Are Japanese people motivated by different factors than Western people?

Some insights from Attuned’s data

Based on organizational psychology, Attuned scientifically measures people’s motivators and visualizes employee engagement.

Daniel Bodonyi, people analytics expert and founding father of Attuned, analyzed and compared Attuned’s data from Europe, North America and Japan. Daniel, who is consulting several companies and NPOs, is also a lecturer at the International Business School in Budapest, where he is the faculty lead of the school’s HR analytics program.

What unexpected answers regarding Japanese values did he get from Attuned’s data? Also, how can teams and organizations leverage Attuned to improve management?

Daniel Bodonyi

What was your purpose in comparing Japan with other countries?

Daniel: I used to live in Tokyo a few years ago and back then I also got the chance to interact with Japanese clients. I had the impression that, compared to Western countries, Japanese businesses have rather unique ways of communicating, reaching consent and working in general.

Attuned categorizes factors that influence your motivation at work into 11 motivators and quantifies as well as scores one individual’s motivators from high to low. Concretely, Attuned’s 11 motivators are: Altruism, Autonomy, Competition, Feedback, Financial Needs, Innovation, Progress, Rationality, Security, Social Relationships and Status. In other words, these are our core values regarding work.

My hypothesis in the beginning was that in a country like Japan with all its unique customs and traditions, work values must also differ compared to other countries.

So what did you see from the actual results?

Daniel: After analyzing and comparing the results of over 37,000 data points from the US, Europe and Japan, it became clear that overall, Japanese work values are extremely similar to other countries’ values. There are only a couple of differences: for example, Japanese tend to take other people’s feelings more into consideration when making decisions. But overall, the data shows that the distribution of Japanese respondents’ results is extremely similar to the results of respondents from other countries. In other words, differences in values appear to come from differences between individuals rather than nationality.

So, you can say that most of the differences in work values are not between different nationalities but between individuals. This insight should be valuable for everyone managing a team of members from different backgrounds.

It seems like Japanese and Western people share very similar values towards work. That’s quite a surprise. Based on these results, how can Japanese managers and leaders utilize Attuned?

Daniel: Competition for talent is getting fierce in Japan, a market with a shrinking workforce. Retaining the best talent is essential for Japanese companies. And here you can use Attuned.

The first step is for managers to really understand their own motivators. In many cases we are unaware of our own values, so self awareness becomes extremely important. Only then can we understand what our team members value and how those values reflect their preferences. This is the foundation of flexible, situational management.

For example, suppose you rank low on feedback, meaning you don’t find it very important for your own motivation, but one of your team members ranks high. In this case it would be beneficial to give more advice and encouragement to your team member than you’d naturally give based on your own preferences. You have to adjust your style of communication.

Another use case would be onboarding new employees. During the onboarding period, a newly hired or transferred member learns about the culture and expectations and is trained to get up to speed. For example, a new team member takes the Attuned assessment before joining and ranks high on Autonomy. In this case it would be better to just give the new member a task without any detailed instructions. How about the opposite though? If a team member ranks low on Autonomy, he or she will perform best if the manager provides detailed explanations, expectations and milestones.
By using Attuned, you can create a culture that gets the best out of every individual.

When it comes to the results, not only the manager but also team members can share their results and better understand each other, right?

Daniel: Exactly. Disclosing results, in an appropriate setting, will lead to more consideration like “This person’s work will go more smoothly if I do such and such”. We often generalize our thinking by using stereotypes to simplify things. However, it would be preferable if we judged case by case instead. Thinking “because someone is from country xy …” leads to a bias. It is necessary to recognize that it is more about differences based on individual values and needs.

These days, in Japanese as well as international workplaces, the importance of “inclusion” is on the rise. This describes a diverse workplace where each member’s experience and skills are being recognized and utilized. Of course, traditional diversity in terms of gender, cultural backgrounds or age is still important but managers should also take “psychological diversity” into account to get the best out of their teams.