Motivating a Multinational Workforce

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Globalization has encouraged companies to expand to international jurisdictions. Expanding to other countries has introduced them to multinational employees, thus creating the challenge of keeping a diverse group of employees motivated. Multinational workers have a diverse culture. Hence, managers should learn and adopt mechanisms that can motivate them, despite the cultural differences. Various motivation theories have been developed to help managers to initiate the right motivation techniques. Nonetheless, most of these motivation concepts do not apply to the global platform. Apart from understanding the existing motivation theories, the discussion in this paper asserts that multinational company (MNC) managers should embrace cultural diversity and interlace it with organizational goals for them to motivate their workers successfully.


The world is quickly transforming into a global society that is characterized by increased international trade. The prominence of international trade has encouraged most companies to expand into global markets. Going international often has an impact on workforce management. Managing multinational firms is different from dealing with a local firm. This difference is even evident in the operations of the human resource (HR) departments that deal with multinational employees. Since multinational companies have employees who are drawn from different backgrounds, the company has to learn to deal with cross-cultural differences and keep the workers motivated. However, most multinational firm managers find it challenging to adopt the right motivation techniques that can incorporate the global workforce. Several theories have been developed to help managers to comprehend how they can motivate their employees. Whether the existing theories apply to multinational firm managers is debatable. This paper critically analyzes how a manager in a multinational company can motivate an international labor force by considering the existing doctrines and other techniques.

Literature Review

Description of Motivation

To maintain a competitive advantage over other rivals in the global market, managers need to ensure that their multinational companies can ensure that the employees utilize their full potential. According to Horwitz (2011), motivation plays a key role in encouraging workers to improve their productivity. The Microsoft Company has maintained its profitability due to proper employee motivation.

A motive refers to an element that encourages an individual to behave in a particular way. On the other hand, motivation refers to the forces that drive a person to accomplish certain desires. The degree of desire will influence the number of rewards that will persuade a worker. Commentators such as Childs and Donovan (2012) consider motivation the only applicable factor that can be adapted to tap the input of many employees. Motivation has three components, namely the inner force, the force that triggers an action, and force charts that define the roadmap for action. Some scholars such as Horwitz (2011) assert that motivation entails the decision-making process within a worker. Motivators refer to the things that trigger, direct, and maintain an improved performance (Childs & Donovan, 2012).

To explain why some workers remain motivated while others feel discontented, observers such as Childs and Donovan (2012) have confirmed how these motivation levels oscillate among individuals. Moreover, they present the huge change that has been observed in terms of how people view work. The state has increasingly provided social support to its citizens as a way of motivating them towards work as they achieve most of their desires.

Several US scholars such as Leighton (2012) developed most of the motivation tenets. America had a strong industrial base that enabled it to satisfy its citizens’ basic needs. Thus, while workers from other parts of the world were committed to being productive, American workers adopted a negative attitude towards work. American workers advocated for fewer tasks and more reimbursement. Moreover, employers paid little attention to the welfare, safety, and health of employees, thus exacerbating employee dissatisfaction (Horwitz, 2011). Indeed, such a working environment led to one result: reduced profitability. Therefore, managers must learn how to keep their workforce motivated whether it is a domestic firm or an international company. Various theories have been developed to help managers to motivate and comprehend the needs of their employees. The theories are discussed in the subsequent paragraphs.

Motivation Theories

Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow shows how human beings have various desires that can be fulfilled in a hierarchal manner based on their urgency. Maslow has devised a hierarchy of needs where the elements that lie at the bottom of the system have to be accomplished first before achieving the others. According to Maslow, humans have five basic needs, which comprise physiological, safety, collective, admiration, and eventually, self-actualization desires. He shows how the rate of worker motivation highly depends on the ability of the job to provide some of the higher-order needs. Essentially, the magnitude of one’s ambitions has a proximate link to the hierarchy of needs. An individual’s attitude will also influence the roadmap that he or she takes to accomplish his or her ambitions (Adler & Gundersen, 2007).

