Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions

Understanding Workplace Values Around the World

Learn how to be more sensitive to
the needs of people in different cultures.

We know that we are living in a global age. Technology has brought everyone much closer together. This means that people of different cultures find themselves working together and communicating more and more.

This is exciting, but it can also be frustrating and fraught with uncertainty. How do you relate to someone of another culture? What do you say, or not say, to start a conversation right? Are there cultural taboos that you need to be aware of?

Building connections with people from around the world is just one dimension of cultural diversity. You will also need to factor it into motivating people, structuring projects, and developing strategy.

How can we understand cultural differences? Are we relegated to learning from our mistakes, or are there generalized guidelines to follow?

Fortunately, psychologist Dr Geert Hofstede asked himself this question in the 1970s. What emerged after a decade of research and thousands of interviews is a model of cultural dimensions that has become an internationally recognized standard.

With access to people working for the same organization in over 40 countries of the world, he collected cultural data and analyzed his findings. He initially identified four distinct cultural dimensions that served to distinguish one culture from another. Later he added a fifth dimension, and that is how the model stands today.

He scored each country using a scale of roughly 0 to 100 for each dimension. The higher the score, the more that dimension is exhibited in society.

The Five Dimensions of Culture

Armed with a large database of cultural statistics, Hofstede analyzed the results and found clear patterns of similarity and difference amid the responses along these five dimensions. Interestingly, his research was done on employees of IBM only, which allowed him to attribute the patterns to national differences in culture, largely eliminating the problem of differences in company culture.

The five dimensions are:

1. Power/Distance (PD)

This refers to the degree of inequality that exists – and is accepted – among people with and without power. A high PD score indicates that society accepts an unequal distribution of power, and that people understand "their place" in the system. Low PD means that power is shared and well dispersed. It also means that society members view themselves as equals.

Application: According to the model, in a high PD country such as Malaysia (104), you would probably send reports only to top management and have closed-door meetings where only select powerful leaders were in attendance.

PD Characteristics Tips
High PD
  • Centralized companies.
  • Strong hierarchies.
  • Large gaps in compensation, authority, and respect.
  • Acknowledge a leader's power.
  • Be aware that you may need to go to the top for answers
Low PD
  • Flatter organizations.
  • Supervisors and employees are considered almost as equals.
  • Use teamwork.
  • Involve as many people as possible in decision making.

2. Individualism (IDV)

This refers to the strength of the ties people have to others within the community. A high IDV score indicates loose connections. In countries with a high IDV score there is a lack of interpersonal connection, and little sharing of responsibility beyond family and perhaps a few close friends. A society with a low IDV score would have strong group cohesion, and there would be a large amount of loyalty and respect for members of the group. The group itself is also larger and people take more responsibility for each other's well being.

Application: The model suggests that in the Central American countries of Panama and Guatemala where the IDV scores are very low (11 and 6, respectively), a marketing campaign that emphasized benefits to the community or that tied into a popular political movement would likely be understood and well received.

IDV Characteristics Tips
High IDV
  • High valuation on people's time and their need for freedom.
  • An enjoyment of challenges, and an expectation of rewards for hard work.
  • Respect for privacy.
  • Acknowledge accomplishments.
  • Don't ask for too much personal information.
  • Encourage debate and expression of own ideas.
Low IDV
  • Emphasis on building skills and becoming masters of something.
  • Work for intrinsic rewards.
  • Harmony more important than honesty.
  • Show respect for age and wisdom.
  • Suppress feelings and emotions to work in harmony.
  • Respect traditions and introduce change slowly.

3. Masculinity (MAS)

This refers to how much a society sticks with, and values, traditional male and female roles. High MAS scores are found in countries where men are expected to be "tough," to be the provider, and to be assertive. If women work outside the home, they tend to have separate professions from men. Low MAS scores do not reverse the gender roles. In a low MAS society, the roles are simply blurred. You see women and men working together equally across many professions. Men are allowed to be sensitive, and women can work hard for professional success.

Application: Japan is highly masculine with a score of 95, whereas Sweden has the lowest measured value (5). According to the model, if you were to open an office in Japan, you might have greater success if you appointed a male employee to lead the team and had a strong male contingent on the team. In Sweden, on the other hand, you would aim for a team that was balanced in terms of skill rather than gender.

MAS Characteristics Tips
High MAS
  • Men are masculine and women are feminine.
  • There is a well defined distinction between men's work and women's work.
  • Be aware that people may expect male and female roles to be distinct.
  • Advise men to avoid discussing emotions or making emotionally based decisions or arguments.
Low MAS
  • A woman can do anything a man can do.
  • Powerful and successful women are admired and respected.
  • Avoid an "old boys' club" mentality.
  • Ensure job design and practices are not discriminatory to either gender.
  • Treat men and women equally.

4. Uncertainty/Avoidance Index (UAI)

This relates to the degree of anxiety that society members feel when in uncertain or unknown situations. High UAI-scoring nations try to avoid ambiguous situations whenever possible. They are governed by rules and order and they seek a collective "truth." Low UAI scores indicate that the society enjoys novel events and values differences. There are very few rules, and people are encouraged to discover their own truth.

