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Motivation across cultures

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Business
Wordcount: 4070 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The purpose of the study was to find out what motivates employees across cultures. To thoroughly study various motivational theories and international researches and studies done to relate these theories to an international perspective. To study the various aspects and psychological process of motivation and to study how to motivate employees.

Research Methodology:-


I have used secondary data for my research. And this has been collected from:-

  1. Various internet sites.
  2. News papers.
  3. Books.
  4. Journals.

Motivation Across Cultures

objectives of the study

  1. DEFINE motivation, and explain it as a psychological process.
  2. EXAMINE the hierarchy-of-needs, two-factor, and achievement motivation theories, and assess their value to international human resource management.
  3. DISCUSS how an understanding of employee satisfaction can be useful in human resource management throughout the world.
  4. EXAMINE the value of process theories in motivating employees worldwide.
  5. RELATE the importance of job design, work centrality, and rewards to understanding how to motivate employees in an international context.

The Nature of Motivation


A psychological process through which unsatisfied wants or needs lead to drives that are aimed at goals or incentives.

Motivation is the activation or energization of goal-oriented behavior. Motivation may be intrinsic or extrinsic. The term is generally used for humans but, theoretically, it can also be used to describe the causes for animal behavior as well. This article refers to human motivation. According to various theories, motivation may be rooted in the basic need to minimize physical pain and maximize pleasure, or it may include specific needs such as eating and resting, or a desired object, hobby, goal, state of being, ideal, or it may be attributed to less-apparent reasons such as altruism, morality, or avoiding mortality.

The Nature of Motivation

The Universalist Assumption

The first assumption is that the motivation process is universal, that all people are motivated to pursue goals they value – what the work-motivation theorists call goals with “high valence” or “preference”

  1. The process is universal
  2. Culture influences the specific content and goals pursued
  3. Motivation differs across cultures

The Assumption of Content and Process

Content Theories of Motivation

Theories that explain work motivation in terms of what arouses, energizes, or initiates employee behavior.

Process Theories of Motivation

Theories that explain work motivation by how employee behavior is initiated, redirected, and halted.

The Hierarchy-of-Needs Theory

The Maslow Theory

Maslow’s theory rests on a number of basic assumptions:

  1. Lower-level needs must be satisfied before higher-level needs become motivators
  2. A need that is satisfied no longer serves as a motivator
  3. There are more ways to satisfy higher-level than there are ways to satisfy lower-level needs

The Hierarchy-of-Needs Theory

International Findings on Maslow’s Theory

With some minor modification researchers examined the need satisfaction and need importance of the four highest-level needs in the Maslow hierarch

Esteem needs were divided into two groups:

  1. Esteem – including needs for self-esteem and prestige
  2. Autonomy – including desires for authority and opportunities for independent thought and action

The Hierarchy-of-Needs Theory

International Findings on Maslow’s Theory

The Haire study indicated all these needs were important to the respondents across cultures

  1. International managers (not rank-and-file employees) indicated the upper-level needs were of particular importance to them
  2. Findings for select country clusters (Latin Europe, United States/United Kingdom, and Nordic Europe) indicated autonomy and self-actualization were the most important and least satisfied needs for the respondents
  3. Another study of managers in eight East Asian countries found that autonomy and self-actualization in most cases also ranked high.

The Hierarchy-of-Needs Theory

International Findings on Maslow’s Theory

Some researchers have suggested modifying Maslow’s “Western-oriented” hierarchy by reranking the needs

Asian cultures emphasize the needs of society

Chinese hierarchy of needs might have four levels ranked from lowest to highest:

  1. Belonging (social)
  2. Physiological
  3. Safety
  4. Self-actualization (in the service of society)

The Hierarchy-of-Needs Theory

International Findings on Maslow’s Theory

Hofstede’s research indicates:

  1. Self-actualization and esteem needs rank highest for professionals and managers
  2. Security, earnings, benefits, and physical working conditions are most important to low-level, unskilled workers
  3. Job categories and levels may have a dramatic effect on motivation and may well offset cultural considerations
  4. MNCs should focus most heavily on giving physical rewards to lower-level personnel and on creating a climate where there is challenge, autonomy, the ability to use one’s skills, and cooperation for middle- and upper-level personnel.

The Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

The Herzberg Theory

Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

A theory that identifies two sets of factors that influence job satisfaction:

  1. Motivators
  2. Job-content factors such as achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement, and the work itself.

  3. Hygiene Factors

The Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

The Herzberg Theory

The two-factor theory holds that motivators and hygiene factors relate to employee satisfaction – a more complex relationship than the traditional view that employees are either satisfied or dissatisfied

  1. If hygiene factors are not taken care of or are deficient there will be dissatisfaction
  2. There may be no dissatisfaction if hygiene factors are taken care of – there may be no satisfaction also
  3. Only when motivators are present will there be satisfaction

Views of Satisfaction/Dissatisfaction

The Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

International Findings on Herzberg’s Theory

Two categories of International findings relate to the two-factor theory:

  1. One type of study consists of replications of Herzberg’s research in a particular country
  2. Do managers in country X give answers similar to those in Herzberg’s original studies?