Maslow’s tenet on motivation was drawn from his observation of the American workforce. Thus, his model makes it easy for a manager who deals with the American workforce to motivate his or her employees by utilizing the doctrines that accompany the model. However, whether this theory is applicable in other jurisdictions is debatable. Other scholars such as Hofstede have claimed that the hierarchy is not consistent with how other countries rank their basic needs. For example, countries with superior uncertainty avoidance often prioritize security above other needs such as self-actualization (Pulasinghage, 2010). Hence, employees in such countries will be motivated to work for a firm that assures them of job security, rather than an interesting career. Moreover, residents of communalist states value the satisfaction of social needs more than esteem and self-actualization. Considering the variations in terms of how people prioritize needs across the world, the total application of Maslow’s theory that is based on the American lifestyle is likely to fail (Sinha &Trivedi, 2014).

Thus, MNC managers must be in a position to understand the cross-cultural differences with respect to the hierarchy of needs. While some societies have individualistic tendencies, some are communalistic. Hence, they will be more interested in what benefits society. Most developing countries and particularly those in Africa often prioritize communal interest over individual interest. Hence, MNC managers should be cautious to note that employees from the African regions will not be motivated by jobs that increase their esteem, but rather those that promise to satisfy their social needs. As Gheorghe (2014) observes, while human needs are universal, their hierarchies differ.

McClelland’s Three-Motive Theory

Another scholar, namely David McClelland, observed three main types of motives that include accomplishment, preeminence, and affiliation. While examining the applicability of McClelland in a universal platform, researchers confirm that not all countries value the achievement, supremacy, and relationship above other factors. For example, Canada, Britain, and the US value follow McClelland’s pattern while other countries such as Chile and Portugal do not respect the pattern. Hence, a manager who recruits employees from different parts of the world may err in his or her attempt to motivate employees if he or she follows McClelland’s pattern (Horwitz, 2011).

Two-Factor Motivation Theory

Frederick Herzberg’s two-factor concept, which is also known as motivation-hygiene theory, gives priority to the sources of inspiration that are often relevant to completing a task. After conducting a study on engineers and accountants from disparate firms, Herzberg claimed that job contentment and discontentment were triggered by two factors, namely motivation, and hygiene (Sadri & Bowen, 2011). The use of the word hygiene was meant to refer to the factors that eliminate hazards in the workplace such as supervision, salary status, and firms’ policies among others. Hygiene factors act as dissatisfiers while motivating factors act as satisfiers. Motivating factors comprise success, recognition, the nature of work, and responsibility. Hygiene factors cannot encourage workers to remain committed to their jobs. Instead, they only cause a negative impact with respect to motivation. Herzberg presents success as a motivating element that encourages workers to remain motivated in their jobs (Adler & Gundersen, 2007).

Furthermore, Herzberg observes two categories of individuals. One category comprises hygiene seekers while the other consists of motivation seekers. Hygiene seekers include workers who remain motivated if they receive lucrative compensation for the tasks they perform. However, the satisfaction of hygiene seekers’ desires cannot keep the workers motivated. It only limits job discontentment. Motivation seekers get motivated by the work they do. In other words, these people have a connection with Maslow’s self-actualization need (Lester, 2013).

Although the two-factor theory originated from the US, Adler and Gundersen (2007) claim that it is applicable in various states. Nonetheless, culture also affects how people get inspired or discouraged. Thus, the universality of the motivation-hygiene concept is not absolute. Issues that are considered motivators in some regions are demoralizing in other areas. Therefore, managers of international companies have a duty to study the environment they seek to establish branches of their companies so that they can understand the motivation technique that resonates with their workers in a given jurisdiction. The assumption that certain motivational factors are transferable without proper research can result in a demoralized workforce, and hence the essence of studying the cross-cultural differences (Adler & Gundersen, 2007).

