The Impact of National Culture on Workplace Behavior

National Culture
National Culture

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The Impact of National Culture on Workplace Behavior


Culture is perhaps the most influential factors that impact the success of businesses across the world. Culture can be defined as a set of beliefs, values and assumptions that are held in common by a particular group of people. It is important for any business to understand the culture of its business environment as this is crucial to the success of the business. In this paper, the impact of national culture on workplace behavior is discussed.

Secondly, the paper critically analyzes the impact of national culture on organizational practices. Thirdly, the paper presents some of the factors that often act as change triggers in organizational culture. Finally, the paper presents a discussion on some current cultural issues that impact the operations of contemporary businesses.

National Culture and Its Impact

National culture can be defined as set of assumption, values and beliefs that are held by individuals or organization that have the same national identity. A comparison of the individual behavior people from two cultures in an organizational context can help to illustrate how national culture impacts workplace behavior. In this essay, the behavior of Indians and Americans in a technology firm is compared (Perlow, 2002).

There are significant cultural differences between Americans and Indians. American culture emphasizes on individual liberty while Indians believe in interdependence and mutually helping each other. According to Perlow (2002), these attitudes and beliefs can have a significant impact on behavior in the workplace.

According to Hofstede (1983) as cited in Perlow and Weeks (2002), American ranks highly as an individualistic culture while India scores 48 to America’s 98 on the individualistic dimension. According to Perlow and Weeks (2002), individualistic people are characterized by emphasis on independence and differentiation from others. On the other hand, collectivists’ individuals are interdependent and thrive on relationships. 

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The impact of individualism/collectivism is apparent in US organization contexts. In the US, an individual is supposed to make individual contribution to the organization which will be rewarded by promotion up the societal hierarchy (Perlow and Weeks, 2002). Workers in the US easily link individual effort and ability to rewards. For example, salespersons will work as direct competitors although they are from the same company.

In contrast, India is a collectivist society where group performance is more important than individual performance. In India, a group of salespersons from the same company are likely to work collaboratively as they pursuit market opportunities for their organization. According to Perlow and Weeks (2002), Indian children are taught to subordinate their own personal interests to those of the family and other social institutions.

Later in life, Indians adopt the same attitude where societal or group norms, belief, desires, needs, and values have more priority than those of the individual. People from collectivist cultures have increased pressure to act in an acceptable, effective and legitimate way. According to Perlow and Weeks (2002), the individualism/collectivism dimension has a great effect on the willingness of individuals to engage in collective or cooperative tasks.  

Perlow and Weeks (2002) found that Indian tech workers were more willing to help their colleagues who were faced with difficult task. The authors point out that Indian workers believed that helping fellow workers was an opportunity to enhance their own skills. In addition, assistance in task completion was greatly appreciated by Indian workers who were beneficiaries. In contrast, American workers considered assistance from colleagues an unnecessary interruption in their work. Furthermore, very few American workers were willing to help their colleagues who were experiencing difficulties in completing tasks that were assigned individually.

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The influence of national culture is an indicator of just how profound the impact of culture is in workplaces. Culture is an influential factor that impacts a number of workplace behaviors. According to () , how people work, behave, use language, solve conflicts and problem, negotiate and create relationship is dependent on their culture, and in particular their national culture. This change in behavior is driven by the common values that people from the same national culture posses.

Importance of Values

According to (), individuals learn both conscious and unconscious values from their national culture. People only become aware of their national culture values and beliefs when they are confronted by people with different worldviews, values and beliefs. National cultural differences make interactions and communication between people of different cultures especially difficult. According to (), there are significant variations across national cultures. Unfortunately, many people are biased to judge other using their own cultural norms as reference points or lens.

This biased view holds great potential for conflict, miscommunication and misunderstanding. () points out that diverse cultures lead to diverse behavior which may not be understood by everyone. There is need for contemporary workers to understand, learn and appreciate the culture of their colleagues from other cultural backgrounds and workplaces are becoming increasingly multicultural.

Individual vs Group behaviors and Values

According to Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (), individuals can either be dividend into community or self-oriented. As seen earlier, Indians are community oriented while American are self-oriented. However, even in community oriented culture there is huge difference in the institution the culture identifies with. The Irish identify the Catholic Church, the French with family and country, while the Japanese identify with Corporations.

It may be assumed that the whole society is moving towards individualism but this is not really true. According to (), it is rare for a person to achieve an extraordinary feat without the assistance of other members of society. He notes that nobody has invented an new product on their own.

According to (), the best approach to survive and flourish in a multicultural environments is to adopt our individual values to the group. Culturally adapt individuals can adapt to fit into groups of different culture. Individuals can also behave in a “culturally intelligent” way by seeking to understand other and adapting behavior so that it can be easily understood.  () advises immigrants or expertriate who move into foreign nation to adapt to local national cultures.

