Concepts of Motivation-How It Varies Across Cultures?

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Both human beings and animals need a certain force that will derive them towards achieving goals. We refer to this driving force as motivation. According to researchers, motivation can be extrinsic or intrinsic depending on one’s social background. Nevertheless, motivation plays a significant role in the lives of people, for example, it leads persons towards greater heights, irrespective of whether the boulevard of their life is personal or professional. Most importantly, the source of motivation comes from oneself-external or internal- and determines how far an individual would go in terms of achieving personal or professional goals and objectives. A number of literature materials on motivation highlight various factors that stimulate persons toward achieving their goals and objectives either in business, personal or professional lives. It is also important to note that the factors behind motivation keep on varying as one ascends the hierarchy of age and maturity. In fact, research shows that whenever a person achieves a single goal in life, the probability of achieving other goals becomes high. That is why motivation is a constant requirement whenever one wants to climb the ladder of success (Karine 2009, p.1).

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However, it is also important to note that there are times when individuals face de-motivation and the whole lot seems austere. When such circumstances occur, these individuals must seek alternative avenues that will drive them back into their normal action. Motivation varies from one person to another based on individual driving forces. In fact, a recipe of factors- not just a sole factor- leads people towards boulevards of success, most importantly, towards achieving personal or professional goals. However, individuals should always be cautious of their steps towards achieving goals rest they become monotonous and stop the process of achieving personal or professional goals. This is the reason why organizations or individuals ought to review the driving forces in order to propel their actions into results and objectives. In environments free of monotony, organizations and individuals thrive in enthusiasm and achieve their goals. Notably, this is the principal reason why business executives and human resource managers develop an instruction almanac on what employees should do at a particular time in addition to several management routine practices aimed at enhancing the skills of the workforce. Some organizations also have different ways of motivating employees for example, vacations, money, merchandise or promotions. Undoubtedly, these are some of the factors behind individual or organizational success. The paper will examine how different cultures affect motivation (Hofstede 1980, pp. 4-17).

Culture and Motivation

In any business stratagem, culture and motivation plays a vital role. This is because many organizations that crumble and fall do so due to poor motivation and weak cultural values. The two are paramount ingredients that if one miss out, then many areas of business fail to decipher into a high staff turnover rate, which in turn affect the customer’s experience of the organization. Perhaps, it is important to understand the meaning of culture in an organization. Primarily, culture is the social arrangement and intellectual and imaginative materializations that exemplify a society. Thus, for an organization, culture is the way people interrelate, in addition to what they deem, and how they achieve their goals. Clearly, this is a representation of an organizational culture. Each organization has its own way of doing things and hence, a different culture different from others. Thus, the manifestation of culture within an organization is a beneficial factor whose role is to instigate success. It is also important to note that culture is abstruse in that it is inherent in the minds and hearts of the corporate society, over and above recognizable behaviors. Thus, due to diverse corporate societies and varying observable behaviors, it is true motivation varies across cultures. Undoubtedly, with these variations, it is never easy to achieve a state where motivation is uniform across all corporate cultures (Karine 2009, p.1).

Under cross-cultural perspective on motivation and culture, we learn different theories such as content, process, outcome Perez-Lopez just to name a few, which helps us to understand work motivation. Nonetheless, we must scrutinize how culture affects these theories and hence, motivation. Research shows that the value system of a particular corporate society represents a particular culture. This is because values articulate motivational goals an organization should follow in order to achieve its goals and objectives. Although the values might be the same, different cultures, interpret them differently based on religion, work experience, power distance, national economy, organizational psychology, capitalism, or mixed economy. The primary role of cultural values is to define what it means to be someone within a given society; a society built on and represented in the views of self. In some societies, work experience is the principal motivator, while in others power distance drives an organization towards success. There are also organizations that choose collectivism rather than individualism as a motivational goal. It all depends on the social background of the corporate society. Thus, depending on culture, motivation can vary from one corporate organization to another. This is because every organization interprets differently the various motivational practices due to cultural circumstances (Triandis, 1988, 323.330).

