Dour or Decadent? Indulgence vs Restraint

Previously, we explained the long-term vs short-term orientation cultural dimension and how you can avoid conflict caused by differences in this fundamental dimension.

This week we explain how your cultural programming affects your attitude towards desire and fun — and the impact this has on business.

Indulgence vs Restraint

(IVR or IND)

How much a society allows gratification of desires and fun.

Indulgence <—————-> Restraint

Indulgence = relatively free gratification of basic and natural human drives related to enjoying life and having fun

Important values: personal control over one’s life, freedom to enjoy life, work-life balance, creativity

Restraint = suppressing gratification of needs and regulating it via strict social norms

Important values: self-restraint, societal control over personal behaviour, strong work ethic, strict professionalism, structure


This dimension looks at a society’s tendencies regarding the fulfilment of desires.

Societies with a high IVR rating:

– are more likely to encourage or allow gratification of simple pleasures

– are more likely to focus on enjoying life and having fun

– have more citizens who feel like they are in control of their lives

– have more citizens who call themselves happy

– highly value freedom of speech

– have citizens who are more likely to remember positive emotions

– have citizens who tend to act and spend money as they please

Societies with a low IVR rating:

– tend toward restraint and often pessimism

– are more likely to regulate behaviour and adhere to strict social norms

– have more citizens who feel like they are powerless

– are more likely to have a visible police presence

– consider it a priority to maintain national order

– tend to view indulgence and the gratification of pleasure as wrong

What does this mean for business?

Low IVR countries, such as China, Hong Kong, Russia, India and many eastern European countries, tend to approach work and business with a very professional attitude.

This professional attitude clashes with the relaxed or casual manner typical of high IVR countries such as Australia, U.S., New Zealand and most northern and central European countries, as well as most South American countries.

People from high IVR cultures working with people from low IVR cultures need to understand the importance of behaving professionally in a business context. This extends to showing proper respect, especially for seniority and authority, and displaying a strong work ethic. It is also important not to make jokes or express negativity in business settings.

People from low IVR cultures working with people from high IVR cultures need to understand that work-life balance is important. It is also important to allow and even encourage debate and feedback, as people want to feel that they are offering their full contribution to the discussion in this way.

As with all intercultural interactions, the key factors are:

1. Understand what your own personal culture is.

2. Remember that the other person’s behaviour and attitude are cultural, not personal.

3. Remember that your behaviour and attitude are conditioned by your cultural programming.

4. No one is right, and no one is wrong. People simply have different perspectives.

5. Listen.

6. Respond to the content of the person’s words, not your interpretation of what they say. Your interpretation is heavily influenced by your cultural programming.

7. Be patient and understanding and find the common ground. 

The understanding of this cultural dimension is from the book Cultures and Organizations by Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede and Michael Minkov.

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