Bring your personal life in the workplace? Depends on the culture that you are in

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An important question that many managers face is whether to discuss their private lives with their subordinates or not, and whether to inquire about their subordinates’ personal lives. Although as a manager, you might not have given much thought to this question, research shows that discussing or not discussing personal lives can have important consequences for employee motivation.

In Asian and Latin American cultures, people prefer workgroups with an interpersonal orientation, in which people take time to exchange pleasantries and inquire about each others’ personal lives, talk about things outside of the work context (such as about hobbies and family), and express emotions in the workplace. They believe that workgroups with an interpersonal orientation will succeed more, and that one way to fix problematic workgroups is to improve the quality of interaction between team members.

In contrast, people from Protestant cultures (such as the US, Canada, and Northern Europe) believe that effective workgroups are those that are exclusively focused on the task. Interpersonal concerns are assumed to detract from performance and productivity, so they prefer workgroups that are exclusively task-focused and believe that reduce an interpersonal orientation is one way to improve poorly functioning groups. Pleasantries and asking about each others’ weekends is seen a waste of time that takes attention away from the task.

So which type of workgroup norms are better – an interpersonal orientation or an exclusively task-focused orientation? The answer, of course, depends on the culture that you are in.

In East Asian, Middle-Eastern, and Latin American cultures, managers will be more successful if they create workgroups in which people show concern about each others’ lives, share incidents, and jokes, and hang out with each other. These acts are likely to increase productivity and group cohesion. In contrast, in North America and northern Europe, creating exclusively task-focused groups with a clear separation between work life and non-work life, in which people come in to do their work and then get out, is likely to increase productivity and loyalty to the company.


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