The main reason why organizations irrespective of their cultural background employ motivational practices is to engage its workforce in labor in entirety. For instance, they may choose to reward employees with certain allocations of money or merchandise, involve employees in the development of ideas and verdicts and even the fixing of targets, profession fortification, and quality management. These four are the most common motivational goals practiced by many organizations or even individuals. What is more important is the causal path that will propel values to targets and objectives. In fact, in order to achieve the set targets, the causal path must be resolute and self-synchronized, and this depends on the cultural practices. Under the theory of Hofstede, the definitive rationales of the total believe system, is to uphold and develop the self-worth of an individual. Different individuals use different processes of evaluating themselves, of course under the laid strategies. For example, it is important to note that individual preferences differ to a certain degree. Thus, it is imperative to examine the principles of the independent personality and then amalgamate them with the values of society of the inter-reliant self in order to motivate. Fortunately, persons living in a similar cultural setting employ analogous criteria to evaluate or interpret motivation (Hofstede 1980, pp. 15-36).

On the other hand, these assessment criteria differ across cultures due to dissimilar cultural values. Ultimately, motivation then varies from one culture to another. For instant, various theories illustrate the western cultures as dominated by individualist values, whereas the Middle East cultures exhibit faction orientation standards, commonly known as interdependent self. With such variations in cultures, we understand that motivation will greatly vary. Since motivation varies across cultures and given that different methods of evaluation emanating from independent and interdependent cultures differ, it is imperative to apply Hofstede theory in order to examine motivational factors for efficacy, enrichment, and reliability. Many researchers agree that motivation and the agents of motivation vary across cultures. For example, the practices used to motivate employees in United States are not the same as those employed in China. In fact, for one reason or another, motivators employed by one country may appear incompatible in another country. The following topics will explore why motivation varies across cultures (Triandis, 1988, 320-338).

Meaning of Work

Work provides a living for many people. In fact, some communities take work seriously and even consider it paramount. On the other hand, some cultures take work lightly based on the afflictions of self-identity. For them, family, friends and other relatives strap their self-identities making them fail to see the value of work. In fact, these people have their own culture of work with an assumption that they work in order to live. On the contrary, majority of cultures that recognize work do so with strong conviction that people ought to work in order to live. Thus, it is easier to motivate workers from a culture that values work as a centrality in their lives without necessarily demanding actions from the management staff. In other countries like China, United States and other developed countries, work is in equivalent with financial and economic rewards. In most cases, people search for jobs in order to get money, which they could use later to buy commodities and goods that makes their lives better and comfortable. Perhaps this is the main reason why people prefer doing maximum amount of work within a short time framework. They can go as far as exerting their entire exertion to enable them to achieve their targets.

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Nevertheless, the theories of motivation are not similar in all countries that make the world. In fact, every country has its own working habits, which are unique from those practiced by other countries. While some countries equate work with monetary rewards, some consider it otherwise. For instance, in Japan, the Japanese people hold the Kaizen philosophy that motivates them to work in order to perk up their lives. To many Japanese, Kaizen is a work strategy that helps them improve their lives boundlessly-management executives and employees alike. Nevertheless, under a given culture, many researchers state that the responsibilities of work and the motivational practices of the workforce may vary over certain duration, and adversely affect the work output. With the recent global economic downturn, downscaling and increased cutthroat demands within corporate societies, people have no option except to work very hard so that they maintain their positions rest they loose their jobs (Vadim 2001, p.1).

Role of Religion

Religion plays a significance role in terms of motivating people. Although not all people in the world are intransigently religious, the few who believe in it concur that it helps a lot when it comes to motivation. In fact, research shows that where religion is stringent, people tend to work harder in order to achieve more. Thus, religion be it Muslim, Christianity or Hinduism acts as a motivational tool that gladdens mindfulness and internal impetus. This happens so because majority of people who believe in religion follow their fundamental beliefs, which fortify their mental capacity. In times of turmoil and hardships, the religious embark in prayer and meditation to restore normalcy. Otherwise, if they were not religious, they would have involved themselves in drug and substance abuse, which will make matters even worse than before. To hit the nail on the head, religion has indeed helped many people to be in good shape, both mentally and physically. This makes religion a constructive spring of every day motivation. For example, those who practice Hinduism emphasize on the development of events without much hindrances. On the other hand, the people from North America observe religions that edify them the modalities of controlling matters hence, a source of motivation (Triandis, 1988, 325-327).

All of us live in a world where indecision rules. This is evident as people put up with risks and avant-garde behavior; a culture appraise of uncertainty evasion. Here, people do not care about the future, and in most cases, they do not know what the future holds for them. Nevertheless, different cultures retort to uncertainties using diverse means. For instance, some cultures socialize their populace to accommodate uncertainties as a part of their life. With time, these people get accustomed with risks. Additionally, most of these people endure diverse behaviors and opinions even if they are dissimilar to theirs since, they do not feel endangered by them. Plausibly, this is the reason why Hofstede refers to these cultures as the ones that experience squat uncertainty evasion. In other words, the people who hail from these societies feel virtually sheltered in everything they undergo or practice. According to Hofstede, Denmark, Singapore and Sweden provide good examples of countries that experience low uncertainty avoidance (Ladbury and Verlin, 2009, pp. 187-193).

On the other hand, we have cultures that experience high levels of uncertainty avoidance. Characteristically, people from these cultures or societies for that matter are anxious, a trait that marked by high stress, assertiveness and apprehension. This is true because every uncertainty or ambiguity is a thread such persons. In order to provide security and trim down risks, social and political machineries are necessary. For instance, countries like Portugal, Pakistan and Japan where uncertainty evasion is high have formal rules that control unusual ideas and behaviors or else, the members will at no point believe that unconditional precisions exist. Unsurprisingly, this is the reason why employees from societies that experience elevated levels of uncertainty avoidance exhibit somewhat low job mobility. This has forced governments of these countries to develop a life span employment policy in order to deal with the menace (Hofstede 2001, 12-28).

Power Distance

Every person is unique in terms of intellectual and corporeal abilities. We are completely different and this is the reason why some people are rich while others are poor. The question that emanate from this reality is how the society with handle such an inequality in order to make people appear similar both in power and wealth. In his theory, Hofstede uses the phrase power distance as a computation of the scope to which a particular society acknowledges that power in different social structures appear disproportionately disseminated. In fact, societies that experience high power distance levels do admit extensive discrepancies in power in institutions and organizations. In most cases, every institution or organization has a structure of leadership headed by management executives. Under this scenario, the lowest in rank must respect those above them. Such institutions can motivate employees by promoting them to higher ranks or giving them titles. Moreover, in bargaining for power distance, employees must follow certain procedures in order to receive new titles or assume novel ranks within an organization. India, Pakistan and Venezuela are three examples of countries of this category.

On the contrary, countries that experience low power distance do not admit inequalities in institutions and organization in full strength. For instance, in New Zealand, Australia and Israel, employees are not that afraid of their executives. Nevertheless, the superiors still yield power and take charge of what happens in an organization or institution (Hofstede 2001, pp. 32-57).

Nature of National Economy

Different researchers have actually demonstrated how the state of a nation’s economy can affect motivation. The mechanism of motivation in a free economy is not the same as the one in mixed economy or a controlled economy. Most importantly are individual gains that tend to dictate economic motives. For instance, take an example of an employee working in a manufacturing firm. The primary inducement and motivation of this employee is unquestionably financial returns. It is for this reason that the nature of economy plays a significant role in motivating employees simply because, a good economy will pay high wages while, which motivate the workforce (Cardona, Lawrence and Bentley 2004, pp. 230-241).

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Organizational Psychology

Under a controlled economy, every employee is responsible to the state. The main advantage of such an economy is that every employee enjoys equal rights without clandestine ownership. In other words, employees must strive to generate their own resources that could assist them to spawn returns. In fact, employees do not need to struggle so much to acquire fundamental provisions as they already have them. It is quite elusive that employees do not strive any harder and motivation is not necessary as people have the basics that life demands. Nevertheless, with acquires motives such as social and monetary motives, these people can still enjoy motivation. It is important to understand that even in a socialist classless society; there are still people who want to appear unique. They would always want to create their own empire of capitalist economy through power and wealth. Although every individual accesses same opportunities like anybody else in a controlled economy, it is not lost that individual opportunities differ due to personal abilities. For example, consider the staff working in a hospital. Usually, the doctor will assume more opportunities than the nurse who also has special and superior opportunities as compared to the cleaner.

