Attitudes Towards Time in European, Usa and Japanese Companies

ABSTRACT - Attitudes towards the past, the present and the future in selected European, USA and Japanese companies are examined. Findings originate from Internal Marketing studies conducted by the author, using organizational culture as a basis for such studies. Results of different measurements of semantic differential tests are analyzed against the background of time-based approaches and typologies. Conclusions indicate that the European companies are detached from the present and nostalgic of the past while looking into the future. USA companies seem to be projected into the future, concentrated on the present, with little memory of the past. For Japanese companies, in the transient present, past and future coincide.


Gabriele Morello (1993) ,"Attitudes Towards Time in European, Usa and Japanese Companies", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, eds. W. Fred Van Raaij and Gary J. Bamossy, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 28-38.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1, 1993      Pages 28-38


Gabriele Morello, ISIDA, Palermo, Italy and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Attitudes towards the past, the present and the future in selected European, USA and Japanese companies are examined. Findings originate from Internal Marketing studies conducted by the author, using organizational culture as a basis for such studies. Results of different measurements of semantic differential tests are analyzed against the background of time-based approaches and typologies. Conclusions indicate that the European companies are detached from the present and nostalgic of the past while looking into the future. USA companies seem to be projected into the future, concentrated on the present, with little memory of the past. For Japanese companies, in the transient present, past and future coincide.

The fact that social reality is the essence of culture and that 'time is a constitutive dimension of social reality' (Fabian 1983) is an accepted truism. It is also accepted that time - which for everybody is 'a framework to orient oneself' (Hofstede 1991) - has different meanings and values for different people in different cultures (Metraux 1967; Doob 1971; Gurevitch 1976; Bruneau 1979; Levine & Wolff 1985; Schriber & Gutek 1987; Adam 1990; Morello & Van der Reis 1990) and that cultural heterogeneity spells opportunities and threats that are of basic importance for marketeers (Ouchi 1981; Graham 1985; Wind 1986; Ohmae 1990; Douglas 1991; Goodyear 1991; Zilbert 1991).

The structural link between time and culture is somewhat less explored in the context of business organizations, although anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists and management scientists have certainly not neglected how and in what sense 'a corporation's culture simultaneously determines and reflects the values, attitudes and beliefs of its members' (Kerr and Slocum 1987).

Traditionally, marketing and consumer behaviour scientists have not devoted much attention to human resources and organizational behaviour. Only in the last decade companies have looked into business structures from new standpoints, asking marketing experts to move in with their own approaches and tools. Internal Marketing is the name given to this approach. On the assumption that a company cannot sell to the outside world what it cannot sell to its own people, Internal Marketing looks at personnel as 'internal customers'. The concept started in the area of services, where it was felt that complex organizations could benefit from an approach in which ideas and jobs are considered as products to be promoted and 'sold' to people who are treated as customers, while in-company communication is seen as a distribution network.

Parallel and complementary to marketing strategies that companies develop in relation to their target markets made by buyers of goods and services, another type of marketing strategies can thus be adressed inside the companies. And like external markets can best be reached by segmenting actual and potential consumers, so can internal markets be approached best by segmenting managers and employees (Berry 1981; Bonoma 1985; Gronroos 1985; Flipo 1986; Gummesson 1987; Mudie 1987; Piercy & Morgan 1991).

Once an Internal Marketing approach is followed, it becomes interesting to segment the staff not only by demographic characteristics, but also by psychographic traits. The ways different people perceive time and react to the passage of time is an important issue because a) it adds useful information to values, attitudes and lifestyles that are usually gathered in psychographic studies, b) it helps to bring into one focus temporal conceptions, temporal orientation, temporal perspectives, and similar patterns which show how personal and social time are perceived and evaluated in different environments, c) it leads to typologies able to sort out the variables of human personality which are relevant in understanding organizational cultures.

The present article describes the research conducted and the results obtained in analyzing attitudes towards time in a number of European, USA, and Japanese companies. Findings originate from Internal Marketing assignments carried out by the author in helping companies to sharpen the efficiency of their operations through new approaches to organizational change.


In order to assess the direction and measure the intensity of managers' and employees' attitudes towards time, a Semantic Differential (SD) test was applied in companies with different histories, sizes and activities.

The SD measures the affective meaning of concepts, that is the positive and/or negative feelings that people demonstrate towards such concepts. The strong and weak aspects of the technique are well known and need not be repeated here. Suffice saying that in the usual SD task, a given number of concepts is rated against a set of bipolar adjectival scales by a group of subjects. Concepts, scales and subjects generate a cube matrix of which one or two sides are collapsed and averaged over subjects, or over both concepts and subjects, depending on the researcher's aims.

In our case, since we wanted to know if the temporal dimensions are rated differently by people working in different cultural environments, the focus was on concepts as cognitive events, and the scores of each concept on each scale were averaged over the subjects.


