Three Principles to Guide Well-being Across a Global Enterprise

Updated on November 1, 2023

The mental well-being of the global workforce has become a critical business issue with rising burnout, anxiety and depression driving losses in productivity. In response, employers are increasingly offering mental well-being tools and programs to help meet employees’ needs. However, large multinationals with footprints across many different countries cannot assume that a solution will resonate with everyone who needs it. Global enterprises must take cultural differences into consideration when developing solutions and messaging that will resonate within different cultures in their workforce population. 

Cultural nuances shape individuals’ perceptions and attitudes towards the well-being benefits provided by employers. When it comes to global populations, effectively promoting digital well-being tools that emphasize mindfulness, sleep, resilience, and stress management requires navigating the intricate web of cultural diversity.

Culture exerts a profound influence on our beliefs regarding the value of individual achievements versus collective success. Additionally, it impacts our willingness to embrace novel experiences. To optimize the outreach and effectiveness of digital well-being tools, a comprehensive understanding of the cultural landscape becomes imperative, as it greatly influences individuals’ attitudes and convictions.

New research from meQuilibrium and Hofstede Insights, which identifies cultural dimensions that impact behavior, found that three of the six Hofstede cultural dimensions have the most significant impact on how a culture engages with digital well-being: individualism relative to collectivism, indulgence relative to restraint, and achievement relative to quality of life. These three dimensions clearly influence how a culture receives messages about digital well-being programs.

To maximize employee activation related to mental well-being in multinational enterprises, the data strongly show that messaging about the benefits of improving one’s well-being must account for differences in each of these dimensions. Based on these findings, the study identified three principles that can guide communication about well-being across a global enterprise.

Pay attention to how culture influences identity

In cultures that emphasize individualism, such as the United States, Canada, and countries in northwestern Europe, personal accomplishments and achievements play a significant role in shaping one’s identity. However, it is crucial to recognize that over two-thirds of the global population resides in collectivist cultures, such as Vietnam and China. When delivering messages about well-being, it is important to consider cultural variations by addressing three key aspects: the social fabric, context, and trustworthiness.

Social Fabric: Understanding the social fabric entails recognizing the values and priorities within a given culture. In collective cultures, the group takes precedence over the individual. Consequently, messaging and visuals should emphasize the benefits that extend to the entire group or team rather than focusing solely on individual gains. To resonate with individuals in collective cultures, effective messaging can highlight endorsements from respected authority figures within the company or demonstrate popularity among peers.

Context: Taking context into account involves understanding how recipients of communication perceive and interpret messages. In individualist cultures, communication tends to be direct, and language is often understood literally. Conversely, in collectivist cultures, also known as context cultures, meaning extends beyond the surface level of language. To promote well-being activation in collectivist cultures, it is more effective to rely on visuals and imagery that illustrate context and social relationships, rather than relying heavily on text-based calls to action that work well in individualist cultures.

Trustworthiness: In collective cultures, concerns about breached confidentiality extend beyond individuals to encompass the entire group. This gives rise to heightened worries about trustworthiness and privacy, particularly concerning sensitive topics like mental well-being. To address these concerns, it is essential to exercise caution when framing discussions on mental health challenges. Additionally, messages should include explicit assurances of data privacy and descriptions of methods employed to maintain confidentiality.

Consider how culture shapes attitudes towards embracing new experiences

An individual’s willingness to explore novel opportunities is profoundly shaped by where their local culture falls on the Indulgence-Restraint spectrum. The Indulgence-Restraint spectrum serves as a lens through which we can understand this impact. Cultures that lean towards higher Indulgence, such as the United States and Latin American countries, generally exhibit a more open-minded approach to trying new things. Conversely, in high Restraint cultures like India and South Korea, new ideas and opportunities tend to be meticulously evaluated. To effectively communicate across cultures, it is crucial to consider three specific factors: receptivity, the integration of body and mind, and expressiveness.

Receptivity: In restrained cultures, individuals are inclined to approach new ideas with discernment and thoughtful consideration. Messaging strategies should therefore emphasize the importance of the content and clearly articulate the reasons for taking action. In indulgent cultures, shorter and more frequent messages tend to be effective, while restrained cultures benefit from less frequent but more impactful content.

Integration of Body and Mind: Restraint-oriented cultures perceive the body and mind as interconnected rather than separate entities. Consequently, language that focuses solely on the mind or creates a division between body and mind that may be seen as inconsistent by individuals in restrained cultures. To overcome this, communication should address the person holistically.

Expressiveness: Within restrained cultures, emotional displays and expressiveness are often more subdued, accompanied by a lesser degree of optimism. When tailoring messaging for restrained cultures, it is advisable to employ reserved language and moderate expressions of positivity and optimism.

Recognize the influence of culture on individuals’ core values

Understanding how culture shapes value systems is crucial. Hofstede’s Achievement-Quality of Life continuum provides valuable insights. Cultures emphasizing achievement, like Japan and the United States, tend to foster competitiveness and assertiveness, with status and success serving as primary motivators. On the other hand, in countries like Thailand and South Korea, the focus is placed on quality of life, cooperation, and consensus-building. People in these cultures are primarily driven by the pursuit of contentment and a high quality of life. To activate well-being initiatives effectively in quality of life-oriented countries, communication strategies should be crafted with precision.

Two particular areas of concern involve gamification and success: 

Gamification: Incorporating gamification elements, such as leaderboards or progress tracking, proves successful in well-being solutions tailored to achievement-oriented cultures. However, such components may need to be downplayed or adapted when engaging with quality-of-life cultures, as they may not resonate in the same way.

Success: Careful consideration should be given to language surrounding success. Quality of life cultures do not stigmatize mistakes and failures to the same extent as achievement-oriented cultures. Therefore, promises of success should be tempered, and success should not be equated solely with dominance.

Prioritizing mental well-being in the global workforce yields substantial benefits. It not only enhances the health and wellness of employees but also boosts productivity and fosters a positive and supportive work environment. However, creating an effective global well-being strategy necessitates thoughtful attention to cultural differences. Employing a culturally sensitive approach to employee communication is key to developing a successful employee well-being strategy for multinational and global companies.

Shea Lemley PhD headshot copy
Shea Lemley

Shea Lumley, PhD is a Data Scientist at meQuilibrium, where she works on the Science Team creating actionable insights and developing predictive models with meQ's data. Before joining meQ, Dr. Lemley earned her PhD in Behavioral Psychology and then completed postdoctoral training in digital health at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine.