Whenever a seismic cultural shift occurs, whether locally, nationally, or globally, workplace behaviors and attitudes are bound to shift as well. It is no surprise, then, that the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with rapid advancements in technology and the expansion of what is considered a workplace, has transformed workers’ perceptions and attitudes toward their organizations and what they expect from them.
As employees return to the office—or adjust to new spaces—with altered and varied perspectives, it is imperative that leaders adapt to these shifts through the implementation of diverse and inclusive management practices. After all, leaders are responsible for ensuring that all feel seen, heard, and supported within an organization. In order to effectively manage different perspectives in the workplace, leaders must establish a positive, inclusive organizational culture crucial to the holistic wellbeing of their employees and the efficiency of the organization.
What is Organizational Culture?
Organizations are only as successful as their workplace cultures are strong. Organizational cultures can be defined as the unique way in which members of an organization relate to each other, the organization and the roles they play within it, and their external environment. They influence how employees perceive their organization, how they behave within it, and how the organization conducts itself as a result. When a culture is well-developed, it fosters a positive attitude amongst employees and maximizes their motivation, which in turn helps the organization to operate effectively and achieve its goals.1
Why Does Organizational Culture Matter?
As organizations find themselves competing in an increasingly globalized market, many are recognizing the benefits of cultivating a diverse workplace—benefits that include greater adaptability, increased creativity and innovation, improved decision-making and problem-solving skills, and an optimized use of resources.2 When managed, diversity is always an asset to an organization, as it mirrors the world an organization aims to serve.
But with a diverse workplace comes the risks of miscommunication, conflict, and alienation, all of which are indicative of a poor workplace culture. These complications are detrimental not only to the wellbeing of employees, but to the efficacy of leaders, who cannot carry out effective strategies without the full support from members of their organization. Cultivating a strong workplace culture mitigates these problems, as it establishes a balance between how leaders wish to run an organization and how employees wish to be involved and treated within it.
How to Improve Workplace Culture
Problems that arise in a diverse workplace stem from differences in values: set beliefs, perspectives, desires, and expectations, all which inherently diminish trust and cohesion when in opposition with each other. Geert Hofstede, a Dutch social psychologist, researched trends in values among genders, ages, classes, races, religions, and nationalities to determine six dimensions that he believed made up the “mental programs” of individuals, which he generalized as national cultures.3 While he recognized that national cultures are resistant to change, he concluded that the most effective way to change and manage them would be to change behavior first.4 In order to do this, he established six dimensions of organizational culture that employers can use to develop shared, collaborative practices in the workplace.
Consider a situation where members of an organization expect their employer to prioritize ethics rather than success. While this expectation is a matter of national culture which an organization cannot change, leaders do have the ability to work with employees to determine how to best move forward using Hofstede’s dimensions of organizational culture. Additionally, leaders can use Hofstede’s dimensions of national culture to gain a better understanding of their employees’ values and to proactively model their organizational culture around them.
Understanding Hofstede’s Six Dimensions of National Culture (Employee Values)
The strength of organizational culture is dependent on how closely it aligns with the values of all of its members. Studies have shown that a strong workplace culture has a profound impact on employees’ mental wellbeing. In a survey conducted by Deloitte, 84 percent of employees answered that they felt happy at work when their organization had a distinct workplace culture; 86 percent also said they felt valued by their organization.6 In order to create a favorable culture, leaders can use the following dimensions of national culture to determine what their employees value in the workplace.7
- Power Distance Index (PDI): This is the degree of inequality that members of a particular group or society accept as normal or justified. In a culture with a large power distance, power is distributed extremely unequally in a hierarchical structure ranging from powerful to powerless; in a culture with a small power distance, power is expected to be distributed evenly.
- Individualism vs. Collectivism (IDV): This dimension considers if members of a group think of themselves as singular (“I”) or plural (“we”). Individualism is the preference for a culture in which members act as individuals and take care of themselves alone, whereas collectivism is the preference to function as a group, where members take care of each other and value loyalty.
- Masculinity vs. Femininity (MAS): This is the degree to which “masculine” values like competition, assertiveness, and success are preferred over “feminine” values such as quality of life, service, and solidarity. In masculine cultures, work is cutthroat, and success is measured by individual gains, monetary wealth, and material rewards; in feminine cultures, modesty and cooperation are valued over fortitude, and success is measured by holistic growth and wellness.
- Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI): This is the degree of uncertainty that is tolerated and expected by members of a group. In cultures with strong uncertainty avoidance, members expect rigid rules, clear expectations and directions, and strict codes of conduct. In cultures with weak uncertainty avoidance, members value curiosity, spontaneity, and flexibility.
