July 10, 2014

Motivation Across Cultures: Same Value – Different Approach

All cultures have values which are common to the people in that culture. Many cultures have similar values so, some argue that there is no need to learn ‘Indian cultural values’ or ‘American cultural values.’ While we may not need to know that people in both of these cultures hold ‘truth’ and ‘honesty’ as a value, we may want to understand how these values are bought out in day to day life through actions, behaviors, thoughts, and words. That being said, no culture wants to deny that they have values. For instance, which culture will deny that they have ‘family values’?  

Motivation is not exclusive to Americans. People from all cultures are motivated and want to be motivated. But, how and why are different people in different cultures (or people within the same culture) motivated? Here are some simple thoughts:

Motivation in the Professional World 
Motivation is a vast topic. The source of motivation may differ from person to person. In the work environment, many believe that the level of satisfaction at work is a strong motivator. However, ‘work satisfaction’ as a motivator can mean two completely different things to two different people. Let’s analyze this: 

Two Aspects to “Work Satisfaction” as a Motivational Factor

Person #1 may define work satisfaction’ as: "Going with the status quo - getting to a particular rank / position and just being happy there. Not rocking the boat, but making it to this place, and feeling pretty good about it."
Where does his/her motivation come from? The motivation comes from predictability, tradition, and process (‘I understand my place in the hierarchy. Things don't change and I am fine with that. It motivates me.’) 

Person #2 may define ‘work satisfaction’ as: "I don't notice career development unless I can change my position - either in duties, rank, or title. I don't want to do the same thing for 20 years. I want to grow, acquire new skills, achieve more, and mature in my thoughts and career, every year. Without change in my position, I'd be bored and never motivated."
Where does his/her motivation come from? The motivation comes from change, new challenges, learning new things, innovation, creativity, among others. 

What can we learn from these scenarios? 
Both Person #1 and Person #2 have work satisfaction as a value but, they are motivated differently in their day to day life. They may appreciate each other's point of view, but may not really understand it. They may not want to live the other's idea of this value at all.

It is true that people change throughout their life. A person who once was motivated by change may may not enjoy it anymore. Whereas, the person who loves monotony may want to experience change to get something different in their lives, or just to see if they are good at something else than what they been doing for many, many years.

An Example: A Six Decade Job as a Telephone Operator
There was a story of an American woman who at the age of 80 would not stop working. What was her job? She was a telephone receptionist at a hospital. She worked there since she was 16! She did the same job all those years. She was able to find motivation in this job without a change in status for that long. 

Reflection Questions:
  • Between Person #1 or Person #2, who do you think has a personality that matches that of the telephone operator?
  • After listening to this story, how do you think Person #1 and Person #2 will react to the telephone operator’s idea of motivation?
  • If you had the job of the telephone operator, would you have felt motivated? Why or why not?
  • Does your motivational behavior match with Person #1 or Person #2. Or do you think you have a motivation behavior that is different from them?
  • What are all the things that motivate you?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

This is a simplistic way of looking at how the same value is expressed by two different people with two different mindsets (and possibly from two different cultures). There are, of course, many more ways to approach this topic. That’s why the world is made up of so many people and so many different cultures. What are your thoughts about ‘motivation’ among different groups of people and cultures? What are your thoughts about ‘work satisfaction’? How would you adjust to a job and a company whose approach to motivation is different from yours?

Author, Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director of Authentic Journeys, based in Kochi, India, helps you to realize success in your global career when there are communication and cultural barriers to overcome. Learn more about the American Culture Orientation Programs, or contact her for one on one coaching or specialized soft-skills training programs.

Chris Sufi is a freelance editor who lives in Bangalore, India. Her personal interest in language and communication inspires her to contribute through proofreading and editing. She can be contacted here.  

Motivation - The Answer to "Why do I do this?"  

Networked blogs link: http://nblo.gs/YkWqc


  1. Hm, great question and you made me think .
    As you mentioned from Person to Person it differs. So for every person it differs and may be hard to generalize.
    If you had the job of the telephone operator, would you have felt motivated? Why or why not?
    Motivation : I will define it as something that stimulates us to move forward with our life. Even if we don't have something we will think like I can achieve someday :) . And there are two things here.
    1 ) She work for her dream as a operator. If so she is never satisfied.
    2 ) The work she do is what she love. In this case she is always motivated.
    May be I am wrong also :) .
    Does your motivational behavior match with Person #1 or Person #2. Or do you think you have a motivation behavior that is different from them?
    I think my motivational factor seems different and I am not sure whether you can tag to #1 or #2 also. I love to be known by the people when you hear the name. Say eg : Linus Torvalds or RMS ;) .
    What are all the things that motivate you?
    When someone appreciate your piece of code you are writing, even after years its still appreciated ( this is really a wow feeling ), when you are able to help a person, people recognizing the hard work behind the success etc. Not remembering if there is anything else I am getting motivated ;) .

  2. Cultures don't need to be different for values to diverge. I can see divergences within one culture overlapping across nationalities and global "borders". For example, veganism can be found across cultures, uniting people of different languages/"cultures". Thus, for example, minimalist lifestyle or certain religions can unite people across cultures or break them apart within a single one culture, etc.


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