Gender Differences in Work Motivation

Strong working relationships tend to more strongly affect women in the workplace.
Strong working relationships tend to more strongly affect women in the workplace. (Image: Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

As a manager, it is important to recognize that each individual has factors that affect his work motivation differently than they affect colleagues. However, it is also useful for a manager to have awareness of common, general differences between work motivation for men and women.


One of the main pursuits and motivations for men in the workplace is a sense of importance. Licensed mental health counselor Aaron Welch explains in his article "What Motivates a Man?" that men have a strong tendency to seek greatness and to have a sense of value. In a job, this means doing work that clearly has significant impact on the success of the organization. While many women also want to feel important, Welch notes that this is a primary motive for men in many areas of life.


Teamwork and work groups are increasingly common in the 21st-century workplace. According to a 2004 Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research study of motivation, this is generally a more natural fit for women than men. Men tend to prefer autonomy at work, perhaps correlated with the desire for importance. Women are more motivated by the opportunity to work with others and to build relationships with coworkers, especially within teams or work groups. The study notes more common "communal behaviors" among women at work, including smiling and interpersonal relationship building.


Women are generally more emotionally motivated at work. This means that consistent support and reinforcement of a job well done are important. Whereas men derive strong motivation from their successes and sense of power, the Northwestern study indicates that women often benefit from the routine verbal praise related to their work. Intimacy, affiliation and altruism are all common emotionally connected motivators for women.


Typically, competitive motivations are associated with men. However, in the right work environment and with a generally competitive group of employees, you can often motivate both genders through friendly and healthy competition. Retailers, for instance, may have friendly competitions to see which employees can sell the most of a given item within a month. If well-managed, this can motivate men and women both to prove their individual superiority, as well as gender superiority.

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