Critical Essay

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Academic essay: The key drivers of employee motivation are similar across different cultural contexts.


The paper is a critical evaluation of the statement “The key drivers of employee motivation are similar across different cultural contexts” discussing the arguments for and against the statement.

Several theories and models have attempted to define motivation. Motivation is defined as the driving force within individuals by which they attempt to achieve some goal in order to fulfill some need or expectation. It is that internal force that directs, energizes and sustains employee behaviour in the place of work.

Competitive organizations need employees that collectively work together with the main aim of achieving organization’s goals and objectives rather than leaving it just for the top management. According to Sirota and Greenwood, (1971), motivating all level employees to work and produce results is a difficult task especially when dealing with a diverse set of people from different cultures.

Motivation is the central force that causes an employee to act in a given manner. It initiates, drives, and sustains goal-oriented behaviour. The motivational driving force can either be emotional, biological, social or personal in nature.

According to Oxford English Dictionary, culture refers to the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. Culture refers to a particular group that is distinct from others. The group is a community which need not be a country only but rather includes professional groups, religious groups, corporate groups or even ethnic groups. (Brislin, 1977). 

Global working environment need to effectively motivate employees from diverse cultural backgrounds, this is achievable if adequate information is acquired by organizational managers. This paper has looked at the Hofstede’s four dimensions theory among other theories of motivation in order to critically evaluate and present concluding remarks on motivation drivers in across cultural setting. Hofstede’s research presented four dimensions which include Individualism/Collectivism, Uncertainty Avoidance, Power Distance, and Masculinity/Femininity theories.

According to Sirota and Greenwood, (1971), effective leaders employed all over the world hold common desired attributes referred to as cultural universals or practices. The cultural universals concept cuts across different cultures. The attributes include honesty, motivational and decisive. However they also presented the concept of cultural specifics where some culture emphasizes some attributes more than others. For instance emphasizing team work is seen to work well in some cultures and not others.

Cultural background greatly affects the management of a global workforce. This is because culture has complexities. Culture is multifacetedand therefore group ideas and beliefs that are visible have underlying attributes that are shared and have great effect in employee self understanding, action and even identity. Such attributes may be philosophical, religious or even personal. Culture change is slow but greatly evolving hence cultural values demonstrates significant resilience over time. It would be hard, however, to imagine a major national one, for example, that has not seen substantial evolution on any number of fronts over the last century.

According to Hays (2009) there are cultural groups based on different variables such as socioeconomic level, religion, age, ethnicity, gender, disability, sexual orientation and national origin.

There is need for the design of motivation strategies which are culturally aware in order to maintain a productive multicultural workplace. Employees from divergent cultural backgrounds brought to work together will have divergent expectations on motivation, career development, success and rewards in the workplace. The management should strive to understand this divergence in expectations as well as communicating the standard expectations in order to eliminate costly misunderstandings. They should correctly interpret the differences in cultural values and expectations as well as put in place well designed strategies that fit individual employee’s needs and values.

There are several motivation theories put across by various scholars. According to the expectancy theory, individuals must perceive that they have the necessary skills, resources and abilities in order to succeed and when they put effort and achieve the success, they are rewarded according to their desires. This theory features more on the system used in the motivation process. This theory is supported by Stewart & Bennett, (1991). According to them individuals should be compensated based on their performance levels and motivation will influence performance.

The other theory is the Abraham Maslow Needs theory. According to Maslow (1970) an individual must satisfy needs one after the other, starting from the lowest level to the highest level. The lowest level in the needs theory is the physiological needs followed by safety and security needs; social needs; self-esteem needs and finally realizing one’s full potential.

TheAttribution theorylooks at the way people assimilate different perceptions and stimuli they experience and how they eventually make generalizations or attributions about personal responsibilities, happenings, and environmental phenomena.

Lastly is the Goal Setting Theory.According to the goal setting theory, goals can be a motivating force when employees accept specific and challenging goals which feel ownership since they participated in setting. Such employees will always strive to achieve the goals; this can be improved by providing feedback on how they are progressing towards goal achievement.

According to Deci and Ryan (2000) intrinsic motivation calls for choice of behaviour freely and separate from environmental rewards or punishment. The employee should believe that he/she has the ability to achieve the goals. If the employee feels supported and not thwarted, then he/she will not experience controlling negative environment but will fell personal and societal well-being.

According to the Universalist assumption, motivation process is universal and that all people are motivated to follow the goals they value. It has been clearly demonstrated that employees throughout the world have needs similar to the ones described by the Maslow’s hierarchy of need.

One of the arguments for the subject is the need for physiological needs. Physiological needs are a crucial driving force behind human motivation. They are the most basic needs which are exceptionally essential for individual’s continued existence. They include food, water, shelter, air and sleep. This being the most fundamental needs, no individual will be motivated to seek other needs as long as the physiological needs remain unsatisfied.

There are employees whose primary motivational driver is independence. They need freedom to work independently on their projects and take full responsibility. They are not comfortable with teams. Such a drive is good for employees that work in isolation to complete a task, work at home or work in remote locations. Examples of occupations for individuals motivated by independence are freelancers, research scientist, entrepreneur, electricians and plumbers.

Secondly is the self protection need. Self protection needs comes immediately after the physiological needs have been achieved. Employees need safety and security; this includes neighborhood safety, healthcare safety, job security and security from environmental forces.

Employees whose motivational drive is safety and security need job security, safe working environment, health insurance, steady income among other fringe benefits. Examples of professionals with safety and security as a motivational driver include men of the clergy, government employees, military persons and union workers.