Thus, within a social unit, every individual has different opportunities; opportunities that act as a source of internal motivation and drive; opportunities that drives a person towards greater heights of success and social status. However, once such persons acquire the highest social status, they loose the yearning to work hard simply because the opportunities are now limited and similar to those of the companions. A student would go to school and study hard to become an engineer. On the other hand, an employee working as a cashier in a bank would not work hard to become a manager not unless he or she sees an opportunity ahead, maybe by comparing himself or herself with the current manager in terms of social status. Clearly, we can conclude that the level of motivation in a socialist society is stumpy and cannot measure up to that of the capitalist society (Cardona, Lawrence and Bentley 2004, pp. 219-230).

Free Economy

Commonly known as a capitalist economy, the free economy controls the economy of a nation in the exchange of gods and services, that is, under a liberal market. Unlike the socialist economy (controlled economy), private ownership takes center stage and employees are no longer servants of the state. Noticeably, every individual who fall in this culture has opportunities quite different from the rest. With diverse opportunities, some people will use the available opportunities to outclass ahead of other societal members. It is also important to note that in a capitalist economy, the social motives and monetary motives go hand in hand and that they are inseparable. The higher the returns, the higher someone climbs the ladder of social standings.

Indeed, this source of motivation misses out in the socialist economy. For instance, within a capitalist economy, an engineer can open up a personal firm to practice his career there. In a way, he will earn more as compared to his colleagues. It is also important note that in a capitalist setup, everybody aims to acquire more wealth and assume higher strata. Thus, whenever such intentions take by storm an individual thinking, automatically the person becomes motivated to work hard. On the other hand, an employee working in a particular firm would want to become a manager because the position attracts higher wages as compared to what he or she earns. Suppose this employee reaches the managerial level, the life of such an individual will change completely due to the higher level of income. With high levels of income, people enjoy luxuries but on the other hand, they become socially imperative (Ladbury and Verlin, 2009, pp. 187-193).

Mixed Economy

In a mixed economy, both the government and people own substantive amount of resources. Perhaps this is the reason why motivation levels tend to differ depending on the wealth of an organization. For instance, in Pakistan, the government rewards employees through promotions. Nevertheless, the promotions into the higher grade are uniform in all government ministries and agencies. However, this is not the same case in private organizations as they motivate employees differently and individually through rewards and remunerations. Additionally, in private organizations, the firm can award individuals and not the whole lot hence making other employees to work harder for the reward.


It is true motivation varies across cultures due to divergent motivational theories. This is so because every society is unique from the rest historically. In most cases, cultural factors play an imperative part in deciding the legitimacy of motivation theories across cultures. So far, the research done by Hofstede and Trompenaar have proved that factors such as power distance, religion, nature of economy, human resource management and uncertainty evasion determine motivation across cultures.


Cardona, P. Lawrence, B. and Bentley, P., 2004. The influence of social and work exchange relationships on organizational citizenship behavior. Group and Organization Management, 29, pp.219-247.

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Hofstede, G., 1980. Culture´s consequences: International differences in work-related Values. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hofstede, G., 2001. Culture’s Consequences: comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications.

Karine, S., 2009. How Culture Affects Motivation. Web.

Ladbury, J. and Verlin, B., 2009.Uncertainty Avoidance Influences Choices for Potential Gains but not Losses. Journal of CrossCultural Psychology, 28(3), pp.187-193.

Triandis, H. Bontempo, R. Villareal, M. Asai, M. and Lucca, N. 1988., Individualism and collectivism: Cross-cultural perspectives on self-in-group relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, pp.323-338.

Vadim, K., 2001. Kaizen and Japanese culture. Web.

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