Expectancy Theory

The expectancy theory holds that individuals are inspired to perform certain tasks following their expectations that such tasks will lead to particular outcomes. People compute the benefit of doing a given task. The degree of benefit determines their motivation. This theory is applicable where an individual has control of the outcome. He or she can predict the results. Managers who uphold this presumption recognize these desired results. Similarly, as Mirabela and Madela (2013) confirm, to other theories, the preferred outcomes vary according to culture and individual interest.

Goal-setting Theory

While most theories have been considered inapplicable in the global platform, Dishman (2010) asserts that this concept is pertinent to most workers across the world. Despite the cross-cultural differences and varying wants, global workers want to work in a firm that can them help achieve their goals and objectives. According to Dishman (2010), workers become more motivated when they have an exigent but attainable target. Achieving a target ignites a feeling of satisfaction and individual growth. The feeling increases enthusiasm and the performance level. Further studies have indicated a close link between response and enthusiasm (Childs & Donovan, 2012). When people are informed of what is expected from them and/or how they are progressing towards attaining the set goal, they become more motivated to accomplish the goal. The goal-setting theory admits that a reward system may diverge according to cultural differences (Childs & Donovan, 2012).

Cultural Diversity and Multinational Companies

It is evident that the application of the aforementioned theories faces a common challenge because of cultural differences. Indeed, MNC managers find it difficult to control diverse employees because of the different responses concerning what the company may consider encouraging to them. Thus, it is imperative for managers to learn how to deal with the situation by harmonizing the disparate national cultures. If a manager has utilized all steps to treat employees who do not seem to change employees’ negative attitudes towards a certain issue, the manager should notice that his or her way of motivating workers is wrong (Bender, 2013).

Culture has various definitions. However, it can be presented as an intricate multi-level construct that is developed after a prolonged period. It comprises people who share similar attitudes, mannerisms, and ideologies. National culture refers to the ideals and traditions that unite the people of a given state. The growth of international trade has made cross-cultural differences among nations an issue of great significance (Adler & Gundersen, 2007).

Hofstede’s study on cultural dimensions and individual values of people from different nations is of great significance for managers who seek to effectively motivate their international workers. Hofstede developed four cultural dimensions from the feedback he received from the IBM employees across the world. The four cultural dimensions comprised power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism-collectivism and masculinity-femininity aspects (Pressentin, 2015).

According to Bender (2013), power distance refers to how people of different cultures accept authority. Individuals from countries that have a high power distance are willing to work under authority. The second cultural dimension, namely uncertainty avoidance, refers to how a community is capable of handling tentative situations. Communities that have a high degree of uncertainty avoidance are normally edgy. Thus, they strive to create laws that can protect workers, for instance, their job security. Individualistic culture comprises a society where people value their personal and familial interests above those of the general society. On the other hand, a collectivistic culture encourages the valuing of interest of the entire society. Under the masculinity-femininity concept, a masculine society values certainty. It is also money-oriented unlike a feminine society that prioritizes taking care of other society members. Furthermore, another long-term orientation cultural dimension examines people’s mindset towards reputation and prejudice.

Hofstede remains one of the most studied scholars of global business. For example, some observers such as Gheorghe (2014) say that he fails to note that a nation can be made up of different cultures. Moreover, since his participants are drawn from a single institution, Hofstede’s observations are only unique to that particular firm. Moreover, this study was conducted more than three decades ago. Thus, it does not reflect the changes that have occurred in society in the recent years. Furthermore, since Hofstede was a Dutch scholar, his interpretation could have been overshadowed by Western doctrines.

Cultural diversity can become an obstruction for a multinational company because its multi-cultured employees may be inspired by contrasting incentives. Lack of skills to motivate employees who demand contrasting incentives may have a detrimental impact on a firm. Indeed, organizational success is dependent on its labor force; irrespective of where a firm is located. Although a company may be committed to promoting its values, it should be flexible to acclimatize to the domestic business atmosphere. Doing so helps an international firm to comprehend some of the mechanisms through which it can motivate its workers for improved productivity.