The concepts used to explore the affective meaning of time were in our case:



Accepting the claim that 'it is by the meaning that is intuitively attached to time that one culture is differentiated from another' (Spengler 1926), no instruction was given to the respondents on how to interpret each of the temporal concepts, nor on whether near or distant pasts, presents and futures should be considered. It was only explained that each person should judge each concept according to what it meant to him/her as a person, that is as an individual (subjective time).

Other concepts were also included in the test, such as 'my own job', 'my own department' and 'the company where I work'. This was done in order to get a profile of the organizational climate (which was studied also through other research techniques) and to analyze the relationship between feelings towards time and feelings towards other aspects of the work environment. In the present paper, however, we shall concentrate only on the time concepts and on their affective features, without discussing other aspects of Internal Marketing and organizational culture.






After the seminal works of Osgood et al. (1957, 1964, 1975) it is recognized that the SD technique is able to unravel the 3 factorial dimensions that are recurrently found in the affective meaning of concepts: Evaluation (E), Potency (P) and Activity (A). This E, P, A structure is invariant across cultures, and is not affected by demographic and/or personal parameters such as sex, age, intelligence and mental health (Hogenraad 1972).

The set of 7-point, equal-interval, ordinal scales used to discover the E, P, A structure of the temporal concepts is shown in Table 2.

Outside the USA, the scales - previously tested as pan-cultural - were carefully translated into each language in which they were used, that is: Italian, Spanish, Norwegian, Dutch and Japanese. In order to avoid routine answers, the adjectives were properly rotated within the lists.

Data were collected between 1990 and 1992.


The SD tests were administered to 1144 executives and employees of different hierarchical levels and seniority, working in the companies listed in Table 3.

In each region (Europe, USA, Japan) at least one company is in the area of manufacturing and one in the area of services. In Spain the test was administered to managers of different concerns, producing both goods and services. In Japan the data of the two advertising companies include a few managers of another service-rendering organization (ASI, a market research company).


The following measurements were applied to the data:

- Composite Factor Scores (CFS), which show the direction and the strength of the subjects' attitudes (expressed in terms of E, P, A) towards each concept. CFS are obtained by analyzing the individual scores for one dimension, then used to calculate a group mean. The resulting scores can range from -3 to +3, with 0 as a mid-point.

The dominant factor, that in all analyses tends to explain the largest proportion of the total variance, is E. As in other SD exercises, this factor must be considered the most important evaluative dimension of attitudes.

- Distance from the Origin (DO). This index shows the relevance, or richness of meaning, of each concept. The distance of a concept from the neutral origin of the E, P, A space is computed as follows:


and reflects simultaneously the intensities of feelings along all three dimensions. Values can range between 0 (no meaning) and 5.2 (maximum richness of meaning).

- Cultural Intensity (CI), also called Cultural Instability. This indicates the degree of consensus or disagreement expressed by the group on the affective meaning of each concept. It is constructed by subtracting the so-called Group Polarity which is based on the absolute deviations of the group mean from the mid-point of the scales, from the so-called Individual Polarity which is based on the absolute deviations of each individual subject from the midpoint of the scales. Also in this measurement, values range between -3 (= minimum conflict or disagreement) and +3 (= maximum conflict or disagreement).

- Interconcept Distances (ID), which express the linear distance between two points in the semantic space. In our case, the formula used to measure the distance between concepts 1 and 2 is:


The maximum distance between the two points is 10.4.


The main findings can be summarized as follows:

1) In all cases (numerically and graphically presented in tables 4,5,6,7,8) attitudes towards time are always positive. CFS values range from 0.4 to 1.7 on E, from 0.5 to 1.6 on P, and from 0.4 to 1.8 on A. Extreme positions are never reached. For the other measurements, minimal and maximal scores range as follows: DO from 1.1 to 3, CI from 0.2 to 0.8, ID from 1.12 to 2.2.

2) In Europe (Table 4), CFS measurements show that the Past gets the highest score on E, immediately followed by the Future. The Present is 'squeezed' between Past and Future. In other words, the Past is considered somewhat 'better' than the Future and definitely 'better' than the here-and-now of the Present, which is the least liked. The Future is expected to be more 'potent' and more 'active' than both Present and Past.

The Future is also the most meaningful concept (highest DO). It is followed, in the order, by Present and Past.

The Present is the most conflictual concept (highest CI). followed at short distance by Past and Future.

As in other aspects concerning the nature of time (Fraser 1981, 1987) even in perceptual space analyses one usually finds an asymmetry among the temporal dimensions. In the case of our European companies, ID measurements show that Present and Future are nearest. As one would have expected, the maximum distance is found between Past and Future.

