Collectivism vs. Individualism in the Workplace

by Andra Picincu ; Updated December 20, 2018
Their dynamic approach is what distinguishes them from the rest.

Some organizations encourage employees to be themselves and think independently. Others emphasize teamwork and interpersonal relationships. People living in the United States, for example, are taught to be self-reliant and to make decisions on their own. This approach is known as individualism. Asian cultures, by contrast, emphasize cooperation and view people as groups rather than distinct individuals, which is known as collectivism. As a business owner, it's your responsibility to decide which approach you want to implement for the workplace culture.

What Is Organizational Individualism?

Employees are the lifeblood of your company. If you're like most business owners, you want to build high-performing teams as well as an organizational culture that aligns with your vision and goals. Therefore, it's important to make sure your employees are engaged in the workplace, communicate well and feel appreciated for their efforts.

Some individuals prefer to work alone, make decisions on their own and excel in their responsibilities. They tend to have strong opinions and have their accomplishments acknowledged by superiors. These people are often referred to as individualists.

Organizations that adopt individualistic values recognize employees for their unique skills rather than rewarding the group's efforts. According to a survey by Mercer, more employees increasingly want to be seen as individuals and want to be respected for their distinctive personalities and talents. Today, this philosophy is prevalent in all aspects of our society. Being a single parent, traveling alone or living alone is no longer taboo.

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An individualistic culture in the workplace promotes creativity and innovation, boosts employee engagement and motivates people to do their best. Employees are proud of their accomplishments and strive to achieve peak performance, knowing that their efforts will be appreciated.

What's Collectivism All About?

Look at any newspaper or job board and you'll see companies seeking employees who are great team players and enjoy working as part of a group. Organizations that embrace a collectivist culture focus on the greater good of the whole team and less on employees' individual skills and achievements. They emphasize cooperation and expect workers to act as members of a cohesive group.

Think of collectivism as the degree to which individuals see themselves as members of particular groups. Consider a sales manager who just signed a contract with a major client. He will most likely report to superiors that the sales team did a great job by closing the deal, even though he did everything by himself. The entire team will be rewarded and receive due recognition. That's what a collectivist culture looks like.

In this kind of organizational culture, employees receive equal opportunities. This may help prevent conflicts while bringing more stability and consistency to the team. Employees share equal rights and responsibilities, brainstorm ideas together and make collective decisions.

What Is the Best Approach?

Despite their obvious advantages, none of these approaches is perfect. Individualism encourages creativity and personal excellence, but it may also lead to conflicts and resistance to cooperation. Employees may not be willing to adhere to predefined norms and methodologies, which can affect the team and the organization as a whole. Some may even use unethical practices to gain a competitive edge, get promoted and climb the career ladder.

Organizations that use a collectivist approach may encounter these issues too but to a lesser extent. The downside is that employees may be less motivated to work and achieve peak performance since their individual efforts are overlooked. Plus, this approach may harm creativity and innovation. If one of your employees has a brilliant idea but the rest of the team disapproves of it, he may get stuck in a rut and give up on trying to be creative and doing things better.

Ideally, try to find a balance between collectivism and individualism. The two are not mutually exclusive. For example, you can assign projects to departments and teams that will work together collectively to achieve the desired outcome. Employees can still be evaluated individually based on their performance and contributions to the project.

About the Author

Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.

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