You may have heard of the Hofstede Cultural Dimensions before, or are doing research about it.
Knowing how to communicate with people from different cultures is becoming increasingly important.
As the world gets bigger (and at the same time smaller), we need to learn how to effectively interact with people from around the world. We have to communicate without causing offence. If we want to conduct business, we have to know what motivates people. Because all of these factors are so deeply affected by a person’s culture, inter-cultural understanding becomes vital.
In the mid-20th century, Geert Hofstede (a Dutch researcher) came up with 6 dimensions of culture. We can use these dimensions to help with understanding cultural differences quickly and effectively.
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory and Singapore
Because Singapore is such a culturally rich nation, it is an ideal place to study and practice Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. With thousands of people from different countries conducting business in Singapore, there are many different countries and national cultures represented within a relatively small country.
Due to its international community and it’s rich history, Singapore has become a cultural hub. Wildly popular with international business people, Singapore is ideally situated for westerners to launch out into other South East Asian countries. Singapore is so popular, in fact, that just under 30% of its population are non-residents.
English is the language in which everything happens in Singapore. This doesn’t, however, take away from the rich cultural history and cultural inheritance of Singaporeans.
What all of this means, is that Singapore is a place where many people of different cultures and nationalities have come together to form something new. This new Singaporean culture is unique from any other in the world. This culture is a melting pot of many vastly different influences, all of which have come together to form something that is unique and beautiful.
Hofstede cultural dimensions theory plays out uniquely in Singapore. We’ll look at exactly how we can apply Hofstede’s findings to this country culture further on in this article, but first let’s break down Hofstede’s cultural dimensions.
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions
Hofstede cultural dimensions are a set of 6 dimensions which are at the core of every culture. By understanding what these dimensions of culture are, what they mean, and how they work, we can quickly get a very deep understanding of how any given culture operates. This gives us insight into how we can conduct international business without causing undue problems. Hofstede cultural dimensions theory is the key to understanding the strict social norms that shape a culture. This includes things like:
- cultural values
- national culture
- company culture
- power differences
- organizational structures
- gender roles
- work related values
- social obligations
In the business world, these insights are invaluable. In order to understand how it all works, let’s examine the 6 vital cultural dimensions. They are:
- Power distance index
- Collectivism vs Individualism
- Uncertainty avoidance index
- Feminine society vs Masculine society
- Short term orientation vs Long term orientation
- Indulgence vs Restraint
Power distance index
The first of Hofstede cultural dimensions, the power distance index, is a measurement which reflects how comfortable a society is with power inequality, authority, hierarchy and inequality. High power distance societies show higher levels of respect for rank and authority. A low score on the power distance index, on the other hand, is indicative of a society that gravitates toward unilateral management styles and more democratic decision making.
Ironically, the power distance index of any nation usually relates more to the less powerful people in that society. This is because the less powerful people are actually the ones who either accept or reject the amount of power possessed by the leaders within their organisational structures. If most people in an organisation refused to accept authority or hierarchy, the organisation would have to change their management style, and the power distance index rating would drop.
A high power distance index score is no better (or worse) than a low power distance index score. It is simply a measurement of of how relationships are affected by power and rank within a given organisation.
What is an example of power distance?
Singapore is an example of a country with a higher power distance rating (74).
The historical religion and cultural background of Singapore, like many Asian cultures, is closely tied to Confucianism. In Confucianism, the stability of society is vitally important. This societal stability is directly connected to the relationships between people, and how a person’s ranking in society affects these relationships. As a result, Singapore places a higher value on maintaining authority and respect within its organisations.
Collectivist cultures vs Individualistic cultures
The second of Hofstede cultural dimensions, individualism, relates to how much the individual is valued above society.
In individualistic societies, more emphasis is placed on personal identity, expression, and uniqueness. These societies tend to look after themselves and their immediate families only, with caring for society at large coming as an afterthought. Individualistic societies are more about the ‘I’ than the ‘we’.
In collectivist societies, more emphasis is placed on family, organisations, or other groups. These groups accept the individuals as part of themselves and look after their own. This is done in exchange for the individuals’ loyalty. In order to encourage loyalty, group members are often expected to dress, behave and even speak in a certain way.
Singapore is a collectivist society. It scores 20 on the Individualism index. This means that people in Singapore tend to be perceived as less selfish, placing the collective good of others above their desire to be independent.
Uncertainty avoidance index
The uncertainty avoidance index is the most important part of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. Sure, all of the cultural dimensions are important, but the uncertainty avoidance index is the one that provides the quickest, most accurate snapshot of a culture when you don’t have much information available.
Uncertainty avoidance is an indicator of how much a society is comfortable with the unknown. High uncertainty avoidance cultures, in general, find that unknown situations and circumstances cause higher levels of anxiety. Cultures with a low uncertainty avoidance index, on the other hand, are far more comfortable with unknown situations and circumstances.
Ultimately, this boils down to how much a society tries to control the future. High uncertainty avoidance cultures are more concerned with rules, as these provide guidelines which can be used to navigate and control unknown circumstances. These guidelines relate to formal rules (such as laws and legislation) and informal rules (such as social etiquette, and unspoken cultural norms).
If a country scores high on the uncertainty avoidance index, you will find that they have usually created institutions (cultural, governmental, religious, or other) which try to avoid ambiguity. Countries which score lower on the uncertainty avoidance index are generally more relaxed in terms of national cultures, traditions, religious beliefs, and even legislation.
Feminine societies vs Masculine societies
The idea of masculine and feminine cultures relates to the general cultural attitudes towards life, viewed through the lens of traditional gender roles.
This means that in societies that score high on this index–masculine countries–put more value on traditionally masculine character traits. These masculine traits are things like competition, success, achievement, prestige, and honour. In masculine societies, people place more value on “winning,” in both a metaphorical sense and a practical sense.
