Cultural Perceptions of Time in Organizations: Monochronic and Polychronic Time

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  • 0:06 Culture & Time
  • 0:54 Types of Time
  • 2:00 Impact on…
  • 2:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rob Wengrzyn

Rob has an MBA in management, a BS in marketing, and is a doctoral candidate in organizational theory and design.

Different cultures view time and how it is used in a work environment differently. Some cultures view time as being very concrete and formal, while others view it as just a part of their overall lives. These two perspectives can and do clash when it comes to a business environment.

Culture and Time

Each culture has a different sense of time. I am not saying that different cultures have a different method of telling time. Rather, each culture has a different interpretation of time. What one culture considers early, another might consider late. What one culture considers on time, another might consider being tardy. Each culture, to some extent, views time differently, and these different views do have an impact on organizational behavior, especially when our workforce is becoming more and more diverse.

Taking this thought a step further, different cultures view how they use time differently. Some cultures multitask, while others do one thing at a time. Some cultures stay strictly to a plan, and some are fine winging it. It's these nuances that define monochronic cultures and polychronic cultures and how they view time.

Types of Time

Monochronic time is very structured and deals with time precisely. That is to say, monochronic time (and cultures that follow this thought process) works very systematically and with a great deal of organization. These cultures do not wing things and see what will happen, but rather they stay focused on the tasks at hand, plan those tasks around time, and then proceed to deliver a final product on the day it is supposed to be delivered. Cultures that follow this thought pattern have a belief that there is a sense of order and a time or place for everything. They do not take time commitments lightly and stay focused on what is to be delivered and when. The United States and Germany are great examples of cultures that follow the belief of monochronic time.

In contrast, cultures that follow polychronic time have a tendency to blend personal time and work time together. They see work and life as complete circles that are intertwined together. This is not to say they do not take time or work seriously; they just do not see a work schedule as a compelling way of living their lives. Countries such as those in Latin America subscribe to polychronic time.

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