What is Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory? The Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory In A Nutshell

Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory was developed by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede in 1980. Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory is a framework for cross-cultural communication. To create his theory, Hofstede analyzed the results of a global survey of IBM employees to determine the dimensions in which different cultures vary. Between 1967 and 1973, approximately 117,000 employees across 50 countries were asked about workplace values and leadership and how they were influenced by culture.

Understanding Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory

As a result of his work, Hofstede’s discovered four cultural dimensions that help explain why cultural practices in business and non-business settings differ. A further two dimensions were later added, with the sixth dimension added as recently as 2010. 

The six dimensions of Hofstede’s theory

Hofstede identified six dimensions that influence culture. Before we explain them below, it’s important to note that each dimension exists on a continuum from low to high. As a result, some practitioners choose to rate each on a scale of 1 to 100.

1 – Power distance index

The power distance index considers the extent to which power and inequality are tolerated by followers. 

  • Countries with a high power distance index embrace hierarchy and encourage bureaucracy. Culture is defined by the acceptance of power differences and the respect of rank and authority. Many Latin American, Asian, and African countries display this culture.
  • Countries with a low power distance index are egalitarian. They favor flat organizational structures with decentralized decision-making. They also tend to distribute power more evenly and adopt participative management styles. Examples of egalitarian countries include Israel, Denmark, and Ireland.

2 – Collectivism vs. individualism

This dimension considers the degree to which societies are integrated into groups. It also considers the perceived obligation or dependence on groups.

  • Collectivist countries place more importance on the goals and well-being of a group, with individuals sacrificing their own needs and desires. Many countries with a high power distance index display collectivist tendencies. 
  • Individualist countries place more importance on achieving personal goals, with culture defined by a loose social framework where individuals take care of themselves and their immediate family.

3 – Masculinity vs. femininity

The masculinity vs. femininity dimension encompasses societal preferences regarding achievement, sexual attitudes, gender roles, and behavior.

  • Masculine countries such as Japan and Australia view power as important. Ambition, achievement, power, and assertiveness are preferred, with men and women occupying separate but complementary roles in society. 
  • Feminine countries such as Sweden and Norway view nurturing as important. Gender roles are more fluid and flexible and there is an emphasis on service and quality of life.

4 – Uncertainty avoidance index

The uncertainty avoidance index evaluates how much uncertainty and ambiguity a country tolerates. Specifically, how does the country handle unknown or unexpected events?

  • A high uncertainty avoidance index country is uncomfortable with uncertainty. Countries like Japan, Mexico, Germany, and Poland tend to favor formal rules, procedures, and standards. Deviation from these accepted practices is considered undesirable, if not illegal in some cases. 
  • A low uncertainty avoidance index country is comfortable with uncertainty. Citizens of countries such as China, Jamaica, and the United Kingdom are more comfortable in unstructured scenarios. They value creativity, autonomy, and the freedom to task risks.

5 – Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation

The fifth dimension describes how cultures are oriented toward space and time. How do different countries overcome real or potential challenges? 

  • Countries with a long-term orientation emphasize traditions and customs to overcome challenges and see change as a negative. This is best exemplified in many East Asian societies that value thrift, persistence, humility, planning, and the delaying of gratification to secure a better future.
  • Countries with short-term orientation are more accepting of change because they see it as inevitable. They tend to focus on short-term gains and immediate gratification at the expense of a future payoff.

6 – Indulgence vs restraint

In the final dimension, Hofstede analyzed how different cultures acknowledge the natural human need to satisfy impulses or desires.

  • Indulgent countries have societies that encourage individuals to enjoy life and have fun. As a result, they see leisure as a virtue and pleasure as theirs for the taking.
  • Restrained countries have societies that suppress or regulate the gratification of desires through social norms. The fulfillment of individual obligations is equated with life purpose and some may feel guilt or shame for engaging in activities they consider frivolous.

Key takeaways:

  • Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory is a framework for cross-cultural communication. The theory is based on a global study into how workplace values and leadership are influenced by culture.
  • Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory was initially based on four cultural dimensions that explain why cultural practices vary in business and non-business settings. A further two dimensions were added, with the final dimension added as recently as 2010.
  • Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory suggests each dimension exists on a continuum of low to high. In other words, each country exhibits varying degrees of multiple traits: power, inequality, masculinity, femininity, uncertainty avoidance, social integration, and openness to change.

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