MNC managers have always opted to adjust to the domestic laws of their host countries, rather than striving to understand the cultural setup. The situation has made most companies fail when they launch branches in other countries. Therefore, a manager must attempt to understand the national culture of the countries. Various reasons have been established to explain why international businesses should strive to harmonize their HR values with the national culture of their respective host countries. First, culture influences people’s mannerisms. It also determines how they interpret various values. By harmonizing a firm’s HR practices and the national culture, a company is well placed to introduce incentives that can effectively motivate workers.

Higher salaries have been reported to be one of the mechanisms that can universally motivate workers to utilize their full potential. Money induces a feeling of security and achievement. Contemporary researchers such as Gheorghe (2014) have overruled claims by some scholars that lucrative compensation does not encourage employees to remain motivated. Although some of them are money-oriented, money still motivates workers since low pay will result in a demoralized working environment. Moreover, MNCs should set goals that they expect the workers to achieve. Mission statements, vision, and slogans can keep workers motivated since they know that they are working towards accomplishing a specific goal or mission. In turn, they will receive a good reimbursement (Gheorghe, 2014).

Chang (2011) confirms how motivational factors can be applied universally. Hence, international firm managers can strive to introduce other motivational aspects that blend with the host country’s business atmosphere. Moreover, a manager must learn to embrace cultural diversity by creating laws and regulations that can accommodate various cross-cultural practices (Kaasa, Vadi & Varblane, 2014). Leadership skills are also essential in motivating multinational workers. A manager should understand the individual needs of the employees. He or she should try to unite them with the goals and mission of the company. Transformative leadership and emotional intelligence may help a manager to understand employees’ personal needs so that he or she can satisfy them without even considering the cultural dimension. Irrespective of the motivation theory that a manager applies, good leadership remains a key ingredient for a successful motivation plan (Leighton, 2012).


Organizational success is intertwined with human resource productivity. To ensure that workers utilize their potential, managers must ensure that they (employees) are motivated. Various theories have been put across to explain how managers can ensure that their workers remain enthusiastic about their jobs. However, most of these theories were developed in the Western world. Thus, they only provide solutions in situations that include domestic companies. On the other hand, MNCs have found it challenging to motivate their workers because of cultural diversity. To overcome the challenge, managers need to harmonize the national cultures of the host countries with their companies’ goals. Moreover, firms should also implement motivation techniques that are universal in nature before utilizing motivation techniques.

Reference List

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Chang, A. (2011). Motivating Blue-Collar Employees: A Case Study of the Chinese Workforce. Journal of Asia-Pacific Business, 12(1), 69-85.

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Dishman, K. (2010). Dose relations between goal setting, theory-based correlates of goal setting and increases in physical activity during a workplace trial. Health Education Research, 25(4), 620-31.

Gheorghe, G. (2014). Approaches of the Employees’ Values from the Cultural Models’ Perspective. Economic Insights – Trends & Challenges, 66(3), 109-118.

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Mirabela, M., & Madela, A. (2013). Cultural Dimensions and Work Motivation In The European Union. Annals of the University of Oradea, Economic Science Series, 22(1), 1511-1519.

Pressentin, M. (2015). Universal Leadership Approaches & Cultural Dimensions: The Expression of Asian Leadership Traits. Amity Global Business Review, 10(1), 19-38.

Pulasinghage, C. (2010). Employee Motivation: What Factors Motivate Employees to Work in Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO) in Sri Lanka: A Study According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Model. International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, 5(4), 197-211.

Sadri, G., & Bowen, C. (2011). Meeting EMPLOYEE requirements: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still a reliable guide to motivating staff. Industrial Engineer: IE, 43(10), 44-48.

Sinha, K., & Trivedi, S. (2014). Employee Engagement with Special Reference to Herzberg Two Factor and LMX Theories: A Study of I.T Sector. SIES Journal of Management, 10(1), 22-35.

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