  3. The others are cross-cultural studies focusing on job satisfaction

What factors cause job satisfaction and how do these responses differ from country to country?

Two-Factor Replications

A number of research efforts have been undertaken to replicate the two-factor theory – they tend to support Herzberg’s findings

  1. George Hines surveyed of 218 middle managers and 196 salaried employees in New Zealand using ratings of 12 job factors and overall job satisfaction – he concluded “the Herzberg model appears to have validity across occupational levels”
  2. A similar study was conducted among 178 Greek managers – this study found that overall Herzberg’s two-factor theory of job satisfaction generally held true

Cross-Cultural Job-Satisfaction Studies

Motivators tend to be more important to job satisfaction than hygiene factors

  1. MBA candidates from four countries ranked hygiene factors at the bottom and motivators at the top while Singapore students (of a different cultural cluster than the other three groups) gave similar responses
  2. Result:- Job-satisfaction-related factors may not always be culturally bounded

  3. Lower- and middle-management personnel attending management development courses in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and Japan ranked the importance of 15 job-related outcomes and how satisfied they were with each

Result:- Job content may be more important than job context

Job-Context Factors

In work motivation, those factors controlled by the organization, such as conditions, hours, earnings, security, benefits, and promotions.

Job-Content Factors

In work motivation, those factors internally controlled, such as responsibility, achievement, and the work itself.

Achievement Motivation Theory

The Background of Achievement Motivation Theory

Characteristic profile of high achievers:

  1. They like situations in which they take personal responsibility for finding solutions to problems.
  2. Tend to be moderate risk-takers rather than high or low risk-takers.
  3. Want concrete feedback on their performance.
  4. Often tend to be loners, and not team players.

A high nAch can be learned. Ways to develop high-achievement needs:

  1. Obtain feedback on performance and use the information to channel efforts into areas where success will likely be attained
  2. Emulate people who have been successful achievers;
  3. Develop an internal desire for success and challenges
  4. Daydream in positive terms by picturing oneself as successful in the pursuit of important objectives.

International Findings on Achievement Motivation Theory

  1. Polish industrialists were high achievers scoring 6.58 (U.S. managers’ scored an average of 6.74)
  2. Managers in countries as diverse as the United States and those of the former Soviet bloc in Central Europe have high needs for achievement

  3. Later studies did not find a high need for achievement in Central European countries

Average high-achievement score for Czech industrial managers was 3.32 (considerably lower than U.S. managers)

International Findings on Achievement Motivation Theory

Achievement motivation theory must be modified to meet the specific needs of the local culture:

The culture of many countries does not support high achievement

Anglo cultures and those that reward entrepreneurial effort do support achievement motivation and their human resources should probably be managed accordingly

Hofstede offers the following advice:

The countries on the feminine side . . . distinguish themselves by focusing on quality of life rather than on performance and on relationships between people rather than on money and things. This means social motivation: quality of life plus security and quality of life plus risk.

Select Process Theories

Equity Theory

  1. When people perceive they are being treated equitably it will have a positive effect on their job satisfaction
  2. If they believe they are not being treated fairly (especially in relation to relevant others) they will be dissatisfied which will have a negative effect on their job performance and they will strive to restore equity.

There is considerable research to support the fundamental equity principle in Western work groups. When the theory is examined on an international basis, the results are mixed.

  1. Equity perceptions among managers and non-managers in an Israeli kibbutz production unit:- Everyone was treated the same but managers reported lower satisfaction levels than the workers. Managers perceived their contributions to be greater than other groups in the kibbutz and felt under compensated for their value and effort.
  2. Employees in Asia and the Middle East often readily accept inequitable treatment in order to preserve group harmony
  3. Men and women in Japan and Korea (and Latin America) typically receive different pay for doing the same work – due to years of cultural conditioning women may not feel they are treated inequitably

These results indicate equity theory is not universally applicable in explaining motivation and job satisfaction

Goal-Setting Theory

A process theory that focuses on how individuals go about setting goals and responding to them and the overall impact of this process on motivation .

Specific areas that are given attention in goal-setting theory include:

  1. The level of participation in setting goals
  2. Goal difficulty
  3. Goal specificity
  4. The importance of objective
  5. Timely feedback to progress toward goals

Unlike many theories of motivation, goal setting has been continually refined and developed

There is considerable research evidence showing that employees perform extremely well when they are assigned specific and challenging goals that they have had a hand in setting

Most of these studies have been conducted in the United States – few have been carried out in other cultures

  1. Norwegian employees shunned participation and preferred to have their union representatives work with management in determining work goals.Researchers concluded that individual participation in goal setting was seen as inconsistent with the prevailing Norwegian philosophy of participation through union representatives
  2. In the United States employee participation in setting goals is motivational – it had no value for the Norwegian employees in this study

Expectancy Theory

A process theory that postulates that motivation is influenced by a person’s belief that

  1. Effort will lead to performance
  2. Performance will lead to specific outcomes, and
  3. The outcomes will be of value to the individual.

Expectancy theory predicts that high performance followed by high rewards will lead to high satisfaction

Does this theory have universal application?

