A recent American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) survey indicated that failure to consider intercultural differences is one of the reasons that 72% of multinational companies were not satisfied with their global training initiatives. This series of Quick Takes will discuss the use of Professor Geert Hofstede’s research on Cultural Dimensions as a means of identifying mismatches and opportunities in training delivery. Previously we’ve covered some of Professor Hofstede’s other cultural dimensions. This Quick Take discusses the Indulgence versus Restraint dimension (IND).

This dimension looks at a culture’s tendencies regarding the fulfillment of desires. Countries with a high IND rating are more likely to allow or encourage free gratification of simple pleasures, whereas countries with a low IND rating tend toward restraint and often pessimism. Low IND cultures tend to be more likely to regulate behavior and adhere to strict social norms. Cultures with a high IND rating are more likely to focus on enjoying life and having fun.

Countries with a high IND rating have a higher percentage of people who would call themselves happy and most of their citizens feel they have control over their own lives. In a country with a low IND rating, citizens are more likely to feel powerless, as if their experiences are not determined by their own actions, but rather situations happen to them. In a high IND country, freedom of speech is highly valued and people are more likely to remember positive emotions. The opposite is true in a low IND culture. In a low IND country, there is often a more visible police force, and maintaining national order is a high priority.  

Countries in Eastern Europe, including Russia, and some Asian countries have low IND ratings, indicating a restrained culture. Often, in these countries, there is a pervading idea that indulgence is somewhat wrong. While much of Western Europe falls in the median, most Anglo-Western nations have a high IND rating, indicating that individuals in these cultures tend to place a higher importance on leisure and tend to act and spend money as they please.

The IND dimension was added to the list of cultural dimensions more recently than the ones which have already been explored in our quick takes. Therefore, there is less extensive research, and fewer countries are represented in the results. However, it would certainly be a factor for various countries working globally.

For example, the IND cultural dimension would be a factor for an Australian company working in China. Australia, with an IND rating of 71, is a fairly indulgent culture, whereas China, with its rating of 24, falls on the restrained end of the spectrum. Managers in an Australian multinational company hiring Chinese employees might find that their attitude toward the work environment would be seen as unprofessional to their employees. Examples include:

  • Companies from high IND countries working in low IND countries would need to work hard to understand the culture of professionalism in their host country.
  • It is important not to make jokes or express negativity in formal business settings.

 

On the other hand, a Chinese company working in Australia or the United States, which has an IND rating of 68, might struggle to find employees whose work ethic meets their standards of professionalism. It is important that a company from a country with a low IND rating, when working in a high IND country,  aim for the following in a professional setting:

  • Allow for work/life balance, as this is a value in high IND cultures.
  • Encourage debate and feedback to help employees feel they are contributing to the life of the company.
  • Prioritize mentoring and coaching employees to allow movement up the chain of command.

 

When writing to these cultures, a very different approach should also be used.  A reserved culture like China would need to be treated with a high degree of professionalism and structure. Australia, a high IND rating culture, can be approached with a little more creativity and appeal to indulgence.  Remember that these attitudes also permeate into subcultures of the United States.  These tendencies of Chinese cultures, for example, will also apply to reaching Chinese subcultures (especially those with Mandarin or Cantonese as a primary language) in the U.S.

The cultural dimensions provide a very helpful frame of reference when trying to reach different cultures, whether they be in other countries, or subcultures right here in the U.S. which were influenced by immigration of a people group.  If you have not been following all six parts of this series, we recommend taking a look back at our previous posts, linked below.  And, you can always reach out if you need help communicating to clients across cultural boundaries.