Employers and managers are always looking for ways to increase productivity, efficiency and profit in the workplace. Streamlining processes, tweaking price points or introducing new technology can sometimes address these goals. Sometimes company goals directly relate to workplace culture; for example, how employees interact with one another, with management or with customers. Understanding the concepts of collectivism and individualism can help you identify whether the workplace culture at your business more strongly affiliates with one or the other. Achieving a balance of both may be the most effective way to reach your company’s goals.
The theory behind collectivism is that people are integrated behind a common bond; for example, the success of your company. Collectivism can create strong ties of loyalty. In the workplace, collectivism can mean focusing on more intrinsic rewards, such as mastering a new skill or technique. Less emphasis is placed on maintaining and promoting personal opinions; instead, management emphasizes harmony and cooperation. With individualism, people are expected to look after themselves and no one else. Individualistic workplaces value freedom, challenge and personal time. Motivators to perform well can be extrinsic; for example, workers may focus on earning material awards such as raises or promotions. Individualism in the workplace can also mean that employees have high standards for privacy and maintain strongly held opinions.
One benefit to collectivism is its emphasis on cooperation and teamwork. As some businesses shift away from traditional, hierarchical structures with clearly defined and maintained roles and responsibilities for workers, workplaces have become more collaborative. Multiple employees may work together to achieve satisfaction and quality for customers, rather than tending to their own clients and ignoring the needs of other customers. On the downside, shared responsibility may mean that the workplace engenders "free riders" who don’t fully complete duties, knowing that others will pick up the slack. Workers may feel less confident about suggesting innovations, and may be less inclined to increase contributions knowing that their individual efforts might not be recognized and rewarded.
Individualism can benefit the workplace because employees are looking to attract attention to their contributions and accomplishments. Subtle competition may inspire workers to contribute more, become more innovative or excel in their responsibilities. Strongly voiced opinions can lead to robust discussions and debates, resulting in processes that are more efficient. Individualism has its drawbacks, however. Resistance to cooperation can result in inferior products or services if employees aren’t working together. Powerful opinions can lead to workplace clashes with colleagues or managers.
It’s possible to combine both collectivism and individualism in the workplace for a more balanced approach. For example, managers can assign large projects to teams that work cooperatively to share knowledge, skills and responsibilities. Individuals can still be evaluated on their contribution to the overall project, increasing accountability.
- HunReal.com; Individualism vs. Collectivism Defined; Krisztina Brouwer
- "Graziadio Business Review"; Personality Traits and Workplace Culture; Mark Mallinger
- EdBatista.com; Cross-Cultural Communication; Ed Batista; June 2009
- Cornell University; Individualism-Collectivism and Group Creativity; Jack Goncalo; November 2005