He points out that a person could end up forgetting some aspects of the home culture. However, () argues that people working in foreign countries have no choice that to adapt to host cultures as this is the most practical thing to do. However, people will rarely lose their values even if they work in a foreign culture for years.

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Building Multicultural workplaces

People are likely to work with people from different cultural backgrounds in contemporary organizations. It is therefore important to build work environment where people from different cultures can fit comfortably. Success in building such an environment is dependent on the development of common trust, understanding and commitment.

It is important to genuinely connect with people from different individual culture and realize the potential their hold despite the obvious cultural differences. Some of the important consideration to make include:

  1. Is the person from a different national culture relationship or task oriented? Can I we collaborate in a task without first needing to build a relationship?
  2.  Is the person from a low-trust or high-trust society? With individuals from low trust society it takes little time to earn a person’s trust. In contrast, a lot of time and effort is needed to earn the trust of a person originating from a high-trust country.
  3. Willingness to share information should also be an important consideration when working with people from different national cultures.
  4. Does the person come from a direct communication or an indirect communication country? This is an important consideration when passing instruction to the concerned party.
  5. Research the persons cultural background: its is important for members of staff who will be interacting with a person from a different country to know the cultural expectations of their national culture.

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Building trust with people of diverse national cultures is a difficult undertaking that need skillful employment of cultural intelligence. Trust is achieved when cultural understanding, intercultural engagement, and intercultural communication are employed. Cultural understanding includes being aware of our won cultural bias and those of the other party. On the other hand, intercultural communication involves use of both verbal and non-verbal communication and communication styles that can be easily understood. According to (), emphatic listening and respect helps in earning the trust of people from different national culture backgrounds.

Factors that Lead to Cultural Change in Organizations

Leadership Change

Many authors agree that changes in top-level management can contribute or drive culture change in organizations Morgan (2012); Christopher (2012); Beer (2012).  Organizational culture is initiated by the founder of the organization, but it changes over time due to a number of factors (Beer 2012).  Organizational culture changes significantly once the management of the organization changes and some new ideas start to flow in these organizations. However, Beer (2012) points out that organizational culture remains the same in public sector organization despite changes in the top-management of the organization.

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Beer (2012) and Christopher (2012) argue that changes in organizational leadership can either have insignificant or significant changes on organizational culture.  According to Christopher (2012), the personal traits of the leader, the organization’s new strategy, and objectives influence the extent of changes in organizational culture at the onset of new leadership. In organizations where strategy changes significantly, the organizational culture also changes profoundly.

Technological Developments

Advances in technology have had a huge impact in organizations and in particular organizational culture. Technology has the potential to impact culture in different ways. For example, mobile phone, email and internet technology changed the way organizations communicate. On the other hand, technology such as CCTV enables organizations to closely monitor the conduct of workers at the workplace (Maude 2011).

For example, some organizations use strategically placed CCTV cameras to control lateness and absentia from work. Teleconferencing, email and video relay systems allow employee to work from the comfort of their homes or from remote locations.  For example, Walshe and Smith (2011) points out that technology has enabled clients to make online appointments with health practitioner instead of making physical visits. Overall, technology is changing the way work is done in organizations and therefore changing underlying organizational culture in the concerned organizations.

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Mergers and Acquisitions

Christopher (2012) and Moran et al (2011) have linked changes to organizational culture to the merger or acquisition of organizations. Mergers and acquisition bring together two or more organization with different cultures. Obviously, the cultures of some or all the organizations have to change to enable them to work together successfully. According to Moran (2012), the period immediately following a merger or acquisition is especially difficult as employee have to deal with the inevitable clash in cultures.

However, this clash in culture is temporary and new hybrid cultures soon emerge after the acquisition and merger is completed. Sometimes mergers and acquisition involve organizations from two different cultures. In such a situation, the cultural clash is more serious and need more able leadership to manage it.

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In the views of Christopher (2011), effective leaders assist greatly in enabling the emergence of a new organizational culture blend in the case of a merger or acquisition. He argues that leaders need to support employees at all level of the organization to accept and embrace the new cultural changes. Leaders should also raise awareness about the inevitability of change after a merger or acquisition and try to prepare all stakeholders to receive the impending change positively.

4. Changes in External Environment

Changes in the external environment can act as triggers for changes in organizational culture (Morgan, 2012; Primecz et al. 2011; Velo, 2012). According to, changes in the Political, Social, Technological, environmental and legal environment can influence organizations to change their organizational culture. For example, governments may make changes to official workers requiring workers to report to work at 9:00 am instead of 8: am. Organizations will have no choice than to change their policies to suit the change in official working hours.