The third argument is on love and belonging. Love and Belonging is another driver of motivation. Oncean employee has achieved and satisfied both self protection and physical needs, they desire social needs; these need include but not limited to love, care, accepted and belonging. Human beings like other social animals are motivated to form relationships like religions, social communities, family relations and friendships which give them a sense of belonging. This therefore is a strong driving factor behind motivation.

Camaraderie is a motivation drive that is satisfied by affiliation with other employees. Such employees enjoy working in teams and find a social workplace very rewarding and motivation. Examples of common professionals motivated by camaraderie are healthcare professionals, restaurant workers, HR professional and non-profit professional. Their perception of teamwork and cooperation within workplace is not only efficient but also self fulfilling.

The need for self esteem is also one of the key driving factors for employee motivation. Employees need status and command respect within the organization. People need to feel respected and valued by others. They need to feel personal accomplishment, social recognition and personal worth. Similarly, a low self-esteem develops inferiority complex which drive the employees to stay away from things they can achieve hence forming negative motivation. Employees with self esteem as a motivational drive need praise and recognition. Examples of occupations for individuals with esteem as a motivational drive include politician, author, comedian and actor.

Lastly, employees have self-actualization needs; they will strive to achieve all they can as long as they feel that they have the required skills, resources and capacity to do it. Self-actualization needs are a therefore a good driver for motivation of employees to achieve what they desire.

Contrary to the universal concept on motivation across cultures, there are also arguments against the topic. Motivation drivers in general deemed to differ across cultures. Practices that might be highly motivating for employees in one country may not be as effective in others.

While America employees appreciates professional managers who treats them as equals, respects them and have no boss-subordinate relationship; Indian employees on the other hand have no problem with hierarchical relationships with boss-subordinate relationship.

Performance evaluation in American companies is highly formalized, legalistic and confrontational. This would be considered punitive and job threat by employees from different cultures whose performance evaluation is based on mutual agreement and are informally conducted.

Work-family balanceis a strong factor for employee motivation inindividualistic cultures as compared to collectivistic cultures. According to Yang et al. (2000) Work-family conflict is less likely in individualistic cultures since hard work is considered a factor for increasing the family well-being.

There are employees which have fairness as their motivational driving factor. Their perception of equal opportunities in the workplace is very important. Such employees need fair treatment within the organization. They are keen on their hours of work, job duties, remuneration, and other fringe benefits as compared with those of their fellow workers to ensure they are getting a fair share. Such employees get discouraged if what they get is unfair share. This motivational driving factor is very important inAsian countries as compared to other regions. Examples of employees motivated by fairness include payroll personnel, accountant and human resources personnel.

American manager’s cultivates independence among its employees they expect their employees to take independent responsibility for their careerdevelopment. On the contrary, the managers in India are expected to take full responsibility of their employee’s professional advancement.

Cultures such as non-western nations embrace collectivism where employees in organizations advocate for social obligations and needs. (Gelfand et al., 2002) Every employee in this group tends to make decision based on the community value and belief. Such employees sacrifice they needs and desired for the sake of the community. (Yu and Yang, 1994) According to Kirkman and Shapiro (2001) Collectivistic cultures are more likely to work in teams and have good relationship among team players.

According to Iyengar (1998) Organizations in collectivistic cultures must use teams to get projects done effectively and make employees feel motivated by contributing to the organization through teams.

Employees in individualistic cultures work independently for their own self-interests. (Triandis, 2002). This therefore means that motivating drive for this culture is different from the collectivistic culture.

Uncertainty avoidance is the degree to which a culture tolerates future uncertainties. Cultures with high uncertainty avoidance have low tolerance for uncertainty and attempt to plan for and predict the future. (Shackleton & Ali, 1990) such cultures with high uncertainty avoidance, strictly follow rules with stringent codes of behaviour hence high degree of formalization. According to Hofstede (1984) such communities having low uncertainty avoidance. This is a measure of risk tolerance on an unpredicted behaviour given that the environment is full of uncertainties coupled with unknown future. Examples of countries that fall in to this category include Sweden, Singapore and Denmark. Their citizens are threatened by uncertainty hence are characterized by anxiety, nervousness, high stress and aggressiveness.

Italian and French employees valued job security more than their counterparts the British and American who hold it with not as much significance.

There is a great difference in employee behaviour across the world. Japanese employees consider hazard free working environment very important. The Canadian and British companies value financial incentives as a form of employee motivation Dutch companies’ value job security and other employee benefits.

Some culture embraces the carrot and stick approach in employee motivation. Asian cultures for instance accept demotions when employee performance is below bar. The employees also take it as a challenge and work harder to breach the performance gap. This will not work in western cultures but rather cause employees to leave and seek other employment opportunities instead of working harder.

In conclusion, the document has critically evaluated the statement “The key drivers of employee motivation are similar across different cultural contexts” discussing the arguments for and against the statement. Several motivation theories have been highlighted. This includes the Goal Setting Theory, Abraham Maslow Needs theory and expectancy theory.

The paper has clearly supported the topic statement by highlighting the Universalist assumption where motivation process is deemed universal and that all across cultures have similar drivers of motivation.

There are also arguments against the topic where evidence is presented on the difference in employee behaviour across the world. The cultural difference hence calls for different drivers of motivation. Here it is clarified that motivation drivers that work in one culture may not be effective the others.

It is therefore essential to clearly understand the cultural background of employees before designing the general driver of motivation that can effectively work.


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