Application: Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions imply that when discussing a project with people in Belgium, whose country scored a 94 on the UAI scale, you should investigate the various options and then present a limited number of choices, but have very detailed information available on your contingency and risk plans. (Note that there will be cultural differences between French and Dutch speakers in Belgium.)

UAI Characteristics Tips
High UAI
  • Very formal business conduct with lots of rules and policies.
  • Need and expect structure.
  • Sense of nervousness spurns high levels of emotion and expression.
  • Differences are avoided.
  • Be clear and concise about your expectations and parameters.
  • Plan and prepare, communicate often and early, provide detailed plans, and focus on the tactical aspects of a job or project.
  • Express your emotions through hand gestures and raised voices.
Low UAI
  • Informal business attitude.
  • More concern with long term strategy than what is happening on a daily basis.
  • Accepting of change and risk.
  • Do not impose rules or structure unnecessarily.
  • Minimize your emotional response by being calm and contemplating situations before speaking.
  • Express curiosity when you discover differences.

5. Long Term Orientation (LTO)

This refers to how much society values long-standing – as opposed to short-term – traditions and values. This is the fifth dimension that Hofstede added in the 1990s, after finding that Asian countries with a strong link to Confucian philosophy acted differently from Western cultures. In countries with a high LTO score, delivering on social obligations and avoiding "loss of face" are considered very important.

Application: According to the model, people in the United States and United Kingdom have low LTO scores. This suggests that you can pretty much expect anything in this culture in terms of creative expression and novel ideas. The model implies that people in the U.S. and U.K. don't value tradition as much as many others, and are therefore likely to be willing to help you execute the most innovative plans as long as they get to participate fully. (This may be surprising to people in the U.K., with its associations of tradition.)

LTO Characteristics Tips
High LTO
  • Family is the basis of society.
  • Parents and men have more authority than young people and women.
  • Strong work ethic.
  • High value placed on education and training.
  • Show respect for traditions.
  • Do not display extravagance or act frivolously.
  • Reward perseverance, loyalty, and commitment.
  • Avoid doing anything that would cause another to "lose face."
Low LTO
  • Promotion of equality.
  • High creativity, individualism.
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated.
  • Self-actualization is sought.
  • Expect to live by the same standards and rules you create.
  • Be respectful of others.
  • Do not hesitate to introduce necessary changes.

For a list of scores by dimension per country and more detailed information about Hofstede's research, visit his website.

Note:

Hofstede's analysis is done by country. While this is valid for many countries, it does not hold in the countries where there are strong subcultures that are based on ethnicity of origin or geography. In Canada, for instance, there is a distinct French Canadian culture that has quite a different set of norms from those of English-speaking Canada. And in Italy, masculinity scores would differ between north and south.

Key Points

Cultural norms play a large part in the mechanics and interpersonal relationships of the workplace. When you grow up in a culture, you take your norms of behavior for granted. You don't have to think about your reactions, preferences, and feelings.

When you step into a foreign culture, suddenly things seem different. You don't know what to do or say. Using Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions as a starting point, you can evaluate your approach, your decisions, and actions based on a general sense of how the society might think and react to you.

Of course, no society is homogenous, and there will be deviations from the norms found. However, with this as your guide you won't be going in blind. The unknown will be a little less intimidating and you'll get a much-needed boost of confidence and security from studying this cultural model.

Apply This to Your Life

  • Take some time to review the scores by country for the various cultural dimensions identified in this model. Pay particular attention to the countries that the people you deal daily come from.
  • In light of these scores, think about some interactions you've had with people in other countries. Does your conversation or association make more sense given this newly found insight?
  • Challenge yourself to learn more about one culture in particular. If your work brings you in contact with people from another country, use that country as your point of reference. Apply Hofstede's scores to what you discover, and determine the accuracy and relevance for you.
  • The next time that you are required to work with a person from a different culture, use Cultural Dimensions scores and make notes about your approach, what you should be prepared to discuss, and why you feel the way you do. Afterward, evaluate your performance and do further research for the next time.
  • Above all, make cultural sensitivity a daily part of your life. Learn to value the differences between people and vow to respect the things that make people unique.

This site teaches you the skills you need for a happy and successful career; and this is just one of many tools and resources that you'll find here at Mind Tools. Click here for more, subscribe to our free newsletter, or become a member for just $1.

Add this article to My Learning Plan

Comments (15)
  • elahe1356 wrote This month
    Hi
    who can compare hafstede and vals theory?
  • MichaelP wrote Over a month ago
    Jana, my understanding of Hofstede's work is he operates at a society based level vs individuals. In any culture or subculture I believe there is likely to be a mix of individual traits such as the pragmatism and restraint you mention. Associated to the developmental status of the culture I would also expect the 'survival' needs to dominate in lessor developed countries which would promote more pragmatism. what do others think?
  • Jana wrote Over a month ago
    How about the dimension of Pragmatism, and Indulgence vs. Restraint? Doesn't make those dimensions part of Hofstede's dimensions??
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Kim - great question. I'm not aware of his dimensions being applied to generational differences but the application would be interesting. We have two articles on dealing with inter-generational issues Leadership by the New Generation: http://mindtools.com/community/pages/ar ... LDR_59.php and Generation Ys First Recession: http://mindtools.com/community/pages/ar ... CDV_37.php and I can see where the model would work. Where do the generations stand on power/distance, masculinity, or a long term outlook for instance? It would be interesting to map such differences. I think being aware that these types of generational differences do exist and incorporating them into the way we lead and manage is a great way to move forward and not forget that cultural differences can come from a variety of sources.