Cultural Issues in Business Environments

Successful intercultural negotiations

Businesses are engaged in multiple situations where negotiations between the parties are necessary. According to (), language and cultural etiquette forms a formidable barrier to intercultural negotiations. () argues that it is imperative that businesses operating in multicultural environment use the language of the customer. According to (), foreign trade partners may use a different language, think differently and have different priorities while engaging in business negotiations.

For example, in some culture, business meetings are formal and parties are offended if they are addressed by their first names. In other cultures, business meetings are informal affairs where negotiating parties refer to each other by first name. Obviously, two parties from these two cultures are engaged in negotiations they would have difficulties understanding each other. () argues that successful negotiations depend on the previous knowledge of each other values and assumptions.

Differences in negotiation styles are as diverse as national cultures. For example, negotiations between an South American and a North American businessman will be characterized by considerable differences as the true have distinctly different negotiation styles. 

Differences range from the authority of a negotiator to approve a deal, to the level of relationship needed to start business negotiations. In some culture, it is necessary for organizations to build close and personal relationships with negotiators. These relationships are meant to establish fidelity and trust between the two negotiating teams.

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Religious Limitations

Religion moderates the behavior of communities more than any other cultural factor. Religion varies from nation to nation, within nations, and even within local communities. It is important for businesses to respect the religious norms that relate to their business operations. In particular, the advertising area of business is profoundly impacted by religions. For example, religious reason may prevent businesses from advertising alcoholic products, sanitary pads and other culturally sensitive product in some countries.

For example, the Koran (Islam’s holy book) ban the consumption of alcohol by believers. In some muslim countries, believer who are caught intoxicated are severely punished. The impacts of the alcohol ban on foreign businesses means they cannot market alcohol in countries where it is a banned. In addition, alcohol is a taboo subject in most of the Muslim world where people cannot discuss whether it should be legalized or stay banned.

Dressing and Dress Codes

Dressing is an important cultural consideration in businesses that operate across different national cultures. What is acceptable and decent varies from one culture to another. For example, KFC in the United States may be able to dress their female waiting staff in miniskirts and tight tops as this is acceptable in American culture. In contrast, if KFC operates a store in a conservative Middle Eastern country it would be considered indecent to dress their staff in miniskirts.

The backlash for breaking cultural dressing codes can be significant as some government can even cancel the operation licenses of organization that break local dressing codes. Cultural dressing codes also impact the dressing codes organization can use for their employees. For example, it is agreeable in many western countries for women to go to work in miniskirts as part of suits, but the same would not pass for decent office wear in the Middle East.

Furthermore, some communities require women to wear veils whenever they are outdoors. These points are important considerations for organizations who are developing dressing codes for employee in foreign offices.

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 Women vs. men relationships

Women/Men relationships are becoming an important cultural issue that has the potential to influence business operations. In some cultures, some products are for men while other are for women. Another good example is where buying decisions for some products are the preserve of one sex. In some cultures, women make the buying decisions for food items, household items, and sometimes for holidays as in the case of Britain.

For organization marketing to different cultures, it is important to pre-determine the role of women/men in making the purchases decision for the product that you are offering in the market.


Taboos vary from culture to culture. For example, in some culture Dogs are considered pets and thought of consuming their meat would be unacceptable. However, the Chinese consider dog meat a delicacy and there are many butcheries stocking Dog meat in China. One of the taboos which touch on organizational culture has to do with acceptance of tattoos in the workplace.

In the United States, tattoos have gained wide popularity and are quickly being accepted in the workplace. However, some workplaces in the US have rules that prevent employees from having visible tattoos. According to (), the prejudice associated with tattoos has faded greatly in the last twenty years and few people feel tattoos can prevent them from securing a job.

Despite this over 31 per cent of Human resource managers assert that visible tattoos can impact a candidate’s chance of getting a job. In contrast, the stigma associated with tattoos is still high in the UK. Most hiring managers thought that visible tattoos on candidates’ bodies indicated they were “thugs” or “drug addicts”. They also argued that ultimately it is customer’s attitudes towards employees with visible tattoos that influence the hiring decision.

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There is little doubt that culture is a powerful force in business environments. Businesses cannot ignore the potent forces of culture in both their internal and external environment. In particular, businesses must remember that contemporary organizations have to work with employees originating from different national cultures.

It is important for them to consider the role differences in national culture may impact the behavior of employees. For example, organizations receiving employees from foreign cultures may need to use special communication strategies to engage and connect with the employees from different national cultures.

Organizations also have their own internal culture which may need to change from time to time. This paper discusses leadership change, merger and acquisitions, changes in external environment, and technological changes as the main drivers of organizational culture change.

The paper argues that good leadership can enable organization smoothly transition into a new organizational culture. Finally, the paper presents several cultural issues that impact contemporary business including negotiations, religion, dress codes and taboos.

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