In societies that score lower on this index–feminine countries–more value is placed on traditionally feminine character traits. These traits are things like quality of life, caring for others, and equality. In feminine societies, people find value in leading a contented life — being happy with who they are and what they do.
This cultural dimension boils down to what motivates individuals and society. Some find motivation in wanting to dominate and be the best (masculine), whereas others find inspiration in enjoying life and being happy with what they do.
Short term orientation vs Long term orientation
This cultural dimension relates to how societies balance their traditional beliefs and behaviours, and the need to adapt for the future.
Those cultures who score low on this index are more concerned with pursuing virtue, as its viewed in relation to their cultural history. They believe that traditions are there for a reason, and that one should trust and even pursue these time-honoured methods of doing things. Short term orientation cultures look to the past for present guidance.
Cultures that score high on this index are all about looking to the future. As such, they embrace that which is new, encourage thrift and investment, and are willing to delay instant gratification. Instead of trying to pursue present material gain, these societies encourage perseverance and long-term reward. Long term orientation cultures look to the future for present guidance.
Restraint vs indulgence
Hofstede’s 6th cultural dimension is the idea of restraint vs indulgence. This relates to how much a society accepts or resists their natural and instinctive urges.
In different societies, children are taught to control their impulses to a lesser or greater extent. This has to do with society’s attitude towards discipline, desire, and gratification. In a nation that scores high on this index (a restrained culture), self-control is valued. On the other hand, a nation that scores low on this index (an indulgent culture) is less likely to condemn instant gratification. In fact, in these cultures, indulgence is accepted, and even encouraged.
Ultimately, this boils down to a culture’s consequences for displaying more or less control in indulging urges.
Relatively free gratification: Does it really cost you?
It’s interesting to note this cultural dimension’s relationship to Hofstede’s other cultural dimensions.
Generally, cultures that score high on the indulgence index also score high on the masculine index, but low on the collectivist index. This is probably due to the fact that masculine cultures promote putting the importance of your individual needs and desires above those of the collective good, especially when it means you can win. For society at large, this may be detrimental, even if it’s beneficial for the individual. In society at large, it may be safe to say that what is viewed as relatively free gratification actually comes at a price to others.
All of these aspects of culture play out in some very interesting ways in Singapore. We have touched on a few of them, but it will be useful for us to look at how Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory plays out in the unique cultural hub of Singapore.
Cultural differences within Singapore
Singapore is a very culturally unique country, with many different influences on its identity. While in more homogenous national cultures, Hofstede cultural dimensions theory plays out in a more predictable manner, in Singapore, these dimensions sometimes look a bit different. This is due to Singapore’s culturally heterogenous makeup.
What are the cultural differences of Singapore?
As a nation, Singapore is made up of a multitude of different nationalities, cultures, religions, races, and heritages. It is often thought of as the country where “East meets West.” The vast array of different people in Singapore is what makes it so unique. The fact that so many different belief systems can work together side-by-side is testament to Singapore’s amazing personality.
Singapore has been created by influences from Taiwan, Malaysia, Europe, China, India, Indonesia, and many other nations. It is racially and religiously diverse. Many expats live in Singapore, and all of them (usually) come together in a wonderfully accepting group. This is a wonderful display of humanity, but it also makes for some very unique and interesting displays of Hofstede cultural dimensions theory.
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions in Singapore
Different aspects of Singaporean society have been fashioned by people from around the world. Architecture, government, commerce, religion, food, fashion, and entertainment are all aspects of Singaporean culture that reflect its diverse influences. Of course, all of these cultural phenomena can be classified according to Hofstede’s cultural model.
In order to fully appreciate the cross cultural research of Hofstede’s dimensions, lets take a look at how Singapore scores on the indices.
Is Singapore high or low power distance?
With a score of 74, Singapore scores high on this first dimension. This means that people in Singapore appreciate the value of hierarchy and authority, and are more accepting of power inequalities. This is beneficial for the traditional corporate structure (amongst other things), as employees are willing to follow their manager’s instructions, and people are respectful of their superiors’ authority.
Is Singapore collectivist or individualistic?
With a score of 20, Singapore is a collectivist society. This means that people are loyal to the nation and its national identity more than to themselves. This one of the reasons why Singapore is so diverse; people are willing to accept and help other members within their society, even if they have different beliefs or cultures. Furthermore, social cohesion is important, which leads to fewer public conflicts, and a general promotion of interpersonal respect and harmony.
Is Singapore high or low uncertainty avoidance?
With a very low score of 8, Singapore is a low uncertainty avoidance country. Because of its diversity, Singaporeans know how to deal with the unknown. They are willing to accept new ideas, circumstances, and unknown situations, because this is generally good for social harmony.
Is Singapore a feminine country?
Singapore’s score of 48 means that it is exceptionally well balanced. With this score being slightly more on the feminine side, the more nurturing aspects of society are encouraged, but not to the extent that competition and achievement are discouraged. This is also one of the reasons that Singapore is such an international hub; people from most cultures feel accepted, nurtured, and still challenged to reach their full potential.
Is Singapore’s orientation short term or long term?
Singapore scores 72 in this, the fifth dimension. This is a relatively high score, and it indicates that Singapore places greater importance on long term success (long term orientation) and less emphasis on immediate material rewards (short term orientation). Singapore has worked hard towards perseverance and consistently investing in its future. Singapore is a long term orientation nation.
Is Singapore an indulgent society?
With a score of 46, Singapore falls almost in the middle of the two extremes. As a result, it is not possible to classify Singapore as either indulgent or restrained. Rather, it’s safe to say that Singapore is well balanced in comparison to other countries.
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