value are on the individual employee and his or her specific needs. Individualistic cultures emphasize personal goals, rights, freedoms, self-expression, financial stability, and autonomy. Individuals are praised and urged to think for themselves while taking initiative and being self-starters (Musambira, & Matusitz, 2015).
The lines between managers and subordinates are blurred and undefined, promoting less restrictive organizational structures, empowering employees to challenge current systems, and volunteer new ideas and creativity. Expressiveness and uniqueness are tolerated and encouraged as a means to open the floor to the next big idea, potentially springing the organization ahead of the competition.
Individuals are expected to do things in their self-interest because management believes autonomy and personal incentives are what individuals need to be happy within the organization. The organization does not define the individual (as the individual sees it), but rather, each person defines and identifies him or herself by how their talents contribute to the organization.
Individualistic employees pursue self-reliance and personal success outside of a group or collective. Moreover, the society within and away from the organization supports and encourages this mindset. Thus, those who achieve individual success receive awards, accolades, and public recognition. Standout performances, even in a group setting, are praised and announced to the masses.
Unfortunately, increased individual attention has some unwanted effects. Bringing positive attention to an individual alienates his/her peers. Not receiving sole public recognition may leave members feeling undervalued and unappreciated. Members within such an organization may feel an overwhelming sense of competition between themselves and their co-workers, igniting insecurities, stress, and anxiety.
Attempting to operate at a high level may leave members feeling stressed and unsafe within the organization if their performance is determined to be sub-par. Employees will continuously judge and feel judged based on their efforts compared to the efforts of those in the same capacity. It is challenging to bring people together into an exact team-oriented frame of mind. Each employee's loyalty is to themselves and keeping their interest secure and protected from the efforts of others.
Collectivism places value on the group, expecting members to sacrifice and contribute to the group as an entity separate from the individual. As a result, employees entering the workforce are less independent and more interdependent. Decision-making is through collaboration and consensus, stressing the importance of group goals, rights, and needs. Consequently, individual decision making is intensely discouraged, and outside of the organization members are taught harmony and cohesiveness as being the utmost goal of each individual (Musambira, & Matusitz, 2015).
Members are strongly encouraged to embody the values, views, and motivations of the collective, suppressing their values, beliefs, and motivations if divergent from the group. Management reinforces the outside culture by clearly defining power hierarchies and giving positive reinforcements to those whose behavior exemplifies collective and harmonious attitudes.
Collectivist are valued and judged based on their loyalty and sacrifice to the community, group, or organization. Members are expected to mold their efforts, filling gaps as situations arise, ignoring individual success, and volunteering to contribute all resources towards the overall achievement of the group. Loyalty to the organization is paramount, and in return, individual members feel the organization returns an equivalent amount of commitment.
A company that fosters a collective culture may have smaller, singular sub-groups; however, each member's contribution, if in line with the consensus of the group, is not recognized. Individual standout performances are in the context of what said performance did for the group, and the member becomes an example for other individuals to follow. The overall success or failure of the collective is one and is congratulated or reprimanded as one.
Finally, there is little to no competition within a collectivist environment as competitiveness does not support a harmonious or cohesive environment.
In reality, societies and organizations are not defined as purely collectivist or individualistic. The lines between the two may be blurred in some areas and rigidly defined in others. Culture as a whole is a ball on a pendulum string caught between multiple contradictions, capable of swinging from one pole to the other, full of nuance, full of circumstance and never set in stone.
More on Culture and Its Influence on the Workplace
To read more on Hofstede's six dimensions of national culture, visit:
Arikan, C. L., & Enginoğlu, D. (2016). How elements of corporate culture affect overall firm performance. International Journal of Business Management and Economic Research (IJBMER), Vol 7(3),2016,680-689. ISSN:2229- 6247
Musambira, G., & Matusitz, J. (2015). Communication technology and culture: Analysing selected cultural dimensions and human development indicators. International Journal of Technology Management & Sustainable Development Volume 14 Number 1 doi: 10.1386/tmsd.14.1.17_1
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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© 2019 Lani Morris