    I love it when tools like these lead to more and more questions - that's where much of the learning comes from!

    Dianna
  • kbennett wrote Over a month ago
    Good morning!

    I'm curious if Hofstede's work has been applied to analyze other cultural differences besides international relations. For example, as I read through the article, I was noting similiarities to some research that was shared in my agency regarding intergenerational cultural differences (e.g., Millenialists being more focused on self-actualization and horizontal leadership structures, while Boomers valuing tradition, history and hierarchical structures).

    Kim
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hi loki - welcome to the club and the forum, looks like you're getting along just fine!

    Your question is very popular... and not that well understood. This "simple" guide you suggest is exactly what we all need - now to find someone who can actally write one that is truly valuable and relevant is the challenge. Perhaps something for the entreprenurial (and culturally adept) among us to ponder???

    Members... if you have some insights into your own culture, or ones you work with, please do share them with us!

    Dianna
  • loki wrote Over a month ago
    Thanks James for the link to the earlier thread (I'm clearly still learning how to use the Forum Search tool properly - I missed that one).
    There does seem to be a lot of anecdotal evidence supporting the need for cultural awareness - I just want someone to write a simple guide that encompasses the entire world's preferences ... not too much to ask surely?
    I will follow up on Adele's book recommendation.
    I've found a few myself that I'll include here:
    Communicating Globally (Intercultural Communication and International Business)
    Sage Publications ISBN: 9781412913171
    And two Business Pocketbooks
    Cross-cultural Business ISBN: 9781870471732
    Cultural Gaffes ISBN: 9781870471435

    Any other suggestions welcome!
    Loki
  • James wrote Over a month ago
    Hi Loki

    Welcome to the forums!

    There's a useful thread on this at the following address:
    http://www.mindtools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1008

    Adele gives a particularly strong suggestion on the second page.
    Hope this helps!

    James
  • loki wrote Over a month ago
    Hi,

    I just joined today (although I've read with interest the MindTools e-mails for quite some time now).
    I work in the UK in Learning & Development, designing & sourcing training for people all over the world.

    I wonder if the forum members can point me towards some useful resources to help me with my current pet project?

    As my business uses more virtual teams with members located across the globe I've noticed that miscommunication due to differences between cultural backgrounds is increasing.

    I read through the article on Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions published last year and visited the website.
    I thought the data for the different countries would be useful in convincing sceptics that 'different cultures do actually exist' but it lacked specific advice on what to do about those differences.

    I agree with earlier postings on this topic that "one size does not fit all", that we shouldn't embrace stereotypes but be aware of the individual and their responses.
    But ... I think we should also share knowledge of cultural perspectives - especially where these influence communications.
    Or as one of my colleagues put it "In xxxx country when they mean no they say no, in yyyy country when they mean no they say maybe"
    Now I know that's a generalisation but simply being aware that in certain countries 'maybe' might actually mean 'no' could save someone from a great deal of frustration.

    So does anyone in the forum know of a source of practical advice on how to effectively communicate across cultural boundaries?
    For example conference call etiquette, gaffes to avoid during a meeting, variations in body language, eating protocols, language mismatches to watch out for (as example above).

    I hope this community can help and look forward to hearing your ideas.

    Kind Regards
    Loki
  • Dianna wrote Over a month ago
    Hi tullygirl, it's great to hear from you. Welcome to the forums!

    Great reminder that culture is a generalization that doesn't necessarily apply to any one individual. The awareness though, of what to typically expect makes awareness of culture differences very important.

    I wonder if ageism (either too old or too young) is a prevalent theme throughout the world. I believe Asian cultures value age, but I'm thinking for all of our youth-obsessed preoccupation, most societies have a bias against younger people in positions of authority.

    What do others think?


    Thanks tullygirl for sharing your insights. Looking forward to hearing more!

    Dianna
Show all comments

Where to go from here:

Join the Mind Tools Club

Click to join Mind Tools
Printer-friendly version
Return to the top of the page

Create a Login to Save Your Learning Plan

This ensures that you don’t lose your plan.


Connect with…

Or create a Mind Tools login. Existing user? Log in here.
Log in with your existing Mind Tools details
Lost Username or Password
You are now logged in…

Lost username or password?

Please enter your username or email address and we'll send you a reminder.

Thank You!

Your log in details have been sent to the email account you registered with. Please check your email to reset your login details.

Create a Mind Tools Login
Your plan has been created.

While you're here, subscribe to our FREE newsletter?

Learn a new career skill every week, and get our Personal Development Plan workbook (worth $19.99) when you subscribe.


Thank You!

Please check your Inbox, and click on the link in the email from us. We can then send you the newsletter.