You are on page 1of 6


Magdalena Raczyriska-Pustota
Vol. XXI

Ost, D., S. Crowley, eds. Workers after Workers' States. Labor and Politics in
Postcommunist Eastern Europe. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.,
Ost D., M. Weinstein. "Unions against Unions: Toward Hierarchical Management Matgorzata Durska
in Post-Communist Poland." East European Politics and Societies, Vol. 14, No.
1, Winter 1999.
Raczyhska Magdalena. "Blurred Authority or Blurred Identity? Collective Identity
and the Transformation of Employment Relations." Paper presented at the American versus "European" Values?—
conference "How Class Works?", Stony Brook University, June 2002 (b).
^ . "0 duchowej arystokracji. Huta Cz^stochowa i Bristol-Myers Squibb: Cultural Variation and Its Effects on Business Life
analiza porownawcza dwoch interwencji konsultanckich. Spo/eczne aspekty
zmiany systemowej w gospodarce. Ed. P. Ruszkowski. Warszawa: Fundacja
Wspierania Wlasnosci Pracowniczej "Zmiany", 1999. Cross-cultural studies show that national culture is still the main factor
. "Schizofreniczne deja-vu. Dylematy zwi^zkowej tozsamosci." Krytyka determining human behavior in all aspects of social life, including the business
Polityczna nr 2, Winter 2002(a). sphere. It is symptomatic that this conclusion is reached by specialists of various
Rubinstein; Saul. "The Local Union Revisited: New Voices from the Front Lines." disciplines, although their backgrounds and assumptions often vary widely.
Industrial Relations, vol. 40, July 2001(a). Sociologists, political scientists, social psychologists, economists and specialists
. "Unions as Value-Adding Networks: Possibilities for the Future of the U.S. in management agree that national cultural patterns underlie the majority of
Unionism." Journal of Labor Research, vol. 22, Issue 3, 2001 (b). social processes. In short, the business world is by no means free from cultural
Rubinstein, S., C. Heckscher. "Labor-Management Partnerships: Two Views." preferences and biases.
Negotiations and Change: From the Workplace to Society. Eds.T. Kochan, The research results presented in recent fundamental works in the field of
D. Lipsky. IT Sloan School of Management, Boston, (unpublished manuscript), cultural comparative studies—such as Culture's Consequences by Geert
2000. Hofstede (2001) or Ronald Inglehart's Modernization and Postmodernization
Rubinstein, S., T. Kochan. Learning from Saturn: Possibilities for Corporate (1997), to mention just these two—indicate clearly that national cultures all over
Governance and Employee Relations. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University the world are keeping their distinct character, and that this fact strongly
Press, 2001. conditions business behavior. Contrary to the common perception of progressing
Ruszkowski, Pawel. "Socjologia praktyczna w programach restrukturyzacyjnych." uniformity, cultural differences between countries are still very deep, and the
Zbiorowe stosunki pracy w Polsce. Obraz zmian. Eds. W. Kozek, J. Kulpinska. persistence of specific cultural patterns is not fading away. That does not imply,
Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Scholar, 1998. of course, that nations are monolithic, but rather that differences within them are
. "Wartosci w organizacji mi^dzykulturowej." Przeglqd Zachodni, Nr 1, much less significant than the differences between countries. The research
Poznari, 2003. results of Hofstede, Inglehart and others point out that factors such as religion,
. "Zwi^zki zawodowe wobec partycypacji pracowniczej." (Unpublished man- age, gender or occupation differentiate people to a far lesser extent than does
uscript). belonging to a specific national culture. This means that, for instance, an
Streeck, Wolfgang. "Works Councils in Western Europe: From Consultation to American Catholic is first an American and only then a Catholic, and that he or
Participation." Works Councils. Eds. J. Rogers, W. Streeck. Chicago: University she will have much more in common with an American of a different denomination,
of Chicago Press, 1995. than with, let us say, a Polish Catholic.
Researchers claim that the supposed trend of global unification is being
strongly exaggerated. Actually, there are no indicators that cross-national
differences will be disappearing with time. The impression of progressing global-
ization and unification holds true only for the layer of cultural artifacts, which are
becoming similar as a result of growing wealth. This, however leads to stronger

