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3 Strong Motivators In Cross-cultural Workplace

1 of 4 people in Australia are born overseas. It’s becoming increasingly important to understand how working styles differ for workers from different cultures.

However, although we come from different cultures, deep down we are all the same. We all work on creating value for ourselves or others, and we all want to have control over our lives. Research shows people across the world are all motivated by Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. In this article, we will have a look at these motivators and think about how we can motivate our staff better.


Definition: The right or condition of self-government. 

Autonomy motivates individuals to think creatively and take on more responsibilities without needing to conform to strict workplace rules. It’s traditionally been thought to connect to independence and hence to reflect assumptions of individualism, especially in the western world, but autonomy is not as same as individualism.

In Hofstede’s cultural dimension model, highly individualistic people value their time, privacy, and freedom. They normally enjoy challenges and expect individual rewards for hard work. Low individualistic people, or collectivistic people, emphasize wisdom and harmony among group members. They tend to put group/team honor first. 

*Comparison between Australia and South Korea under Hofstede’s cultural dimensions.


At the workplace, employers set goals to motivate individuals’ autonomy. Although under a cross-cultural scenario, we must consider the attitude differences of employees. For employees from collectivistic backgrounds such as Korea, China, Brazil, and India, supporting them to achieve individual goals and providing opportunities for their individual development might not be appreciated. Because collectivistic workers tend to have better performance when they focus on the group’s needs, contribute to the group to achieve its goal, and make decisions with teammates. 

Individualistic countries, such as United States, Australia, United Kingdom, and Netherlands are more driven when their individual goals and needs are prioritized.


Definition: A comprehensive knowledge, accomplishment or skill in a subject.

Research shows that mastery is universally accepted across all cultures. Because learning skills and getting better is ingrained in our genetic makeup. It’s a desire to improve. Moreover, people from all cultures believe receiving mastery-oriented feedback is a way to get better. Culture plays an important role in how we say and how people interpret feedback.

There are two types of communication styles, indirect and direct.

Direct communicators (United States, Australia, and most European countries) are typically straight to the point, open to confronting issues and willing to engage in conflict if necessary. 

Indirect communicators (Japan, South Korea, China, and many Latin American countries) focus on how something is said more than what is said and avoid difficult or potentially embarrassing situations. They avoid conflict whenever possible, express opinions and concerns diplomatically, and count on the listener to interpret the meaning of what is said.

When you are giving feedback to direct-communicating employees, be straight to the point. Slipping a critique into some compliments can only confuse them and they would probably miss the critique even though it’s your main point. 

To indirect-communicating employees, remember what you should never do: give them negative feedback in public. For example, you are experiencing a problem with a Korean employee. So, you bring it up in a team meeting as a team problem. Reclaim the team goal and explain why the team should overcome the problem. The Korean employee will recognize and realize that the feedback applies to them. Another example, you want to give feedback on an article. Instead of giving feedback while the employee sits in front of you. Leave notes on the article! If you must address the problem in person, make sure the conversation is in a private space, and be respectful.


Definition: It is the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

There are two types of people. No matter what cultural backgrounds they have, there are people who believe the organizational purpose is the most important motivator, and there are people who think it’s the least important motivator. Now we are looking at how organizations differ in different cultures.

Cultures such as Australia, Canada, and Kenya prefer flexibility over stability. Maintaining a business’s core value while adapting to a rapidly changing market requires a strong sense of purpose which allows employees to adapt to the changes within the organization. Leaders under this culture need to spend sufficient time helping employees remain focused on organizational purposes. For instance, it can take place in monthly interviews, informal chats, in-office events, or motivational posters and emails. 

But we need to keep in mind, that some employees who prefer stability may need some time to adapt to flexible work culture. In their experience, major changes and adjustments to businesses are rare. They focus on their day-to-day tasks instead of the bigger picture.


Oxford’s English dictionaries- autonomy, mastery, purpose.

Collectivist work culture: a definitive guide. Indeed. 15 Dec 2021

Individualism. Clearly Cultural.

Autonomy in moral and political philosophy. Christman, John. The Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. 2020

Motivating workers across cultures. InternationalHub.

Communication styles. Nacel Open Door. Jane Cook. 27 Mar 2017.