Ask the data: Are Japanese motivational values different from others?

We commonly talk about different countries or regions of the world as having different cultures. These cultural differences are seen by many as reflecting value differences. At Attuned, we have access to unique sets of motivational data from global respondents, and we wanted to see if the data matched people’s perceptions about motivational values.

We took a comparison of over 3000 respondents between Japan, Europe and the US. Over 37,000 rows of data.

We wanted to understand the impact of culture on the motivational values of Japanese vs. “Western” (European and US) employees. This is an important question for Japanese companies expanding globally, as well as for foreigners working in Japan. If Japanese values are found to differ significantly from “Western” values, then different organizational and team management practices may need to be applied to motivate employees from different cultural backgrounds. We felt this would be invaluable to know for new managers starting to lead cross cultural teams.

Motivational values at work


Attuned’s data clearly shows there is no significant difference in the values between Japanese and Europeans and Americans. National origin showed no statistical significance in underlying values, the values that drive intrinsic motivation.

Japanese employees appear to be motivated by the same values as employees in Europe and the US. (This doesn’t mean that every person is motivated by the same values–in fact, the contrary is the case; only that the variance in individual values is not explained by national origin.) The only significant difference we could find was that US and European respondents are slightly more likely to value an analytical, data-driven approach to decision-making. Japanese respondents are somewhat more likely to be intrinsically motivated to take the feelings of others into consideration when making decisions.

What that means is, cultural factors don’t appear to significantly impact the motivational values of individual employees.


This finding is consistent with research by Professors Barry Gerhart (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and Meiyu Fang (National Central University, Taiwan), who point out that only around 2 to 4 percent of variance in individual values is explained by national differences – in other words 96 percent, and perhaps more, remains unexplained. (Sources: and

This finding should have important implications for businesses expanding globally. While the importance of cultural differences should not be underestimated in terms of customs, communication and behaviours, it appears that these cultural differences do not necessarily stem from different value systems, or at least that individual differences in motivational values are a lot more significant than any “national” differences.

In other words, companies and managers should not assume that they can manage two individuals from the same culture in the same way. Nor should they assume that cultural differences are impossible to bridge in organizational and team management. Instead of generalizing on the basis of national origin (or other factors such as age or gender), managers should aim to engage with people as individuals with unique motivational value systems that appear to be largely irrespective of the country they come from.


Sample data:

Differences in Japanese vs European and US responses by selected intrinsic motivator value.

Differences in Japanese vs European and US responses by selected intrinsic motivator value

Further reading:

National culture and human resource management: assumptions and evidence, Barry Gerhart & Meiyu Fang,

Trompenaars, F. and Hampden-Turner, C. 1997. Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business, 2nd edn.

Understanding compensation practice variations across firms: The impact of national culture. Schuler, RS (Schuler, RS); Rogovsky, N (Rogovsky, N)

Rethinking individualism and collectivism: evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses.

Hofstede’s model of national cultural differences and their consequences: A triumph of faith – a failure of analysis. McSweeney, B

Hofstede, G. 2001. Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations across Nations, 2nd edn