120 121
Malgorzata Durska American versus "European" Values?—Cultural Variation and Its Effects on Business Life

individuaiization of behaviors and attitudes, rather than to their homogenization. which are very distinct in several respects. Yet, although the myth of uniformity
The first derivative of this process is something that can be called a global has collapsed, the habit of thinking about a "western" way of doing business still
consumer reaction. People dress in a similar way, eat at McDonald's, watch MTV causes a lot of misunderstandings. The preference that is given to North
or CNN. These are superficial similarities, which do not allow us to draw the American management theories and methods1 is invariably based on the assumption
conclusion that people think in the same way, that they perceive and interpret the of western uniformity, and ignores the fact of strong cultural diversity within the
world in the same way, or that they hold and are guided by the same values. At group of countries labeled "western." Certainly, the economic leadership of the
the second phase of this process, after the achievement of a certain consumption United States has created a demand for American patterns of doing business, but
level, consumers' behavior patterns begin to diverge under stronger influence of it is obvious today that universal prescriptions for economic success simply do
specific cultural factors—ones that are not so distinctly related to economic not exist. No matter how strongly we insist that economics is a value-free
development. discipline, it does get stuck in a web of cultural dependencies when in comes to
Still, the prevailing impression is that we live in a unified world. This way of business practices.
thinking can be especially misleading in the case of the so called "western" According to the latest results of World Value Survey coordinated by Inglehart
world. While, in the opinion of the general public, the obviousness of certain and conducted in more than sixty countries all over the world, as much as 85%
differences between other countries in the world seems to be unquestioned, the of the variation between countries can be explained by cultural plus economic
considerable homogeneity level of western culture—meaning western European factors. Inglehart defined "key cultural dimensions" and built a two dimensional
and North American—is often taken for granted. The term "western" itself causes model of the world (81-98). On one scale, cultural factors are placed ranging from
a lot of confusion. Countries like Portugal, Sweden, or the USA are thereby put traditional to secular/rational authority. Upward movement along this scale is
into a single category. The Christian world is "western," and so is the civilization referred to as "modernization." On the other scale, economic factors (measured
identified either with Christianity or with the western part of European continent. by the level of income) are placed ranging from survival to self-expression/well
These connotations serve as strong support for the idea of western uniformity. being. A shift on this scale is called "postmodernization" and indicates that
Paradoxically, in the past, when the communist bloc still existed, this idea of material goals are being substituted by expressive (self-actualization) goals. The
uniformity was also enthusiastically promoted by communist leaders. Its purpose combination of these two elements determines the position of a specific country
was to build in people's minds a stereotype of a clear division between communism on the map. Generally, all European countries and all English-speaking countries
and capitalism; "good us" and "bad them." Since the West was "them," capitalism are located in the upper and upper-right section of the diagram (high on both the
could be easily interpreted as a matter of choice rather than a set of choices. secular/rational authority axis and the survival to self-expression axis), but the
Needless to say, this way of thinking had also its equivalent on the other side of locations of specific countries clearly show a set of clusters.
iron curtain; a common enemy created a sense of togetherness and similarity. The differences between clusters are significant. Closest to the upper-right
The consequences of this indoctrination (partly unintended and unconscious) corner are countries from continental Protestant Europe; Catholic Europe is
continue to exert enormous influence on economic activities, and on the way closer to the center (a border between traditional and secular/rational authority;
business is approached. Free market economy was supposed to be a universalistic a border between survival and self-expression); countries of the former commu-
answer to all business-related questions. The unexamined assumption that a nist bloc are located in the upper-left section (secular/rational authority; survival);
monolithic West exists made it possible to ignore any actual differences among finally, English-speaking countries are located in the middle of the right section
countries. Today, after years of searching for universal formulae of economic (border between traditional and secular/rational authority; high on self-expression
success, and universal management theories and methods, voices demanding scale). One interesting exception is the United States: on the cultural axis the
relativistic approach can be heard both from theorists and practitioners of USA emerges as much more religious and traditional than other English-speaking
business. countries. This clearly religion-related division can be misleading: Inglehart
Michel Albert (1994) introduced the concepts of Alpine, Rhenish and Anglo- stresses that the position of a given country within a specific cluster is very much
-Saxon capitalism, all of them "practiced" in western Europe. Hofstede (1991, country-specific. Interestingly, although changes are taking place, the dynamics of
2001) proved that on the scales of some cultural dimensions, differences 1
Yehuda Baruch (2001)shows that the publication acceptance rate of articles by non-North
between western countries are as significant as the largest differences in the American scholars in top management journals compared with that of North American scholars
world. Inglehart (1997) divided the western world into several cultural clusters, indicates strong under-representation of non-North American authors.

