What Motivates Employees Across the Globe

A new survey of professionals in 13 countries reveals what motivates teams.

What Motivates Employees Across the Globe
[Photo: Flickr user Davis Staedtler]

Employee engagement is often touted as the tool of choice for businesses aiming to increase performance and revenue, and have happier and more loyal customers.


Yet, in a study of more than 1,000 employees in 13 countries the number of “fully engaged” employees was dismally low. China and the U.S. each reported just 19% of such workers, while Argentina and Spain rounded out the bottom of the list at 13%, according to research by The Marcus Buckingham Company (TBMC).

The measurement reflects the number of people who are:

  • dedicated to the purpose of their company
  • certain in their definition of excellence
  • confident in the support of their teammates
  • excited by the company’s future

The U.S. number is significantly lower than the oft-cited Gallup survey that revealed that 31.5% of the nation’s workforce is involved, enthusiastic, and committed.


The TMBC Global Engagement Index was based on past research which identified four areas and eight factors that are the most powerful predictors of productive employee behaviors.

Purpose: At work, I clearly understand what is expected of me. I am really enthusiastic about the mission of the company.
Excellence I have the chance to use my strengths every day at work. In my team, I am surrounded by people who share my values.
Support: I know I will be recognized for excellent work. My teammates have my back.
Future: I have great confidence in my company’s future. In my work, I am always challenged to grow.

How Engagement Varies Around The World

Marcus Buckingham, the founder of TMBC, tells Fast Company, “We were surprised that the same item did the best job of explaining engagement in every single country in our study, ‘I have a chance to use my strengths every day.’”


Buckingham says this illustrates that every member of every great team wants most the chance to express the very best of themselves. “Companies that ignore this will never be able to build more teams like their best teams,” he says.

Beyond that, the survey revealed that different countries had different drivers of engagement. For example:

  • U.S., China, Germany: the most engaged teams need to rally around a shared mission.
  • UK and India: emphasis is on having teammates with shared values.
  • France, Canada, Brazil and Argentina: engagement relies on the feeling that teammates have their back.  
  • Australia: confidence in the company’s future boosts engagement.
  • Spain: the challenge to grow by adding skills.

“Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised [by these differentiators],” says Buckingham, “since some of these patterns do appear to fit, in the broadest sense, the politico-social climate of each country.”


Why the overall numbers were so low didn’t come as much of a surprise to the researchers. “As this and previous research has revealed, most of the variation in engagement is caused by the local team leader, and yet organizations have done very little to equip team leaders,” says Buckingham.

He believes companies have done just the opposite. “We have overburdened the team leader with tools and systems–performance management systems, learning management systems, employee engagement systems–that are designed to serve the organization rather than the team leader,” he contends.

“No wonder it’s hard to engage people when you have so few tools to actually help you, and a million competing demands on your time,” Buckingham adds.


Buckingham says that while corporate methods, behaviors, and values vary by country and by industry, the report indicates that the most powerful human need at work is help to discover strengths and to use them frequently.

He says managers would do well to stop trying to fix weaknesses and figure out better ways to leverage strengths. And not to wait for the annual review to acknowledge them. Anthony Stephan, a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP, tells Fast Company: “More frequent and timely feedback is often of greater value because it’s closest to the experience itself.”


About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.