Fostering Motivation in the Global Workplace

Categories: Diversity & Inclusion, Global Teams

A senior executive at a large global corporation, Maria, struggles to motivate employees in Taipei during training sessions. Maria uses a variety of tactics to motivate employees during training periods, and those ongoing initiatives are largely the same through her branch of the corporation, which employs workers from six different countries and offers financial bonuses for completing training seminars. Maria tends to avoid group and competition-based motivators because her approach to those strategies failed her when she trained employees in Istanbul a few years earlier.

Should Maria try competition-based techniques to motivate her employees in Taipei, even though those strategies were previously ineffective in Istanbul? Could the strategies necessary to motivate employees as they learn actually differ that greatly from Taiwan to Turkey?

It’s clear that the best motivational strategies vary depending on the cultural background of the workforce. For example, in Taiwan, group incentives are often effective motivational strategies. Family orientation is highly valued, and leaders and managers are expected to act as parental figures in the workplace, establishing guidelines and making everyone feel safe and secure.

In Turkey, there is a similar sentiment: There’s a strong commitment between leaders and employees. Employers are expected to care for their employees and offer security. There’s a paradigm that the workplace should be a home away from home. However, although Turkish society is group oriented, group incentives in the workplace should be carefully monitored because intense rivalry is common between groups.

In addition to examining cross-cultural differences in learning motivation, it’s crucial to recognize that motivation is personal — and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to motivating learners, even among culturally similar groups. Motivation is highly complex, and many factors can affect motivation levels.

employee satisfaction rose 37% when investing in employee support

Managers should place a priority on fostering motivation in professional development programs and training sessions because work satisfaction has a positive effect on productivity. People who are satisfied with their jobs are more motivated to want to learn and to complete their best work. For example, new research at Google confirms that greater employee happiness results in higher productivity without sacrificing quality of work. In fact, employee satisfaction rose by 37% as a result of investing in employee support.

What Exactly Is Motivation?

We all understand the concept of motivation. We know what it feels like to be motivated, just as we know how it feels to be discouraged or deterred from completing our best work. Employee motivation is the extent to which employees commit to something or someone in their organization, how hard they work, and how long they stay as a result of that commitment.1 Motivation is the reason you act a certain way — it’s a general desire to do something, but where does motivation come from?

What Are the Components of Motivation?

A person must feel complete apathy toward and passionate about learning in order to realize motivation. There are three required components to motivation:

  1. The learner should have a sense of competence. Competence is the ability to do something completely or efficiently, and it includes both capability and resources. A person must have a sense of competence in order to be motivated. In a business setting, employees must believe they have the knowledge and skills necessary to learn the topic at hand, as well as the resources required to supplement their learning.
  1. There should be connection between the learner and the material. Relatedness refers to the learner’s need to find relevancy in the material they’re learning.
  1. The learner should have control of their learning. Learners appreciate having control over their own choice to learn. If they feel like they’re being forced into learning something — or that they have no control over their own learning — they’re less likely to enjoy the process. If a learner feels competent to learn, but they don’t have any control over the situation, they will seek a reinforcement or external motivator to complete the task. However, in some cultures, learners appreciate structured, formalized training activities identified and provided for them. Therefore, it is important to provide the right balance dependent upon the region’s cultural implications.

Intrinsic Motivation Relies on an Innate Drive

training using intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation comes from within and includes a passion for the subject. People who are intrinsically motived to explore a topic naturally see its relevance in their world. Mastering the topic would be a great personal accomplishment to them. Learners who are intrinsically motivated care about the topic, genuinely want to learn more about it and naturally feel good when they succeed at the task.

For example, if an employee in Taipei is intrinsically motivated to complete a training session on conflict resolution in groups, he or she won’t need an external reward to sign up for the training and engage with the learning materials. He or she will innately believe in the value of the training session and will genuinely want to complete it for no reason other than a self-desire to learn the information.

