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  • Writer's pictureChiagozie Okoye

Culture and Work

When a business grows large enough and produces at a rate that saturates its domestic market, leaders of that business might choose to expand their reach internationally and establish centers in other countries. Such a decision must be expertly executed. Of the multiple tasks needing to be accomplished, thorough research on the culture of a target country is necessary. Understanding the factors that influence how people think and make decisions is the first step in international success. Additionally, this knowledge will be necessary when looking to employ the people of a target country. Therefore, the following article will look at two countries, Japan and Turkey, and how their cultures influence the actions of their workforce. Keep in mind that this article is founded upon the book ​Understanding Global Cultures​ and holds many generalizations. Use this to gather a superficial understanding of the relationship between culture and work; always explore more resources.

The first country that has been chosen for a general cultural analysis is Japan. Japan’s relational culture is based heavily on a defined, complex set of rules and regulations. These customs aim to promote harmony and collaboration, formed centuries ago as a part of Japan’s history and traditions. The focus on harmony and working together can, to some extent, be attributed to Buddhism’s presence and effect in Japan both historically and contemporarily. ​Kata are set rules for how to do tasks in Japanese culture. From a young age, Japanese children are taught ​kata​. These rules dictate multiple aspects of life. ​Kata ​is present in the workplace as well. Upon greeting one another, Japanese people aim to gather an understanding of status as soon as possible; knowing the status of another is important because it establishes which rules will be followed during an interaction; the intention is to maintain respectfulness. A failure to understand this concept can result in an embarrassing—or, even worse, rude—situation.

Highly stressed in Japan is the group. Japanese culture emphasizes the importance of the group or community, and this idea is evident in nearly every part of Japanese life. When looking at work, the company an individual is employed by is seen as a provider rather than an exploiter. Japanese employees undergo rigorous training programs to instill self-discipline and devotion to the company, further focusing on the company as a solidary unit. Employees are placed in workgroups within companies, and individual employees affiliate themselves with workgroups instead of the job titles. Even the layout of Japanese offices encourages collaboration and teamwork. Managers work in the same room as subordinates rather than in separate offices. This group-mentality serves well when it comes to decision making. Multiple people at different levels in a company are involved in decision-making. While this extends the process, the time it takes to implement the decision is short because many workers are aware of the decision and have agreed to it.

Obligation is also rooted in the group. When they can, the Japanese place the overall interest of a group above their individual needs; they feel responsible for the continued function of the group. Additionally, the group is also seen as being responsible for the individual; members of a group are awarded and punished as a group. To conclude, Japanese culture and workplace culture is deeply rooted in respect, custom, and collaboration founded upon Japanese practices and traditions.

Turkey is the second country for general culture analysis. Turkey has thick roots in the religion of Islam, similar to the previously discussed Japan and Buddhism. Islam directs multiple aspects of Turkish life. With that, though, the establishment of the Republic of Turkey created a secular state, opposed to the theocracies of other Islamic societies. Despite that, Islam still influences daily lives. Turkish Muslims pray five times a day following their religious book, the Koran (Variant romanized spellings include "Quran" and "Qur'an").​ ​When possible, Turks pray at a mosque. In most cities and villages, the mosque is in the square, the center of the settlement. Near the mosque is usually a coffeehouse, a key component of Turkish social life. Islam forbids drugs and alcohol, but coffee (containing the chemical caffeine) was allowed because of its popularity. Coffeehouses are social locations that facilitate conversations and relationships. Coffeehouses are especially important in rural areas compared to urban centers. Both men and women have distinct traditions of socialization. When it comes to the home, the family is very important. Extended family members live either within the same house or nearby. There is a strong sense of familial ties between family members. Friendliness is not limited to family members, though. Turks are all about communication and talk with strangers frequently. Humor is greatly incorporated into conversations and used to diffuse tense situations; Turks are noted as avoiding confrontation whenever possible. Moreover, Turks are hospitable, under Islam. They are also interdependent, helping and caring for others substantially.

Gender is heavily influenced by Turkey’s Islamic origins. Males dominate all parts of society despite Western influences. Women are usually the subordinates of men, especially wives to their husbands. However, Turkish wives play a role in decision making by influencing their husbands. Turkish mothers are also an integral part of the home, controlling house tasks such as cooking and cleaning while overseeing the religious, social, and educational upbringing of their children. Though Islam plays a large role in gender status, the twentieth century and onward have given women many rights, including suffrage, civil marriage codes, established divorce, and child custody rights for both sexes.

In the workplace, collectivistic values are the center of all interactions. Managers stress the importance of working together and remaining loyal to the organization more so than the quality of work given by a single employee. Within and without the workplace, respect is always given. Additionally, there is a strong respect for authority. There is also the belief in kismet, a concept of destiny controlled by Allah, the Islamic God. Certain things are considered destined to happen, and people don’t always have control of situations. This explains why arriving late to events or meetings isn’t highly stressed as it is in the West; Turks have an understanding that things can get in the way. Therefore, the Turkish culture is richly based on Islamic and historic traditions with the strong influence of communication and respect. These traditions influence the relationships between strangers, coworkers, family members, and others.

To conclude, expanding a business internationally involves understanding not only the consumer market but the workforce. Places such as Japan focus greatly on the group rather than the individual, and Turkish citizens are interdependent and value conversation. Culture plays a large role in how people act; learning this is the first step to success with others. If you wish to learn more about cultures, there is a wealth of information available for your consumption.



  1. Gannon, M. & Pillai, R. (2010). Understanding global cultures: Metaphorical journeys through 29 nations, clusters of nations, continents, and diversity Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: 10.4135/9781452224886

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