3) When the group of European companies is geographically split between North and South (Tables 5 and 6), one finds that the Past is evaluated 'better' than the other dimensions only in the Italian and Spanish companies considered, while in the Dutch-Norwegian group all three temporal dimensions receive exactly the same scoring on the most important dimension E.

In comparison with the Southern-European group, the Northern group feels that the Future has a greater richness of meaning. On the latter concepts in Northern Europe there is also a greater agreement, while the distance between Present and Future is shorter than in Southern Europe.

4) In the USA (Table 7), the Future is rated 'better' than the Present which in turn is rated 'better' than the Past. The Future will also be more 'potent' and more 'active' than the Present, which in turn is more 'potent' and more 'active' than the Past. This optimistic view of the passage of time is reinforced by the DO measurements, according to which the Future is the most meaningful concept, followed by Present and Past.

Like in Europe, also in the USA the Future gets the greatest consensus (lowest CI).

As to the ID, Past and Present are the nearest points in the semantic space.

5) Japan (Table 8) is the area where, as a whole, temporal values have the lowest intensity in terms of CFS. Both the Past and the Future are considered 'best', with identical values.

The Present, with less than half of such values (in fact, with the lowest CFS values found among all data of the whole research) is not, as good pleasant, beautiful and desired as the other dimensions. It is, however, considered more 'potent' and more 'active' than the Past.

The Future has the highest value on A. Like in Europe and the USA, the Future is the most meaningful concept, even here followed by Present and Past.

Like in the USA, the Future is the concept on which higher agreement is expressed, while the Past is the most conflictual concept. So, the affective structure in the Japanese firms is the same as in the USA firms both on meaningfulness and conflictuality of time concepts. The pattern becomes different again with the ID measurements: in Japan the maximum distance is between the Past and the Present, the distance between Present and Future standing between the two.

6) Similarities and differences between manufacturing and service companies exist both at inter-and at infra-regional level. Given the nature and the size of the samples, however, it would not be wise to discuss such differences outside specific analyses of each company's culture - a task which is not within the scope of this paper. Attitude scores indicate only general dispositions toward certain broadly defined classes of behaviour. Particular cases, and what overt response actually occurs in a real-life situation, are obviously related to the context provided by those cases and situations.


A comment on the findings can best be made against the background of two different approaches: a) a cultural approach made up by various viewpoints, and b) a psychological approach based on a more structured typology.

a) The first approach refers to the fact that, in speaking about different cultures, the Western concept is often opposed to the Oriental concept of time. To be sure, stereotypes of this kind can be found in other sets of contrasting orientations such as primitive vs industrialized societies. Moreover, the issue of time is more complex, a modern viewpoint does not warrant a clear-cut dychotomy of this kind. Yet, it is widely admitted that the East/West differences in time perception are widely based on profound cultural roots, including philosophical and religious influences.

The Western concept of time is described as linear, unidirectional, sequential, objectively divisible. Being a scarce economic resource, in the West we say that time can be saved, spent, wasted, lost. According to the Oriental concept, time is circular, reversible, cyclical, indivisible. Rhythms are more important than events and people respond more naturally to inner sentiments. Continuity is rewarded, relations are based on constant interactions and even construals of the self are more independent upon construals of the others (Klukhohn 1951; Nakamura 1966; Hall 1976; Kelly 1980; Lauer 1981; McGrath & Rotchford 1983; Servaes 1989; Triandis 1989; Marcus & Kitayama 1991).

In the Western world, and more specifically in the Northern part, people seem to follow a monochronic order, scheduling one thing at a time, with no overlappings. This is not so in a polychronic system, where people perform more activities, both mental and physical, in a less defined and allocated time frame. Polychronic time stresses completion of transactions rather than adherence to preset schedules. The issue is complicated by the fact that the distinction can be mediated by the role of functions. According to Hall (1983), for instance, French people are intellectually monochronic and polychronic in behaviour. The Japanese are polychronic at work and in looking at themselves. When dealing with the outside world, they shift to the monochronic mode and adopt the dominant system which characterizes that world.

b) The more structured typology against which we would like to look at our findings goes back to the theory discussed about 70 years ago by C.G. Jung (1921) when he postulated that there are four ways of perceiving the world: feeling, sensation, intuition, and thinking. This part of his theory remained somewhat neglected, until a group of Princeton psychiatrists developed its potentials into a time-based typology, testing the Jungian categories on their specific personality traits (Mann, Siegler, Osmond 1968; Osmond, Yaker, Cheek 1971).

In various studies conducted on learning processes, consumer behaviour and business organizations (Morello 1975, 1978, 1988, 1989) we have applied the above model, supporting the following findings:

- Feeling types - people who filter their perception of current reality through past events - have a circular ('oriental') perception of time. For them, time goes from the Past into the Present, which is sent back to the Past as memory. Memories, in turn, guide their likes and dislikes. It is there, in the Past, that these types spend most of their mental time. They are conservative, sociable and easily emotional. They are not punctual. They have difficulties in taking decisions. More than in the domain of products and technologies, they are at ease with people and sentiments. Personnel departments are the best positions for them.