The advantages of intrinsic motivation include:

The disadvantages of intrinsic motivation include:

Extrinsic Motivation Relies on External Rewards

training using extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual. It is driven by external rewards such as financial gain or praise. Instead of completing a task or learning about a topic because of a personal interest or an innate yearning, a person who is extrinsically motivated will work hard because they want to earn a promotion or they’re seeking praise from a manager. For example, an employee might sign up for a training seminar because he or she believes it will help them be recognized for a promotion.

The advantages of extrinsic motivation include:

The disadvantages of extrinsic motivation include:

Can Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators Work in Tandem?

Everyone is intrinsically and extrinsically motivated. A mixture of internal and external factors, which largely depend on personality and self-concept, motivates human beings. Every behavior has an underlying cause. Understanding the cause of behaviors is vital to changing or improving outcomes.

Take the example of Maria as she struggles to motivate employees in Taiwan. If she’s only considering the problem on the surface — a lack of motivation during training sessions — she can’t begin to understand what isn’t working. Taking a closer look, though, she might find that her employees intrinsically crave more collaboration among team members. A financial bonus for completing the training probably isn’t the best approach in this situation.

Instead, Maria could offer more group incentives, which would require collaboration among team members and satisfy her employees’ intrinsic desire to collaborate during training. She could also experiment with offering a different extrinsic motivator, such as a chance to travel abroad for training, as an incentive.

There is evidence that shows extrinsic rewards negatively affect intrinsic motivation. In a series of experiments by psychologist Edward Deci, he separated two groups of students and had each group work on a puzzle. In one group, students were paid for each puzzle they completed. In the other group, they were not paid to complete the puzzles.

The group that was paid to solve the puzzles stopped working on the puzzles when the experiment ended, but the students who weren’t paid continued to solve the puzzles after it was finished. The group that wasn’t paid became intrinsically motivated to complete the puzzles because they found them fun or interesting. Deci deduced that the paid group might have eventually found the puzzles interesting, but the reward overshadowed a possible intrinsic motivation that never had the opportunity to surface.

If you’re interested in learning more about how learners are motivated and the best ways to foster motivation in the global workplace, it’s necessary to examine what you’re doing wrong — and how to improve your strategies.

The Most Effective Ways to Motivate Employees in Training Programs

Many training managers today spend too much time creating reward strategies that they believe will motivate learners. The reality, however, is that offering too many external rewards comes with consequences, and it’s crucial to be aware of those potential consequences as a training manager. External rewards can be effective in fostering motivation in professional development programs, but they should be used with caution. Using rewards can establish unrealistic expectations, as well as place value on the reward instead of the learning itself.

Here are a few tips for motivating learners in training programs:

discover your intention with motivating

focus on the participants when motivating employees

Your intention may be to deliver a mandatory training about compliance, but be sure to look beyond the surface and uncover how employees can discover value in it. Aim to empower them to feel confident in their knowledge of compliant behavior, as well give them the autonomy to use it. Show them you’re on their side — that you’re in it with them and that the training is all about them and their learning, not only about providing a benefit to the company. If you connect business results with a benefit to the people in your training group and make it relevant to them, you’re more likely to see positive results.

use humor when motivating employees in training

build a community when motivating employees

Fostering motivation in professional development programs and addressing cross-cultural differences in learning motivation must consider the environment in which the learning is taking place. Virtual training sessions come with unique challenges that differ from traditional face-to-face settings.

Adapting Your Approach for Virtual, Instructor-Led Training

Cross-cultural differences in online learning motivation should be addressed to adequately support online groups in global companies. While many of the motivational strategies will be the same as in face-to-face situations, virtual global training settings come with unique challenges. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

utilize technology when motivating employees during training

Learn More About Fostering Motivation with Aperian Global

learn more about fostering motivation with Aperian Global

We offer a variety of tools to enhance virtual collaboration and help you foster motivation in the global workplace. We offer specific facilitated programs for teams, including the following:


1 Corporate Leadership Council Managing for High Performance and Retention: An Overview of Key Drivers of Employee Engagement (2011)