Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer.
I think you build one with your employees first.

- Angela Ahrendts - 


The findings of studies conducted over the years suggest that cultural diversity and the misunderstandings that often arise as a result of different temporal perspectives have an impact on staff retention: workers will either adapt to the organizational culture (good "personality-job" fit), or they will leave. 

In most organizations, "good time management" is often intended as the ability to tackle tasks orderly and sequentially within a given clock block (hours, minutes), but polychrons prefer to work on multiple tasks simultaneously and switch between them at will (Hall claimed that "Matters in a polychronic culture seem in a constant state of flux. Nothing is solid or firm, particularly plans for the future; even important plans may be changed right up to the minute of execution."). 

Generally speaking, polychrons are best suited for a work environment that offers variety, teamwork, flexibility, and a certain degree of autonomy, while monochrons are likely to thrive in an environment where emphasis is placed on meticulous planning, coordination, privacy, and deadlines. 

Linear and Cyclical Time

Below, a quick recap of the main monochronic and polychronic traits.


Monochronic/Linear Time:

Early is on time and on time is late.

- Bo Schembechler -


For monochrons, punctuality relates to one's reputation: in any society and/or organization characterized by a monochronic culture keeping time is paramount, activities are scheduled ahead of time, specific time slots are allocated to each task for tracking and performance evaluation purposes (e.g: "Underestimating the time it takes to do one task, while overestimating another, can cause a worker to not be able to finish a project on time.", from Chron).

In monochronic organizations usage of time management tools and techniques (such as to-do-lists, activity logs, time-sheets) is common and encouraged.

With regard to international business, in monochronic cultures "formal" relationships are mostly transactional and short-term: while for members of monochronic/low-context/individualistic cultures the development of personal relationships with their stakeholders is often a consequence of successful business dealings conducted together, for the members of polychronic/high-context/collectivist societies personal relationships are the foundation upon which long-lasting and mutually rewarding business relationships are built.

To put the above paragraph in context, let's check some of the answers foreign workers provided to the question “For those of you who work for Japanese companies, what are some of the best or worst things about it?” in a post shared a while ago by Japan Today):

- “Very tough to get decisions pushed through in a timely manner”;

- “[…] meetings which very rarely produce anything constructive”;

- "[…] the reason for these long meetings is the fault of their indirect communication style; so getting things discussed, decided and accomplished takes easily twice as long as a western company". 

Now, while this example focuses specifically on the Japanese environment, it is important to note that most polychronic/high-context/collectivist societies share some common traits that set them aside from the majority of W.E.I.R.D. societies: a collectivist mindset, a flexible approach to time management, an indirect communication style, and a distinctive “being orientation”, as opposed to the “doing orientation” that’s predominant in the Anglo- and in the Germanic clusters (“doing” cultures are structured and prioritize tasks, self-interest, the importance of getting things done and of being productive; “being” cultures, on the other hand, tend to be more flexible and to place a greater emphasis on human relationships, on tradition, on group well-being.). 

On a related note, while group work is important in both monochronic- and polychronic organizations, in the former the main focus is on individual achievements, and group work is intended as the work of individuals performing individual, distinctive tasks well within the context of a group assignment (task compartmentalization).

Monochronic Environment


Polychronic/Cyclical Time:

“If anything is clear, it is that a rigid, unchanging way is wrong.”

- Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz -


In polychronic environments tasks will be completed (eventually), but interactions and connection are the main priorities. Hall observed that in polychronic cultures people tend to change plans frequently, they borrow and lend from others with ease, they are interested in building long term-relationships with others, they don't necessarily distinguish between task- and social time. Furthermore, they are unlikely to plan ahead, they aren't overly concerned with meeting deadlines, they are comfortable with change and likely to initiate it.

According to Bluedorn et al., two specific behaviors are indicative of polychronic time preferences:

- simultaneity, the ability to work on multiple assignments at the same time but without the focus on speed;

- dovetailing, the ability to fit different tasks together smoothly to make the best use of time (not every task requires one's undivided attention).


With regard to stress management, research suggests that polychrons are "better adapted to high-pressure jobs and situations", based on the premise that "polychrons are more likely to be able to juggle activities in order to complete a specific task on time. Monochrons wish to stay on schedule; feelings of pressure to complete a specific task may call an established schedule into question, causing monochrons to feel that they have performed poorly." 

Polychrons would therefore be expected to "thrive in careers which require great juggling of tasks, such as tour directors, administrative assistants, creative developers of products and of advertising, receptionists, and emergency room personnel are just a few possible illustrations. Such jobs require that the individual constantly adjust to incoming new jobs and responsibilities, integrating them with other activities which have already been scheduled. They enjoy change as part of their job, in which they are challenged to make a better fitting schedule which meets everyone's needs" (monochrons, on the other hand, prefer to adhere to schedules and don't handle interruptions particularly well, as as they have the potential to “destroy plans, alter deadlines, and devastate projects” - Romeo, 1993).

Polychronic Environment

It is important to note that while organizations do often expecting/require polychronic behaviour (multi-tasking) from their employees, individual performance is, in most cases, evaluated according to monochronic standards (ability to complete certain tasks within specific time slots, ability to meet tight deadlines, etc.).


The above is an excerpt from the course on Time Management [free lesson preview], available here. Next, we are going to discuss about the links between Time- and Space- Management (on average, monochrons tend to be more territorial and concerned with privacy than polychrons): to receive updates on new content and upcoming courses, please subscribe to “Oddities & Curiosities”, Mudita’s newsletter).



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