122 123
Malgorzata Durska American versus "European" Values?—Cultural Variation and Its Effects on Business Life

change does not modify the mutual relation between clusters and the relations A dimension that is often related to individualism is universalism and its
between countries within clusters. The reason why the differences stay intact is opposite, i.e. particularism. Some authors identify universalism with individualistic
that in most cases change is occurring in a parallel mode: the general trend is values, but this generalization can sometimes be misleading. Firstly, there are
upward movement on the self-expression scale, and movement from traditional countries where strong individualism coexists with particularism. Secondly,
authority values to rational/secular values on the culture scale. Thus, on the universalism (or particularism) is very rarely a general trait of a society: in most
diagram the location of countries moves along the upright diagonal. The only cases it characterizes only a specific domain of social life. For example, a country
country that does not follow the general trend of upright movement on the like France can be viewed as predominantly, particularist, but when it comes to
diagram is the United States. It is a worldwide anomaly: a culture that scores very the welfare of la France, or to the question of food, it will present a strongly
high on income and self-expression, yet sticks to traditional and religious values. universalistic approach (Trompenaars 36-38). This duality requires taking into
Inglehart's results are strongly correlated with Hofstede's findings. In order to consideration both dimensions (individualism and universalism) separately. The
obtain a more detailed picture of cultural differences in business within western USA is considered to be a strongly universalistic country in all aspects of
culture, I will rely on four dimensions of Hofstede's model. An analysis of business activities. In Europe, the line between a universalistic and a particufarist
Hofstede's scores will show how similar or how different the locations of the US approach generally coincides with the division between Protestant and Catholic
and western European countries are on the scales of individualism, power countries. With some exceptions mentioned earlier, Catholic cultures tend to be
distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity. more particularist, while Protestant cultures are more universalistic.
For universalists the driving force of business activities are rooted in legal
Individualism vs. collectivism contracts, written rules and general laws, while for particularists it is close
personal relationships between partners that constitute the key source of
This dimension is strongly related to wealth and therefore it is the most meaning and trust in business. A strong belief in universal rules, methods,
dynamic of the four. Contrary to common opinion, differences relating to the formulae, products and ideas on the side of universalists can be contrasted with
dimension of individualism within the bloc of western countries can be very a much more "customized" particularist approach. Two statements characterize
significant. It is worthy of notice that individualism vs. collectivism can be very neatly the core differences between these two types of culture. Universalists
treated as a counterpart of Inglehart's dimension of survival vs. self expression. will blame particularists: How can you do business with them? They will always
The two common components here are the source of self-identity and income. give preference and advantage to their relatives or friends. It is nepotism!
Generally, the level of individualism for European countries varies from moderate Particularists will blame universalists: How can you do business with them? They
to high, but there are two exceptional cases: Portugal and Greece, where collectivist won't even help a friend or a family member!
values clearly dominate. Not surprisingly, it is Americans who hold the top
position in individualism among all other countries. The variations in the level of Power distance
individualism have fundamental impact on various aspects of business activities.
For example, in individualistic societies the criteria for recruitment procedures are Power distance is defined by Hofstede as "the extent to which the less powerful
based on individual abilities, while in more collectivist societies they are much members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept
more dependent on the affiliation with a specific group. Similarly, the relationship that power is distributed unequally" (1991, 28). Power distance is another
between the employer and the employee can be treated as a contract or be based cultural trait that differentiates western countries. If we look at the worldwide
on close personal ties. Depending on culture, task-assignment can be more distribution of power distance scores on a scale ranging from 0 to 104, indexes
effective when directed toward individuals or toward a group of employees. Generally, assigned to western countries vary from 11 for Austria to 68 for France. However,
management will focus either on individuals or on groups. In individualistic since all these measures are relative, it is important to notice that, although the
cultures, the best performing employees will be those who stand out and index for France is only slightly above the middle of the scale, at the background
challenge others, while collectivist cultures value those whose work benefits other of 53 countries and regions, France is located at 15th highest position, which
members of the group. The decision-making process will also vary depending on makes it a high power distance country. A similar comment applies to Belgium,
level of individualism: decisions will be taken individually, or will always be Greece, Portugal and Spain. This group of countries is followed by the USA, which
consulted with other group members. can be considered as a country of moderate power distance, but still significantly

