Perception of Time Value In America and Russia

Business in Russia

Many managers working in multicultural teams or dealing with clients and business partners overseas have often little idea that conflicts could have underlying cultural differences.

Time and its perceived value is one of those key cultural differences. We may measure time with same metrics such as hours or days  but time is perceived differently on a personal level and on a cultural level.

Time management is a frequent cause of conflicts between Americans and Russians when doing business together and this is due to the cultural context.

For Americans the value of time is material:

  • “Time is money”
  • They tend to have a materialistic approach attached to achievements and time.
  • Time is sacred in the U.S.,  being late is very rude, deadlines  are fixed.
  • “Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.”Peter F. Drucker

For Russians, the value of time is “elastic”:

  •  “People” come before time, a Russian proverb says: “seven people do not wait for one”.
  • Being late is not perceived as being rude
  • Deadlines are flexible
  • Russian management does not fit easily in “westernized” practices of time management
  • Planning is not rigorous
  • Issues and problems are solved under pressure and stress at the last-minute
  • If you want to manage your Russian team you better be a night owl. Often employees work late until 11 pm or 1 am (the direct consequence of dealing with things at the last-minute)

When doing business in Russia, American companies should spend more time than they usually do in the US on establishing personal connections before talking business. Frequent contacts should then be maintained.

Organizing bi-cultural meetings is often the first step of intercultural business communication. Handled poorly, those events can lead to frustration and lack of trust, jeopardizing collaboration. The organizers of such introductory intercultural meetings between Americans and Russians should create an environment in which time perception differences are explained and accepted by all. 

In the US, an agenda is always sent before a meetings and it is usually followed. In Russia there is often reluctance to put in writing a detailed plan. If the meeting is conducted in English, more time should be given to people who are not the native speakers. Do not rush the call and make sure to allow extra time for unplanned topics that could emerge during the discussion. Always send minutes or a summary of what’s been said just after the meeting. However, with Russian partners what has been discussed and perceived as agreed by their American counterpart may be challenged and rejected at any time.

Related Resources

About Anne Egros

Zest and Zen is a blog about Expat Life Challenges, Global Leadership, Intercultural Communication, Health and Wellness, Nutrition, Change Psychology, Life Transitions
This entry was posted in American Culture, Cross cultural, Executive Coaching, intercultural communication, intercultural training, Living in Russia, Multicultural teams and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Perception of Time Value In America and Russia

  1. Anna says:

    You probably should have consulted Russian people when writing this article. After reading this I got several small corrections you might find useful:
    1) The proverb “seven people don’t wait for one” literally means that if one person is late no one in the group is going to wait, which is the opposite of your point
    2) Companies that are bigger than “small business” have a very strict rules about the agenda and planning and the penalties for missing the deadlines are very severe
    3) People do not have problems with time management and do not stay up unless they were given an extra work and were specifically told to do it immediately (random emergency) – thus people work overtime, sometimes up till 8 o’clock.

    • Thank you Anna for your comment. Perception is very different from one person to another and depends if you are an insider or an outsider. I shared my observations about Russia based on my 3 year experience in Moscow and discussion with Russian friends, compared to my 7 years in US and many more years in European countries.

  2. cedricj says:

    I live in Mexico where there is a similar perspective on time to that of Russia. We often joke with our Mexican counterparts “Do you want it done on Mexican or American time?” Many times Mexicans will tell you what they think you want to hear as an indication that they want to please you. We, however, have to reset our expectations to Mexican time. After all, we are guests in their country

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