Culture’s Consequences (Part 2): Uncertainty Avoidance

Posted: October 23, 2012 in Ethical decision-making
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116 of 365 - Ambiguity

116 of 365 – Ambiguity (Photo credit: Yogesh Mhatre)

(continues from this post)

The second spectrum identified by Hofstede is called Uncertainty Avoidance (UA). All people everywhere seek to eliminate some degree of chaos from their lives, it’s the strength of this preference that varies from country to country. Actually an even bigger predictor of this preference is age: the older you are, the more likely you are to prefer order, stability and predictability.

Low UA national traits include:

  • Openness to change
  • Job-switching
  • Rules are often disregarded
  • Optimism about political change
  • Tolerance of protest
  • Amateurs will try their hand at things

Examples: China, India, Philippines, Protestant Europe, USA

High UA national traits include:

  • Resistance to change
  • Stays with employer
  • Rules are followed
  • Pessimism about political change
  • Less tolerance of protest
  • Specialists control their fields

Examples: Japan (the highest by far), Latin America, the Arab World

This concept is quite profound and you could spend ages unpacking it. Just a few points of relevance to the issues discussed in this blog:

1. In the first half of the 20th Century, corporations in North America and Northern Europe built up Taylorist models of production and their counterparts in the labour movement developed similarly systematic responses like wage bargaining and labour regulations such as unfair dismissal laws. When the increasing complexity of modern work put pressure on this system, these countries quickly tolerated deregulation and uncertain working hours (and hence income) whereas Japan for example resisted.

One consequence of this trend is the outsourced world we now live in, with everyone pragmatically altering their production models to reduce costs.

Another is diffusion of responsibility; people feel less loyal to their employer, executives feel less loyal to their workers, shareholders feel no abiding sense of ownership. The result is unethical situations brought about because no one feels responsible.

By and large, organised labour’s response to this trend has been to oppose it and try to roll it back. I’m only aware of one employee organisation that embraces the fragmented, precariously-employed workforce and that is the Freelancers Union.

2. Ad hoc solutions are more popular than systematic solutions to labour disputes in low UA countries. This is the case both in the now largely non-union developed world and amongst the newly formally-employed in the developing world. Take a look at what’s going on in China: People with grievances don’t even bother involving the union, they self-organise protests.

3. Preference for charismatic or arbitrary authority may be more persistent than I thought. A country with low uncertainty avoidance would also have low tolerance for bureaucracy and red tape.

None of this is good news for organised labour so far as I can see, it all presents an uphill challenge.

Next: Individualism

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  1. marksolock says:

    Reblogged this on Mark Solock Blog.

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