“Time is Money”: Monochrons and Time Perception

A German manager was sent to Honduras to monitor a factory for his company.

Every single day, the factory workers showed up a half-hour late.

He held a meeting with the workers and brought this issue up, expecting to see some changes.

Nothing.

He created an incentive for being on time, offering a raise at year’s end to those who were punctual.

Nothing.

He implemented a sliding scale of punishment for tardiness, with a three-strike rule.

Nothing.

He laid down the law and fired a worker who was exceptionally late on a regular basis.

Still, the next day, workers did not punch in on time.

No matter how often he insisted that they be punctual, nothing changed.

He complained to his Honduran co-manager about this issue, and she shrugged, saying, “They may be late, but at least they show up. That, in and of itself, is rare.”

This is where monochrons and polychrons butt heads, and the frustration is very real.

Last week, we touched on the differences between monochronic and polychronic cultures.

This post will go into deeper detail about what to expect from monochronic employees or managers.

What to Expect from a Monochron

As the above example shows, monochrons – whose cultures are prominently found in Northern Europe, North America, and parts of Asia – are time-sensitive.

Time is strictly divided: there is a time for fun and a time for work.

As Project Management Institute describes it, monochrons treat time as:

“a commodity of high value, as necessary as or perhaps even more important than satisfaction, good work, and relationships.”

Time is as tangible as any other commodity, as the phrase, “Time is money,” suggests.

Time can be wasted. It can be saved. It can be killed. It can be lost. It can won.

This perspective of time results in monochrons having a stricter and more stressful relationship with the clock and, as such, they try to use their time effectively, often focusing on completing one task at a time.

As studies show, doing so is actually a more productive use of time than multitasking.

Studies indicate that multitasking is less efficient because we are less focused, resulting in shallower learning and lower achievement and productivity. 

In fact, one study showed that only 2.5 percent of people are effective multitaskers.

The fact that monochronic cultures eschew multitasking for a more focused approach indicates that they are instinctively making the most effective use of time.

A monochron’s linear thinking and proclivity to strict schedules, with a focus on one event following another (think a timetable or meeting agenda, etc.), exemplifies this.

Get It Done

Monochrons emphasize getting things done.

Punctuality. Precision. Productivity.

These are the keys to success in a monochronic culture.

Managing time to use it more efficiently results in greater productivity and, thus, greater success.

So, here’s a pro tip if you are attending a meeting with an international colleague: understand their time perspective and meet their expectations.

If they are from a monochronic culture, arrive early, be prepared, and adhere to the agenda.

“Hawaiian Time” vs. “Haole Time”: When Monochronic and Polychronic Time Perspectives Collide

You’ve just moved to Hawaii, and your new associate wants to schedule a meetup tomorrow to go over the basics.

They tell you, “Let’s meet at 3 o’clock, ‘Hawaiian time’.”

You show up at three o’clock, on the dot. 

By 3:05, you’re looking at your watch.

By 3:15, you’re tapping your foot.

By 3:35, you’re considering throwing in the towel.

Your associate finally arrives at 3:43, looking unhurried and surprised by your clear exasperation.

When you mention the scheduled meetup time, they laugh and say, “I did say, ‘Hawaiian time’?”

Little did you know, “Hawaiian time” means “island time” – in other words, the schedule is lax, and a meeting will start whenever the attendees happen to roll on up.

Had your new associate said, “Let’s meet at three o’clock, ‘Haole time’,” you could have expected them to show up at 3 o’clock, as stipulated.

The term, “haole,” is slang for non-native Hawaiians or Caucasian Westerners, who culturally have a much stricter value of time.

This type of cultural collision is bound to occur when the time orientations and/or perspectives of associated cultures don’t align, which can happen even across different cultures in a single assimilated country, as this example illustrates.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent some time (no pun intended) discussing time orientation: past, present, future, and timeline.

These orientations fall into different time perspectives – monochronic and polychronic – and, as with time orientations, the corresponding cultural values and norms vary.

Let’s take a brief look at how.

Monochronic Cultural Proclivities

Monochronic cultures often have a linear or timeline/future orientation.

You might find people of monochronic cultures to be more inclined toward the following:

  • Completing one task at a time
  • Focusing on the task at hand
  • Following strict deadlines or schedules
  • Requiring information and being low-context
  • Being work-oriented and committed to tasks at hand
  • Being committed to plans
  • Viewing ownership and privacy as important
  • Promoting timeliness, despite circumstances or relationships
  • Tending toward practical relationships that are often short-lived

As you can see, monochronic cultures value strict timelines more than anything, as doing so makes the trains run on time.

Conclusion: if you’re working with or in a monochronic culture, you’ll succeed in a timely manner.

Polychronic Cultural Proclivities

Polychronic cultures often have a past orientation.

You might find people of polychronic cultures to be more inclined toward the following::

  • Multitasking
  • Focusing on events occurring around them
  • Aiming for results, goals, and objectives
  • Possessing information and being high-context
  • Being relationship-oriented
  • Being flexible with plans
  • Viewing networking and community as important
  • Promoting relationships and circumstances over timeliness
  • Tending toward lifelong relationships and family ties

As you can see, relationships matter more than time in polychronic cultures.

Conclusion: if you’re working with or in a polychronic culture, you’ll succeed by preserving the relationship.

Seeing as these values and norms vary so greatly, working cross-culturally with polychronic or monochronic cultures can require some understanding and finessing.

We’ll talk more in-depth about each time perspective in the upcoming weeks.

Cultural Time Orientation: How Timeline-Oriented Cultures View Time

Do you have the time to talk about time?

You should, because understanding cultural concepts of time matters a great deal to cross-cultural relations.

Time-orientation researchers Alexander Gonzalez and Phillip Zimbardo wrote:

“Every child learns a time perspective that is appropriate to the values and needs of his society.”

Time is directly linked to a society’s values and needs. It is of the utmost importance to cultural understanding.

As we’ve discussed these past few weeks, the way a society views time can explain a lot about their cultural baobab.

For instance, those who are past-oriented value tradition; those who are present-oriented value instant gratification; and those who are future-oriented value goals and long-term benefits.

One last type of time orientation is timeline cognitivity.

Let’s take a look at how timeline-oriented cultures view and value time.

Timeline-Oriented Values

“Time is a wave or a black hole could not bend it; humanity rides the crest of an infinite number of waves that are perceived as linear in their limited frame of reference.” ― Ken Poirot

Timelines are linear, as are timeline-oriented cultures.

They view everything in linear terms with a linear frame of reference.

Individuals in such societies tend to be very detail-oriented but struggle to absorb and understand multiple events simultaneously.

Timeline-oriented cultures also tend to be monochronic, completing one task at a time.

Individuals from such cultures are generally not prone to multitasking.

Monochronic, timeline-oriented cultures value schedules and demonstrate strict time management.

The Devil is in the Details

Differing views on time influence global communications and affairs, necessitating some cross-cultural understanding and diplomacy on the matter.

When it comes to managing or negotiating across cultures, some knowledge of and practice in dealing with these differences in time perspectives and communication styles is key to succeeding in business.