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Cultural Differences: Different Time ‘Zones’ (Part-1)

In the quest to build a strong global identity, organizations are increasingly aware of cultural issues that, when used as a hidden basis in policy making and planning, will help align organizational goals with local differences. Time perspective is one such element of culture, which influences the way culture members tend to approach decision-making in consumer as well as business activities. Differences in time perception lead to differences in employees’ perception of work and people. The issue of time in culture research can be used in International Human Resource Management (IHRM) studies to measure country and group level effects that can be differentiated between countries and groups and thus help explain differences in organizational behavior and make people The dimension of time perspective can be added (Bond, MH et al 1987) as a fifth dimension of culture related to work organization. The other four dimensions are Power Distance, Personality, Masculinity and Ambiguity Distance (Hofstede and Bond 1984), as defined by Geert Hofstede’s most popular framework for studying international culture.

Philip R. Cateora and John L. Graham (‘International Marketing’, 10th edition, Page 130) describe the division of time perspective into monochronic and polychronic time. M-time or a culture’s understanding of monochronic time means that people focus on one thing at a time. It is characteristic of low cultures such as North Americans, Swiss and Scandinavians. They divide time into small units and are concerned with urgency. M-time is used linearly and experienced as a concept, in the way that we keep time, spend time or lose time.

The concept of polychronic time or P-time is characterized by the simultaneous occurrence of many things and by “great involvement with people”. P-time allows relationships to be built on and context to be captured as part of content-rich cultures such as those of India and other South Asian countries. Completing human interactions is considered more important than closing programs.

The author has tried to analyze the HRM practices of the USA, India and Japan, in the context of cultural differences in the perception of time. The selection of these cultures is based on the fact that traditionally the USA is known as an M-time culture, India as a P-time culture, while Japan is a mixture of M-time and P-time movements. However, these cultures are not mutually exclusive, and the understanding of time in these cultures is influenced and changed by cross-border trade and other interactions.

The results of the difference in the perception of time in different cultures can be a comprehensive organization, individual leadership or centralized task.

Impact on the Organization

Those challenges that affect planning, scheduling and unionism have wider organizational implications and are in turn influenced by cultural understandings of time.

A P-type culture takes a short-term view of the organization and its goals, while an M-time culture takes a long-term view and focuses on the organization’s long-term planning. For an organization that plans to establish operations in a P-type culture, it will have to identify employees with their long-term goals and align them with their personal goals to set a long-term vision.

Reworking the reward system to focus on achieving long-term planning goals will also reinforce the same. A culture with a combination of P and M type behavior reflects long-term planning and the strategic role of HR in planning. Rules are codified and sufficient time is allowed for decision making.

For any organization with international operations, trade unionism is an essential part of its external environment, which is often governed by the laws of the land. The M-type culture takes a negative view of unionism. On the other hand, the P-type culture has cooperative unions and collective bargaining and worker participation are the norm. The combination of P and M type culture reflects the company union, which is positive and cooperative in nature and employee involvement is encouraged.

Information about widespread unionism is useful for both employees and management because it determines their relationship and the level of worker participation in management.

Decision-making is another aspect of the organization that is accepted if it is fast in the M-type culture, which is seen as more bureaucratic with stricter rules; while the P-type culture is more flexible and accepts a long decision-making process. In contrast, the combination of P and M type culture makes HR’s role important in decision making. The rules are formal and codified and sufficient time is allowed for decision making. By familiarizing its external managers with these insights, an organization will gain in situations like negotiations.

Impact on Individuals

Aspects such as personal performance evaluation, rewards and perspective towards work are some of the issues, which are affected by the time-based perception of culture.

Performance appraisal can be based on individual achievement or it can weigh group performance. An individual in an M-type culture focuses on his own performance because the group’s achievements are not the primary goal, while in a combination of P and M-type culture, group performance is an important criterion for evaluating performance. In this matter, the organization can be guided by the standards and values ​​of society. The interval between performance reviews also depends on the perception of time, and a culture with long decision-making cycles may require a longer performance review cycle.

Issues like career planning, hiring policy and succession planning depend on the age of the average employee of the organization. In both P-type and P-type cultures, employees assume a lifetime job. This leads to easy successful planning and a need-based hiring policy, which relies heavily on personal interviews as a selection criterion. In contrast, an employee in an M-type culture will likely work for more than one employer in his or her lifetime and hence a regular hiring policy. Another area of ​​difference between different cultures is the determination of wages. In a P-type culture, wages are based on industry-specific criteria, and seniority is an important factor in determining wages. Salary is skill and merit in the M-type culture. In the mix of M and P culture, pay is based on both seniority and base. In order to avoid bias, this factor should be kept in perspective in order to prepare an effective compensation policy in different cultures. Since most organizations want to avoid a geographic base salary difference, a non-cash compensation may be offered.

Effect on Task

Task definition and task skill development are also influenced by culture-related time perception.

Tasks in a P-type culture are defined in detail which gives flexibility to the employee while an M-type culture has a strict definition of the task. In the mix of P and M type culture, the job definition is simple and broad. This difference can mean job dissatisfaction in organizations that operate in different cultures but follow a uniform job definition.

Understanding about education is also about culture. The P-type culture considers education to be of little importance and education is on the job. In the M-type culture, formal education is provided. In combining M and P type cultures, train capacity is emphasized with both on-the-job and off-the-job training distributed. Therefore, the problem of education and skill development in different cultures will be solved differently, so cultures also promote multi-skill development or specialization. P-type culture and mix of M and P culture, job turnover is related to job satisfaction so employees are highly skilled. In an M-type culture, employees specialize in specific tasks. This difference will be particularly pronounced in the case of blue-collar workers.


A good case for comparing the three cultures is the statistical comparison of the importance of firm growth in the US and Japanese labor markets by Takao Kato and Mark Rockel. He points out that there is a clear difference between the time it takes for a new recruit to reach the CEO position in the two countries. On average, it took 20 years in the United States, and 27 years in Japan. When we see that most CEOs in India reach that position after 25 to 30 years in the organization, we can extend the study to help in bridging the three cultures. .

This difference in development is very obvious in terms of real time. But another dimension to consider is that the Japanese organization emphasizes hands-on training for CEO development and training, so the focus remains on the long-term goal.

Surveys indicate that Japan’s managerial labor market fosters a more long-term relationship between managers and the company than that of the US. Managers in the US have placed less emphasis on the knowledge of the firm and its employees, as they are less stressed about building consensus.

In traditional Indian firms with an emphasis on relationships, promotions were often based on seniority, so CEOs were often appointed because they were only a few months away from the specified retirement age.


Deep understandings, which have shaped even cultures, would be difficult to merge into one universal understanding of time. But the desire to seek or introduce homogeneity in these issues is uppermost in the minds of managers dealing with various international HRM issues, from corporate governance to expatriate training. The slow progress towards accepting the understandings of such complex times is evident at least in the workplace.

While the Japanese promote dynamism, future-orientation, hard work and adherence to rules on the one hand, on the other hand they emphasize communication, broad job descriptions, decentralization and respect for aging.

HRM practices in the United States show a similar trend, whether in increased tolerance of unions or in efforts to build corporate loyalty. Similar trends in India are being forced towards a more monochronic approach to warehouse operations due to competition for state-owned enterprises from private sector enterprises, including MNCs.

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