124 125
Maigorzata Durska American versus "European" Values?—Cultural Variation and Its Effects on Business Life

higher than Scandinavian countries or Holland. Power distance indexes represent Their tolerance for deviant and innovative ideas and behaviors makes them
social attitudes toward equality issues, so, not surprisingly, they have a significant better at innovations, but at the same time a relaxed and easy-going attitude
impact on business practices. Assumptions about inherent power distance trigger toward time, punctuality and precision does not give them much advantage once
or restrain initiative, make employees decisive or vulnerable, determine the the ideas have to be implemented. Although the rules and written regulations are
perceptions of roles, structures, due privileges and status. In low power distance often limited to those that are absolutely necessary, they are generally more
cultures, the relationship between a superior and a subordinate takes the form respected than rules and regulations in high uncertainty avoiding cultures.
of equal partnership. In high power distance cultures it takes the form of unequal When considering uncertainty avoidance, it is useful to take note of another
dependence with the boss expecting total compliance from the employee, and the dimension: specificity vs. diffuseness. This cultural trait is sometimes treated as
employee expecting protection and safety from the boss. a sub-dimension of individualism or uncertainty avoidance, but such an approach
Certain popular management techniques that used to be considered universal may blur the characteristics of cultures considerably. Definitely, neither identifying
will simply not work in high power distance cultures. One useful example is MBO individualism with specificity, nor identifying high uncertainty avoidance with
(Management by Objectives), an American packaged management method diffuseness, can be treated as a valid generalization. Specificity vs. diffuseness
that requires regular consultation between a superior and a subordinate, as is one of five "pattern variables" discussed by Taicott Parsons and Edward Shifs
well as a certain level of feedback initiative on the part of the subordinate. An (77). This particular variable was designed to describe the differences between
assumed, expected and accepted status gap makes this kind of contacts those cultures in which relations with others are limited to specific spheres, and
practically impossible in high power distance cultures. those where the nature of relations has no prior limitations. This distinction
overlaps at least partly with Edward Hall's (1976) division of cultures into low and
Uncertainty avoidance high context2 and Kurt Lewin's psychological concept of U-type and G-type
personality (Trompenaars, 73-91). Generally, it can be said that in cultures that
This dimension is defined as the extent to which members of a culture are specific people engage in relations with others only in specific areas of life
feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations (Hofstede 1991, 113). The and only at single levels of personality, while in cultures that are diffused people
acceptance or avoidance of those uncertain or unknown situations means that establish their relations in a more holistic manner, which means that they
everything that is different, new, or unknown is treated either as dangerous or as simultaneously enter all areas of life and all personality levels.
interesting and challenging. In terms of this dimension, the so called "western" It is useful to recall that Lewin's concept was originally designed to contrast
world turns out to be even more diversified. The least uncertainty avoiding the American personality type (U-type) with the German personality type (G-type).
cultures are Danish, Swedish, British and American. Cultures that tend to avoid Americans are considered to be very specific, low context. European cultures are
uncertainty are Greek, Portuguese, Belgian, Spanish and French. generally more diffused, high context, though they vary considerably in the level
Obviously, the attitude toward new, unknown and different things has of diffuseness. Generally, more diffused cultures are typical of southern Europe,
significant repercussions in the world of business. Members of high uncertainty but Germany and France also belong to the category of high context cultures.
avoiding cultures prefer well-defined situations and tasks. A lot of attention is Misunderstandings and cultural clashes between diffused and specific countries
paid to detailed instructions and written rules. Deviations from those rules, stem, on the one hand, from a very different perception of what is public and
deviant ideas or behaviors are unwelcome and suppressed. The same applies what is personal, and, on the other hand, from a different scope of relations:
to innovations that break or stretch the rules. That is why these cultures are limited only to specific spheres in case of specific cultures, or with simultaneous
generally better off with implementations than with innovations. Uncertainty access to all spheres in case of diffused cultures.
avoidance leads also to stronger loyalty toward the employer, and longer average This difference can strongly affect business practices. The perception of many
duration of employment. Values that are considered to be important at the work managerial techniques can change dramatically from low to high context cultures.
place are security, precision, punctuality, "technical" expertise and "tangible" An example can be feedback sessions that are very popular in some cultures, but
performance. The ideal boss is one who knows all the "right" answers, and takes are perceived as a public admittance of failure in cultures that are diffused.
it upon himself to control the uncertainties.
By contrast, members of low uncertainty avoiding cultures tend to be positively 2
Hall's distinction originally referred to communication, but eventually started to be used
motivated and challenged by new, unknown or different solutions and situations. as a wider cultural concept.

