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Corporate Culture And Work Motivation Of Employees

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Motivating employees is vital for any organization aspiring to succeed. However, the process of motivating is not straightforward due to the assortment of individual’s needs. Research suggests that the valuable use of human capital, as against physical capital, is likely the most important determinant of organizational performance (Alder, 1991). The task has been made more complex with the fact that personalized needs have changed in recent years. For instance, in countless circumstances financial compensation is not considered as the main motivational factor of employees. As a result, it is extremely important that firms understand how to motivate their employees (human capital) to work to their full potential. It has been suggested that people from different national cultures are likely to be motivated by different factors (Boyacigiller et al, 1991; Fisher and Yuan, 1998). 

In general, not all industries have adopted innovative practices in a broader scale, despite the fact that numerous studies have proven their success due to issues such as general unawareness of their benefits or unsuitability with the current corporate culture. Therefore, corporate culture plays a significant role in providing a framework where different motivational issues can act.

Research has ignored on rudimentary cross-national differences when studying organizations (Steers and Sanchez-Runde, 2002). While much research has focused on motivation in the domestic US setting, only limited research has explicitly studied motivation in cross-national settings (Earley et al, 1999). Obtaining a more thorough understanding of the degree to which different factors motivate people in different countries is especially critical now as it becomes more common that companies operate in multiple countries and as information, people, and capital begin to flow more frequently across borders. 


In order to understand the degree to which various factors motivate employees from different countries, we first briefly discuss the national cultures of Sweden and Finland. Scholars (e.g Sondergaard, 2001; Yeh and Lawrence, 1995) have been increasingly critical of Hofstede’s (1980) framework for a number of reasons including that the data is from the late 1970s and cultures have now changed and that it is difficult to capture all of the intricacies of national culture in only four dimensions as well as replicability and psychometric properties of the dimensions. Due to shortcomings of the popular Hofstede’s (1980) framework, Trompenaara and Hampden-Turner (1997) will be used here, and applied to MNC’s employees world-wide, to assist in characterizing their national cultures and highlight some differences between them.

Generally, corporate culture can be seen as the total sum of all needed organizational activities that aim at fulfilling its purpose. It symbolizes the phrase “this is the way we do things around here”. Trampenaara (1997) defines it as “the way in which a group of people solve problems” (Trampenaara, 1997:7). According to a report made by Commissions of the European Communities, an average European individual works 1,660 hours a year and 70,000 hours in a lifetime. This means that large portion of each individual’s life is spent at work. Seeing that the workplace is transforming into a second home, employees are to a greater extent drawing their motivation from features related to their work conformity. The increasing need for employees to work well beyond their 60’s has lead to the overall worry of employee well-being. Therefore these innovative practices could be a part of an even bigger solution by contributing to the creation of a more human working environment, while at the same time offering incentives for innovation and efficient work. More so, when describing culture, one is discussing about various concepts such as values, norms and beliefs.

According to Trampenaara’s framework, they are often represented as concentric spheres comparable to the layers of an onion.

Figure 1: Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s culture model Source: (Trompenaars et al, 1997)

Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner model represents culture from its most implicit characteristic to its most explicit one. The assumption about existence is in the core of culture. This implicit aspect is based on the collective experience from which the group in a work environment organizes itself in order to deal with the environment and the different circumstances that the group has to face. The second layer consists of values and norms. Values can easily be identified as the ideals of a group. They are often written down and are the expressions of “good” and “bad”. The norms express what is “right” and “wrong” through formal or informal aspects such as law or social control. These norms and values dictate people’s behaviours within a group (work environment). Hence, cultural stability is based on the cohesiveness between the norms and the values in a group. The latter layer is the explicit product of the culture such as language, food, monuments and symbols, art, fashion and so on (Trompenaars et al, 1997).

According to Donald Munro, “culture can also affect motivation at lower physical levels, in that cultures produce artefacts and alter the environment in such a way that other mental processes that serve motivational states are also affected” (Munro et al 1997). Therefore, corporate culture provides two implications to motivation: it limits its existence and it also provides a framework where to alleviate it.

In general, corporate culture is determined by three characteristics related to the organizational structure (Trompenaars et al, 1997):

Table 1: Characteristics

• The general relationship between employee and organization.

• The authority system which defines managers and subordinates by a vertical or hierarchical system.

• The employees’ opinions about their place in the organization’s future, purpose and goals.

Source: (Trompenaars et al, 1997)

Companies with strong corporate culture are more able to improve their performances by committing members of the organization in a stronger way. Thus, corporate culture highlights values, beliefs and behaviour that should be followed by the employees. Despite this it is up to the employees to decide whether to follow them or not. However, cultural considerations work the other way as well. Employees have an impact on the organization by bringing with them their own beliefs and values (Lok and Crawford, 2004). Hence, their level of commitment will depend on these individual factors. If employees adopt the values and beliefs that the corporate culture stands for, the result will be a high level of commitment and cohesion. On the contrary, if personal values and beliefs do not fit with the corporate culture, the gap can impact negatively on the employees. Obviously, the optimal result is achieved when the organization’s culture and the employee’s beliefs and values match.

Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner have identified four (4) others different kinds of organizational cultures (Trompenaars et al, 1997) which are;

Eiffel Tower culture: A strong and rational hierarchy characterizes where the role, which is strictly defined, is more important than the personality of the managers. Personal relationships are avoided in this kind of organizational culture because it can impact on the evaluation of the employees. Motivation and commitment of the employees are based on their role in the company and the rules that govern it.

Guided Missile culture: Based on equality and task-orientation. It relates to other tasks in a bigger process to reach the goals. This culture is widespread in project orientation. This culture implies more loyalty towards professions and projects than organizations because individuals’ can change companies in order to be hired on a new project requiring their competences. Then, the motivation is intrinsic to people as well projects and can also be implemented by current pay-for-performance practices regarding to the reached objectives.

Family: culture is characterized by strong relationships among people, which is mostly the case in this organization. The individuals are close to each other and have developed personal relationships like friendship.

Incubator culture: Self-oriented and highly individualistic and egalitarian. The organization serves the fulfillment of the individual. Motivation is intrinsic to people and intense.

Figure 1: Diagrammatic representation Trompenaars’ Four Diversity Cultures

Source: (Trompenaars et al, 1997)

Depending on the country these diverse cultures can be more or less present and their influence can vary as well. In general, the more attractive the corporate culture is seen by the employees, the more committed they are towards it. Therefore, corporate culture influences motivation of the employees. An attractive corporate culture must be real in the structure and behavior within the organization and not only in the words, which promote ‘pleasant’ values. Reason for this being that, people can easily perceive the differences between claimed corporate culture and the reality itself. If motivated employees perceive that the culture promoted is not genuine they will lose their motivation and feel “betrayed and disrespected” (Earle, H.A., 2003). A consequence from this kind of activity can be that employees resign from their jobs. The impact of culture on motivation can also be seen in its capacity to have continuously challenging, productive and dynamic environment. The level of innovation and creativity has to be enduring in order to keep employees alert and motivated (Trompenaars et al, 1997).

Most of the cultures that Trompenaars describes rarely ever exist in a pure form; they are more often in a combination, with one type dominating the relationship. One type of culture is more common in one country than the other. The figure below explains what type of culture dominates in what country.

Figure 2 – National Patterns of Corporate Culture & Corporate Image

Source :(Trompenaars et al, 1997:179)

In order to have a more global view on the matter, six nations were placed on the figure (above). The figure shows how each nation differs in respect to the dominating corporate culture. This implies that individuals in each country relate differently, have different outlooks of authority, reflect, learn and change in various manners and that they are motivated by different rewards (Trompenaars et al, 1997).

Thus, managers have a crucial responsibility in locating subordinate’s motivational factors and implementing them into corporate culture. There exist various motivational factors, which can be implemented into corporate culture in order to motivate employees.


One of the most well known scholars in motivational issues is Abraham Maslow; the reason for this is its universal reputation. He believes that every individual has various needs that have to be satisfied. The hierarchy of needs as the Maslow’s theory is called consists of five different levels. If those levels are recognized for example in an employee, a manager can distinguish what kind of concepts may be used as motivational factors. Corporate culture itself has a significant role in providing a framework where motivational factors operate. Besides motivation, corporate culture facilitates such crucial aspects of organizational life as unity among employees and overall wellbeing.

3.1 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory

Maslow’s theory is rooted in the Western traditions, since it steer action that is driven by self-interests. It takes into consideration how individuals satisfy different needs in their work environment. Maslow argued that there is a broad outline of needs, appreciation and satisfaction that individuals follow, in a more or less similar pattern. The theory also presupposes that a person cannot pursue the next need in the hierarchy, before the current one is satisfied. The hierarchical theory is presented in the figure three below.

Figure 3: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

It is frequently demonstrated as a pyramid with the “lower” needs at the bottom. When climbing up towards the peak of the pyramid, one gets closer to the self-actualization needs. Occasionally managers have used Maslow’s pyramid as a sort of a guideline. The reason for this is that employees often find it difficult to express what they want from a job. One can relate Maslow’s theory to traditional and innovative motivational practices so that the higher one goes up in the pyramid the closer he/she gets to the innovative practices. Physiological and safety elements are more directly linked to basic issues such as having a job and getting financial compensation in return for the services provided at work. In contrast, self-esteem and self-actualization are more related to work environment and the job itself.


From the above study and research, I concluded that the fact that the corporate cultures are a mix of cultures explains the use of a motivational theory and this study’s results shows that national culture plays a significant role in knowing the conditions for motivating people. It is inspiring that largely opposite factors do the best job at motivating the Swedish and Finish employees. The findings speak to the importance of using extreme caution when transplanting the many western-developed motivation theories, and in fact management theories in general, to other national contexts. Corporate culture that exists in both countries is moderately similar. Both have a mixture of task and person oriented cultures.

Culture affects task-orientated or person-orientated corporate culture. Person-oriented culture emphasizes the use of innovative motivational practices, with the aim of developing individuals and their work. These innovative practices result mostly in a high amount of freedom and entrepreneurship spirit that facilitate innovation and creativity- Maslow’s theory. The task-oriented culture promotes the use of traditional motivational tools.

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