Study examines cultural differences in workplace motivation

There have been no shortages of studies aiming to shed light on what motivates us and inspires great performance in the workplace.  A recent international study joins a crowded field and uses behavioral theory to attempt to shed some new light on the topic.

The research is interesting as it highlights some of the differences in workplaces around the world, and in particular between Western and Asian workplaces.  As such, it’s a nice addition to the post I made recently at LSE Business Review.

The study found that things such as competitive attitudes and speedy working do little to improve motivation in Western workplaces, but they appear to be strong motivators in Asian offices.

Regional differences

The study spoke to over 4,000 workers from eight countries spread evenly between east and west.  The conversation combined established behavioral theory with a number of new factors that were deigned to be most relevant to Asian workplaces, such as a willingness to serve, competitive attitude, and speed of work, to understand the key drivers of workplace performance.

The analysis found that these three factors were hugely important in Asian workplaces, and explained a large part of workplace performance.  Indeed, the three factors were enough to explain 90% of performance in the so called ‘Confucian Orbit’ of Japan, China and Korea.

They were much less important in Western workplaces though, with performance in the UK, US and Germany influenced by around 20-30% by the triumvirate.

“There are many factors that explain the motivation of workers to perform their roles, and overall workplace performance and competition. Why these drivers do not strongly explain Western workplaces could be cultural or historical, particularly as these countries are firmly established markets,” the authors say.

Growth versus competitiveness

The study sheds an interesting perspective onto the apparent anomaly between the strong economic growth experienced by Asian countries and their relatively low ranking in competitiveness indexes.

“Asian countries such as China, India and Korea have experienced economic growth and development over the past few decades beyond that of Western economies and yet, global rankings of economic indicators rank them behind Western economies,” the authors say.

“These findings have implications on both the micro level, informing workforce performance, recruitment and management, to the macro-level on the best location for business, outsourcing and the economic performance of countries into the future.”


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