126 127
Matgorzata Durska American versus "European" Values?—Cultural Variation and Its Effects on Business Life

Criticism that is intended to be targeted either at a specific project or at a piece Summary

of work is taken there as an attempt to impair the employee's status and value.
In a diffused culture the statement "This idea is crazy!" sounds like "You are Figure 1. presents the locations of six selected European countries and the
crazy!". Common-sense advice popular in low context cultures—"Do not mix USA on the scales of Hofstede's four basic cultural dimensions. The dispersion
business and pleasure"; "Get to the point first"; "Don't take things personally"— of countries' positions on the scales shows that hardly any cultural trait can be
may sound offensive in high context cultures. In specific cultures the spheres considered as typically "western" or even west European. An equally marked
of life are clearly separated, so that authority from one sphere is not passed on diversity can be observed while comparing European cultures against each other
to other spheres. In case of diffused cultures, the situation is opposite: the as well as comparing the USA with European countries. The largest differences
authority from one sphere is spread all over other spheres. are visible on the scales of individualism and uncertainty avoidance, although
the two other dimensions also exhibit a considerable level of differentiation. The
Masculinity vs. femininity figure shows that actually no such entity as a recognizable, homogeneous
"western business culture" exists. There is also no "European business culture,"
This cultural trait refers to differences in social roles of men and women. since European countries cannot be treated as a consistent cultural cluster with
In masculine societies these roles are clearly distinct; men are supposed to distinct cultural traits. What is sometimes referred to as "European business
be assertive, competitive, tough, with a strong drive for material success. Women culture" seems, in fact, so diversified and country specific that the term itself can
are supposed to be tender, caring, modest and concerned with others. In be considered as illegitimate. Moreover, in the light of these findings, the often
feminine societies, social gender roles are less distinct, more likely to overlap. discussed distinction between American and European values in business turns
Both men and women are supposed to be nurturing and focused on the quality of out to be purely arbitrary, since differences between the US and other western
life. Slogans typical for masculine cultures would be "I live to work" and "big and European countries are not in any sense consistent and unified. Thus, for any
fast is beautiful," while in case of feminine cultures people are more likely to kind of international cooperation as well as for the appropriate choice of
identify with statements like "I work to live" and "small and slow is beautiful." managerial methods, a reference to "European" or "western" values in business
Among the most masculine cultures are Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, may not serve here as a reliable guideline.
Great Britain, Germany, the United States and Greece. The most feminine are The description of most evident consequences of such a differentiation for
Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands. Moderate femininity is ascribed to business approaches and practices was provided above in sections devoted to
Portugal, Spain and France. In terms of business, it may be generalized that specific cultural dimensions. The choice of managerial methods as well as any
masculine countries in their approach toward human nature are closer to thinking form of international cooperation should therefore take into consideration the
in terms of McGregor's Theory X, while feminine culture in terms of Theory Y. As country specific cultural traits and adjust to them accordingly.
a consequence, different approaches to business are practiced. In masculine
cultures assertiveness and ego needs dominate. Competitiveness and
aggressiveness are praised (incidentally, English is the only language where
the word "aggressive" has positive connotations). Failures are taken much more
seriously than in feminine cultures because "it is difficult to pretend that you
did not try hard enough." Conflict is perceived as an opportunity rather than
threat. Everybody expects to win, so confrontation of power is a frequent way of
solving problems: "when the going gets tough, the tough get going."
Overestimation rather than underestimation is considered to be a norm in all
aspects of business activities: presenting of results, self-presentation, image
creation etc. In feminine cultures modesty dominates, and this leads to
intentional underestimation.

128 129
Matgorzata Durska American versus "European" Values?—Cultural Variation and Its Effects on Business Life


Location of six selected European countries and the United States on the Albert, Michel. Kapitalizm kontra kapitalizm. Krakow: Signum, 1994.
scales of four Hofstede's dimensions. Baruch, Yehuda. "Global or North American?" International Journal of Cross
Cultural Management. Vol. 1, Number 1, April 2001, 109-125.
Half, Edward T. Beyond Culture. Garden City: Anchor, 1976.
US GB NL FR GER POR Hofstede, Geert. Cultures and Organizations. Software of the Mind. 2nd Ed.,
!ND COLL London: McGraw Hili, 1991.
. Culture's Consequences. Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and
Organizations Across Nations. London: Sage Publications, 2001.
Inglehart, Ronald. Modernization and Postmodernization. Cultural, Economic, and
Political Change in 43 Societies. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.
LPD HPD Parsons, T. and A. E. Shils. Toward a General Theory of Actions. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1951.
Trompenaars, Fons. Riding the Waves of Culture. London: Nicholas Brealey
Publishing, 1993.



IND - individualism COLL - collectivism

LPD - low power distance HPD - high power distance
LUA - low uncertainty avoidance HU - high uncertainty avoidance
MAS - masculinity FEM - femininity

US (the United States)

GB (Great Britain)
NL (the Netherlands)
FR (France)
GER (Germany)
GRE (Greece)
POR (Portugal)