Different cultures can hold different or even opposing views of the relationship between time and human society. Some cultures place more emphasis on the past, some emphasize the present and some emphasize the future. Time orientation can have a significant impact on attitudes about work and business. If your business employs people from different cultural backgrounds, it helps to understand these differences.

Time Orientation

The term “future orientation” can mean different things in different contexts. In the GLOBE project to study cultural differences and their effects on business management, researchers defined a future-oriented culture as one that values the sacrifice of short-term pleasures and satisfactions in favor of long-term success and prosperity. Based on this definition, they found that middle managers in Singapore were the most future oriented in the world, while those in Russia were among the least. A culture can also be considered future oriented if members of that culture tend to value creative thinking and new ideas and to believe that the future can be controlled or influenced by present decisions. The United States can be considered a future-oriented culture by this definition.

Effects on Business

Your employees' attitudes about time can have an impact on your business in both positive and negative ways. If you have an employee whose cultural background is past oriented, she may have difficulty meeting deadlines or planning ahead for long-term problems. She may tend to assume that the old ways of doing things are always the best ways and to resist policy or procedural changes. If your employee comes from a present-oriented background, he may tend to leave important details until the last moment and fail to adequately prepare. When these attitudes originate in cultural tendencies rather than poor work habits, you can take steps to help your employee adapt to America's future-oriented business culture.

Advantages of Future Orientation

The GLOBE project found that future-oriented societies around the world showed a higher gross domestic product on a per-capita basis. Members of these societies were also found to be more competitive, more confident and more optimistic. Future-oriented cultures may have an advantage in the world of business, but that doesn't mean you can simply order your employees to adopt a future-oriented mind-set and expect them to do so. Employees from past-oriented or present-oriented cultural backgrounds may need to be taught how to approach work in a future-oriented way.

Helping Employees Change

If you're trying to create a future-oriented office culture at your business, small victories may prove more effective in the long run than sweeping changes. If you have a past-oriented employee who resists change, you can ask her to try the new policy for a predetermined period and then compare the results to the older policy. If you have present-oriented employees who resist planning for the future due to its perceived uncertainty, you can set a team goal with a short-term deadline, such as three to six months. If you can show team members that deferring a short-term advantage in favor of greater long-term advantages can really work, you may be able to change their approach to time.