The importance of developing a culture-sensitive management

When talking about the several variables that influence work performance, commitment, occupational well-being etc., we often do not take into account our national culture and the way it affects our view of the place where we work, thinking that there’s only one way in which we can “read” an organization. Actually, our expectations about the world, and thus those about social life, are influenced by the implicit beliefs and by the tacit shared values of the culture in which we were born and raised.

Which areas of HR management can benefit from a culture-sensitive management?

When it comes to human resource management, we would underline that culture impacts on the policies that should be adopted. In fact, the same policies may not be effective across cultures, leading to ruinous outcomes like shoddy work performances, higher turnover rates and a broad deterioration of the organizational climate.

Our national culture influences the way in which we experience our work. By gaining insights about the functioning of this and the influence of our national culture we can improve our policies in the areas of:

• Personnel selection (selecting employees that best fit the existing organizational structure)

Job design (for example, when expanding to other countries, design jobs and HR strategies to match the local culture. This is particularly relevant for the organizational hierarchy design, the role of managers and their relationships with employees, the compensation, promotion and decision making systems)

• Employee morale

• Expatriate training (For example nowadays it is common that companies have to manage the transfer of people from one country to an other one. In this kind of situation the exigency to prepare people for this kind of change is strong, in order to prepare them to work in a different context, with a different culture and different rules)

Furthermore, being culturally-aware can bring benefits in the area of marketing and customer relations: we can apply our knowledge about cultural differences in designing products and brands that meet values and tastes of local customers, highlighting features of products and services that resonate with the local values.

Hofstede’s framework

A framework offered by Geert Hofstede, a Dutch researcher, has been particularly instrumental in the quest of applying knowledge about culture differencese to the study of organizational behaviour. This framework was developped about 40 years ago during a large-scale cultural values comparison study, using the employees form the multinational company IBM Corp. coming from over 50 countries. Hofstede’s framework is based on four major cultural dimensions (each of which is a bipolar construct), namely:

• Individualism vs collectivism: is the degree to which people look after themselves, versus feeling responsible to their community;

• Power Distance (high vs low): is the extent to which people in a society accept inequality in power and status;

• Uncertanty Avoidance (high vs low): the extent to which people are uncomfortable with situations that they perceive as unstructured, unclear, ambiguous, or unpredictable. Uncertainty avoidance should not be confused with risk avoidance, as it does not describe one’s willingness to take or avoid risk (that is more related with personality), but rather is associated with preferences for clear rules and guidance.

• Masculinity vs Femininity: is the degree to which masculine values as advancement, assertiveness, earnings, and the acquisition of things are valued, and feminine values such as a friendly atmosphere, position security, physical conditions and cooperation are devalued.

Hofstede’s framework of culture has helped generate an immense body of evidence that has been successfully utilized in business.

Takeaways for your practice: recognize when culture matters

It’s important to underline that it is not always possible to rely on these findings when managing across cultures, given that culture represents just one of the various inputs that determine how we behave in the workplace.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when managing across cultures:

• Learn when it’s really possible to rely on culture’s predictive power. This is a reliable source of information mostly for explaining group-level outcomes rather than for individual level ones. Consequently, it may be difficult to predict attitudes and behaviors of a specific foreign citizen, you ought to get to know and attend to the local culture if you are setting up a plant in a foreing nation. Besides, Cultural values are a better predictor of employee outcomes for older, more educated,male, and working people. As people mature and gain more education, their values crystallize, resulting in a closer alignment between cultural values and behavioral responses. In other words, as we discover who we are, we act accordingly.

• It is also important to remember that cultural values do not affect behavior and jobs performance directly, but rather they are most strongly related to emotions, attitudes and perceptions. Thus, the aforementioned outcomes are a result of the interaction between the culturally-endorsed expectations, the task design, management policies and the way the employees’ culture fits with the organizational one.

In the following table you can find a summary of the research about the impact of national culture on different aspect of the workplace (Source: Starren et al., 2013)


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Taras, V., Steel, P., & Kirkman, B. L. (2011). Three decades of research on national culture in the workplace: Do the differences still make a difference?. Organizational Dynamics, 40(3), 189-198.

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You may also like other articles from the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. You can find them here!
Wanna know more about Hofstede’s framework and his cultural tools? Well, then check this out here!


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