- Long-Term vs. Short-Term Orientation (LTO): This dimension measures the extent to which the values of a particular culture are oriented toward the future or past. Long-term oriented cultures are adaptable and readily accept change, whereas short-term oriented cultures prefer to respect and honor traditions and view change with apprehension.
- Indulgence Versus Restraint (IVR): This is the degree to which the exploration and gratification of unique human needs and desires is valued over fulfilling societal norms and expectations. Indulgent cultures accept the urge to “live a little,” whereas restrained cultures prefer to suppress and withhold individual pleasures in order to prioritize communal responsibilities.
Understanding Hofstede’s Six Dimensions of Organizational Culture (Workplace Practices)
Hofstede’s research concluded that employees with differing values and perspectives were still able to work harmoniously with each other when united by shared workplace practices. Below are the six dimensions that he believed were key to the structuring of a strong, distinct organizational culture.8
- Process-oriented vs. Results-oriented: Using the MAS, UAI, and IVR dimensions above, leaders can examine whether their workplace culture should prioritize how their organization achieves its goals or focus on what exactly those goals are. Members who exhibit strong uncertainty avoidance prefer “feminine” values and restraint will appreciate a workplace culture that places more emphasis on how members are conducting themselves instead of what they are achieving; members with the opposite values will thrive in a results-oriented workplace culture.
- Employee-oriented vs. Job-oriented: Employers can consider where members of their organization stand within the MAS and IVR dimensions to determine whether they would benefit from a workplace culture that upholds a stronger concern for its members or a stronger concern for “getting the job done.” Workers who value quality of life and indulgence will thrive in a culture that shows a greater concern for their wellbeing rather than their performance.
- Parochial vs. Professional: Also referred to as “local vs. cosmopolitan” by Hofstede, this dimension pertains to the question of whether employees base their identity around their organization or their profession. Workers who expect loyalty and a close connection to their leaders will prefer a parochial environment; those who are concerned more with their job than who they work for will do well in a professional environment. Leaders can refer to the PDI and IDV dimensions to model their workplace culture accordingly.
- Open system vs. Closed System: To establish an open or closed workplace culture, leaders should consider the extent to which their employees consider themselves to be individualists or collectivists, and how well they tolerate uncertainty. Workers who value loyalty from their organization and dislike uncertainty will be apprehensive toward newcomers and outsiders and will benefit from a closed system.
- Loose vs. Tight Control: Depending on whether employees exhibit strong or weak uncertainty avoidance, value indulgence or restraint, leaders can establish a workplace culture that adheres to strict rules and fixed codes of behavior, or a culture structured by flexible and lenient guidelines. Workers who tolerate anxiety and value indulgence will benefit from a culture that incorporates the latter.
- Normative vs. Pragmatic: For this dimension, leaders can analyze the extent to which their employees are short-term or long-term oriented and value modesty or assertiveness to determine whether they would benefit from a normative or pragmatic culture. Workers who are short-term oriented, who are focused on quick results and do not tolerate change and negotiation, thrive in normative environments; workers who are long-term oriented, who value adaptability, modesty, and the ability to compromise do well in pragmatic environments.
Implementing Hofstede’s Dimensions in the Workplace
Employees want jobs that align with or complement their personal values, and with current economic, environmental, social, and political crises testing and strengthening their convictions, they have proven that they will do what it takes to satisfy this desire. Approximately 4.5 million workers quit their job during the “Great Resignation” of March 2022, making it clear that organizations are currently not meeting this expectation and need to alter their workplace culture.9
To do this, leaders can conduct interviews and surveys to assess their employees’ values, using Hofstede’s dimensions of national culture to formulate questions and statements. With a strong work-life balance, greater stability, and job security among the top values for today’s employees, leaders should particularly evaluate how their employees respond to uncertainty, restraint, newcomers, and competition. Yes-no questions to consider include, “Should my organization value my wellbeing over my performance?” and “Should my organization promote insiders instead of hiring outsiders?” Employees could also be asked to respond to statements such as “I prefer to follow strict, inflexible rules in the workplace,” using scales of agreement (“strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”) and “my organization is competitive and results-driven,” using scales of importance (ranging from 1 as least important to 5 as most important). Assessing employee values will allow leaders to determine what aspects of their workplace cultures need to be improved, using Hofstede’s dimensions of organizational culture to guide them through the process.
Cultivating a workplace culture that responds to the unique values of its members is key to managing diversity, promoting employee wellbeing, and ensuring the success of an organization. Understanding these dimensions and implementing these practices will not only help leaders improve their current cultures but will prepare them for future shifts in the workplace that will demand further changes.