A Sampling: Workplace Cultures Around the World

Steelcase’s recent issue of 360° Magazine, titled Culture Code, shares a big body of research on workplace culture across eleven countries. The following is a sampling of three interesting workplace culture perspectives (by country) from this research.

Visit the Steelcase website for the remaining eight country profiles.

Country Profile: India

Indians gravitate easily toward group activities, a behavior that’s easily leveraged for collaboration.

Work Dynamics

  • Flexible work arrangements and/or mobile work are limited; managers want to observe workers, and workers want to be seen.
  • Decision-making is based on hierarchy, though leaders may solicit employee input.
  • Interaction often happens at individual workstations; work environments tend to be noisy.
  • Employees tolerate dense work environments.
  • Conflict with co-workers is avoided in every way possible.
  • With seemingly limitless opportunities, workers switch employers easily.

Work Hours

  • Chaotic traffic and overcrowded public transportation lengthen the average workday.
  • Arriving at work on time is expected, but at the same time, being late is accepted.
  • Indians don’t mind delaying meetings and projects if it means the right people can participate.
  • Bringing lunch from home and eating at your desk is common.
  • Companies are expected to host celebrations of national events for employees and their families.

Country Profile: China

Maintaining harmony and showing respect to superiors is highly valued; employees are reticent to express their own ideas, though that’s beginning to change.

Work Dynamics

  • Flexible work arrangements and/or mobile work are the exception due to inadequate internet infrastructure, small homes and cultural norms.
  • Collaboration can be strong within departments, but limited interdepartmentally because trust is stronger within close-knit groups.
  • Employees tolerate dense work environments.
  • A paternalistic leadership model means workers’ immediate supervisors are expected to be hands-on and personable. Managers are expected to socialize with employees.
  • Workers expect explicit directions on tasks.
  • Qualified workers switch companies easily.

Work Hours

  • Chinese people are among the longest working in the world; the workday is officially set at 8 hours, but at least 25% put in 9-11 hours every day. Source: Netman
  • Long lunch breaks provide time to eat, rest or even take a nap to re-energize.

Country Profile: The Netherlands

Because flexible, mobile work and desk-sharing are so well accepted, a significant number of progressive companies don’t provide any assigned workspaces or private offices; instead, all workspaces are 100 percent shared.

Work Dynamics

  • Early adopters of flexible work; most routinely do some of their work away from the office.
  • Resist autocratic management styles.
  • Tend to keep workplace interactions pragmatic and to the point.
  • Social norms protect personal space in open offices; interruptions, especially for non-work-related small talk, are regarded as inconsiderate.
  • Sociability at work typically occurs only at designated times, such as lunch.
  • At most organizations, an employee work council is consulted for important decisions, including workplace design issues.

Work Hours

  • The Dutch work fewer hours than workers in most other countries, typically less than 40 hours per week; personal time has high value.
  • Being punctual for meetings and staying focused on work while at work are norms.
  • Lunch breaks are short and simple; workers typically eat together.

Check out other workplace topics in Steelcase’s 360° Magazine.