  1. Eden found some support for it while studying workers in an Israeli kibbutz
  2. Matsui and colleagues found it could be successfully applied in Japan

Expectancy theory could be culture-bound – international managers must be aware of this limitation in motivating human resources since expectancy theory is based on employees having considerable control over their environment (a condition that does not exist in many cultures) Motivation Applied:- Job Design, Work Centrality, and Rewards

Quality of Work Life: The Impact of Culture

Quality of work life (QWL) is not the same throughout the world.

  1. Assembly-line employees in Japan work at a rapid pace for hours and have very little control over their work activities.
  2. Assembly-line employees in Sweden work at a more relaxed pace and have a great deal of control over their work activities.
  3. U.S. assembly-line employees typically work somewhere between – at a pace less demanding than Japan’s but more structured than Sweden’s.

Sociotechnical Job Designs:-

The objective of these designs is to integrate new technology into the workplace so that workers accept and use it to increase overall productivity.New technology often requires people learn new methods and in some cases work faster. Employee resistance is common. Effective sociotechnical design can overcome these problems. Some firms have introduced sociotechnical designs for better blending of their personnel and technology without sacrificing efficiency

Eg:- General Foods- Autonomous groups at its Topeka, Kansas plant, Workers share responsibility and work in a highly democratic environment

Other U.S. firms have opted for a self-managed team approach

Multifunctional teams with autonomy for generating successful product innovation is more widely used by successful U.S., Japanese, and European firms than any other teamwork concept

Work Centrality:-

The importance of work in an individual’s life can provide important insights into how to motivate human resources in different cultures

  1. Japan has the highest level of work centrality
  2. Israel has moderately high levels
  3. The United States and Belgium have average levels
  4. The Netherlands and Germany have moderately low levels
  5. Britain has low levels

Value of Work

Work is an important part of most people’s lifestyles due to a variety of conditions

  1. Americans and Japanese work long hours because the cost of living is high
  2. Most Japanese managers expect their salaried employees who are not paid extra to stay late at work, and overtime has become a requirement of the job. There is recent evidence that Japanese workers may do far less work in a business day than outsiders would suspect
  3. In recent years, the number of hours worked annually by German workers has been declining, while the number for Americans has been on the rise. Germans place high value on lifestyle and often prefer leisure to work, while their American counterparts are just the opposite.

Research reveals culture may have little to do with it

A wider range of wages (large pay disparity) within American companies than in German firms creates incentives for American employees to work harder.

Impact of overwork on the physical condition of Japanese workers

One-third of the working-age population suffers from chronic fatigue

The Japanese prime minister’s office found a majority of those surveyed complained of :-

  1. Being chronically tired
  2. Feeling emotionally stressed
  3. Abusive conditions in the workplace
  4. Karoshi (“overwork” or “job burnout”) is now recognized as a real social problem

Job Satisfaction

  1. EU workers see a strong relationship between how well they do their jobs and the ability to get what they want out of life
  2. U.S. workers were not as supportive of this relationship
  3. Japanese workers were least likely to see any connection

This finding suggest difficulties may arise in American, European, and Japanese employees working together effectively

Reward Systems

Managers everywhere use rewards to motivate their personnel. Some rewards are financial in nature such as salary raises, bonuses, and stock options. Others are non-financial such as feedback and recognition. Significant differences exist between reward systems that work best in one country and those that are most effective in another.

Incentives and Culture

Use of financial incentives to motivate employees is very common in countries with high individualism. Financial incentive systems vary in range

  1. Individual incentive-based pay systems in which workers are paid directly for their output
  2. Systems in which employees earn individual bonuses based on organizational performance goals

Many cultures base compensation on group membership. Such systems stress equality rather than individual incentive plans

An individually based bonus system for the sales representatives in an American MNC introduced in its Danish subsidiary was rejected by the sales force because

  1. It favored one group over another
  2. Employees felt that everyone should receive the same size bonus

Eg:- Indonesian oil workers rejected a pay-for-performance system where some work teams would make more money than others.

Workers in many countries are highly motivated by things other than financial rewards

  1. The most important rewards in locations at 40 countries of an electrical equipment MNC involved recognition and achievement.
  2. Second in importance were improvements in the work environment and employment conditions including pay and work hours.

Factors that concern employees across cultures

  1. French and Italian employees valued job security highly while American and British workers held it of little importance
  2. Scandinavian workers placed high value on concern for others on the job and for personal freedom and autonomy but did not rate “getting ahead” very important
  3. German workers ranked security, fringe benefits, and “getting ahead” as very important
  4. Japanese employees put good working conditions and a congenial work environment high on their list but ranked personal advancement quite low


The types of incentives that are deemed important appear to be culturally influenced. Culture can even affect the overall cost of an incentive system. Japanese efforts to introduce Western-style merit pay systems typically lead to an increase in overall labor costs. Companies fear that reducing the pay of less productive workers’ may cause them to lose face and disturb group harmony. Hence, everyone’s salary increases as a result of merit pay systems. Factors that motivate employees varies across culture. People from different cultures give different preferences to the factors involved. So while deciding the ways to motivate the workforce the factors that concern to that culture specifically should be kept in mind.


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