- The Sensation type - the person for whom the dominant dimension is the Present - is an hedonist. He does not like to bother with the Past nor to worry with the Future. His stimulus-response mechanism is quick, and is based on concrete matters. Manually skillful, Sensation types are usually able to convince other people and to win them over to their cause. They are not much inspired by ideas, ideals and plans. Rather, they are interested in power. Sensation types are good salesmen.

- The Intuitive type projects his affection into the Future. The direction of time flows for him from the Future into the Present rather than viceversa. He is often frustrated by returning to the Present, while waiting for chronological time to catch up with his thoughts. Intuitive people are risk takers. In an organization they may be either positive or negative forces. When positive, they may well occupy many company positions: marketing, planning, and R&D are natural places for them. With fantasy and creativity they can be good leaders and entrepreneurs. When unrealistic, stubborn or mean, they are a calamity wherever they go.

- The Thinking type links Past, Present and Future with equal values in a coherent sequence of facts and plans. Continuity and consistency are all-important for him. He enjoys dealing with systems, processes and relationships rather than with discrete events. Everything has a history and a direction, nothing is hazardous or fortuitous. Thinking people tend to be logical, to use reason more than emotions, to live according to principles, to be prudent rather than impulsive. In their negative features they are boring, rigid and dogmatic. Since awareness of interdependences and search for well-ordered situations are their characteristics, at their best. Thinking types are good managers and organizers.

How do the findings on European, USA and Japanese executives and employees fit with these views? Although the research design was not meant to go beyond testing attitudes towards time within a few selected companies in different cultures, we can still put forward some hypotheses that link the data to the above described approaches.

If we take the maximum E value of the E, P, A structure of affective meanings as indicative of past, present and future orientation (an assumption which can legitimately be made), and if we look at the other SD measurements to support or to weaken these hypotheses, the following remarks can be made.

1. For the European companies the most relevant affective dimension is the Past. This would qualify them as past-oriented, or feeling types. In our case, however, the proximity of the future orientation is so near, and the values of P and A on the Future are so high, that it seems more correct to label the Europeans as Feeling-Intuitive types (coupling of temporal modes is normally accepted in analyses of this kind). Moreover, according to Europeans the Future is not day-dreaming. The geometrization of the distances shows that it is quite near to the Present. Thus, the Future as 'motivational space' (Nuttin 1980) seems to apply to the European group.

Actually, the only really past-oriented are the Southern European members of the group. The Northern Europeans - which have identical E values on each time dimension - would fall into the category of Thinking types, for whom Past, Present and Future have the same affective meaning.

2. The USA companies are definitely future-oriented. The Future, on which greatest agreement is expressed, is the 'best', the most 'potent' and the most 'active' affective dimension for them. USA companies have the most 'Western' concept of time - linear, unidirectional, sequential - as the Past-Present-Future crescendo of their preferences show.

The intensity of their Future and Present is another indication that people in American companies are good salesmen and risk-takers, as the Sensation and Intuitive paradigms suggest.

Although the index of the Past is greater than 1, it is the least pronounced dimension. Whether in business this is a good or a bad thing we cannot tell. Sharing the views of Young (1988), according to whom the cyclical preserves continuity and gives a state of permanence to our sense of selfhood, we think that organizations could well benefit from the wisdom of memories and experience.

3. In the Japanese companies Past and Future are exactly coincident in their affective values. The Present is almost near to the midpoint of the scales, giving credit to the puzzling question of whether it exists at all.

In terms of richness of meaning, however, the Present certainly exists in the Japanese group, and is more meaningful than the Past. Disagreements on concepts are mild, but they also exist. The ID measurements produce a well balanced triangle made up by equal differences among the distances of the time dimensions.

It thus seems that, although from the standpoint of CFS the Japanese group should be classified as Feeling-Intituitive in a way which would not be very dissimilar from the European group, some characteristics of the Sensation and especially of the Thinking types can also be applied to the Japanese. This may well be indicative of the state of transition of today Japanese culture (Wills 1992), if not of the Oriental way to englobe and harmonize time contradictions.

Further discussion on the findings would take us into speculation. As a conclusive remark, we can only say that a comparison of the three cultures that emerge from this study on attitudes towards time leads us to think that European companies are detached from the Present and nostalgic of the Past, while faithfully moving towards the Future. USA companies are projected into the Future, concentrated on the Present, with little memory of the Past. For Japanese companies, in the transient Present, Past and Future coincide.












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Gabriele Morello, ISIDA, Palermo, Italy and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands


E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 1 | 1993

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