Academic journal article Indian Journal of Industrial Relations

Power Distance in Organizational Contexts-A Review of Collectivist Cultures

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Industrial Relations

Power Distance in Organizational Contexts-A Review of Collectivist Cultures

Article excerpt

Power distance has been constructed mostly as a concept highly negative for organizational progress, participation and empowerment of employees and overall organizational health. This construct is also highly correlated with collectivism. This paper examines the compatibility of organizations with high power distance cultural set ups. An attempt is made here to inquire in to whether low power distance can be realized in collectivist cultures or we should look for aspects which can make this high power distance functional and desirable in case of those countries with high collectivism and power distance.

Cultural Dimensions

Hofstede (1980) brought forth four cultural dimensions that became the most popular references in cross- cultural studies later. These are individualism/ collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity/femininity. Later, he added a fifth dimension, the long term orientation in his thesis (Hofstede 2001). Research on organizational culture and its implication on human resource practices in the organizations have often come heavily on organizations high on power distance. Khatri (2009) through his various propositions concludes that employees in high power distance culture are unwilling to participate in decisions and prefer their superiors making decisions for them and giving them instructions, which they could follow passively. Also, jobs in such contexts are narrowly and tightly specified, giving the employees limited discretion. Communication takes place vertically downwards with no or little horizontal communication and overall communication is anaemic. Power distance renders large communication gap between superiors and their subordinates because it is hard for the subordinates to air their views. Power distance also gives managers unlimited power and control over subordinates. Employees, in turn, have an unquestioning, submissive attitude. Further, older and senior employees in a high power distance context get respect from junior employees not because of former's competence but because of age and long tenure in the organization. In a high power distance culture, decisions are made by a few at the top autocratically. And because of little resistance from lower level employees, decisions are made and implemented faster in a high power distance organization. However, because of lack of input from lower level employees as well as poor communication and information sharing, quality of decisions is poorer in a high power distance organization. High power distance organizations are prone to unethical behaviour. This is because top managers have not to justify or defend their decisions to lower level employees or to the larger organization. Unethical behaviour gets covered up or goes undetected. And finally, in a high power distance organization, managers tend to micromanage and even minor decisions go to the top. Thus, higher level managers are inundated with routine decisions. Though Budhwar and Sparrow (2002:618), in their cross cultural comparison view that the British managers associate high power distance to the different positions of senior managers and union influence and the capabilities of the HR function, they also agree that in the case of Indian managers it is more related to misuse of power due to political, caste, group and bureaucratic pressures and 'power myopia' which influences their thinking about most HRM practices.

A study on Chinese organizations by Farh, Hackett, and Liang (2007) emphasizes similar realities. They find that power distance hinders organizational support to its employees to yield better performance and productivity. Another study on Chinese organizations (Yang et al 2007) indicates adverse moderation of power distance in the relationships between procedural justice climate and individual-level outcomes (organizational commitment and organization-directed citizenship behaviour). Power distance was found to be assuaging the positive effects of procedural justice climate. …

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