9. Achievement-Task Orientation

This orientation is characterized by the achievement motivation need emphasizing internal drive towards achievement through hard work. According to McClelland (1961), the achievement need within individuals, would promote entrepreneurial achievement or the achievement of professional excellence, which in turn would propel economic growth.

Believing that hard work alone will propel on the road to success, Western work ethic has emphasized personal achievement - what one has done or "achieved" through one's best ability and hard work. And basic to this is the focus on the inherent value of work itself and work related attitudes for that matter, striving to attain professional excellence. However, to which extent the Thai score in this perspective, and what is the nature of achievement motivation of the Thai?


9.1. Thai Achievement-Task Orientation

The Komin's research data showed that achievement value of being Ambitious and Hardworking to attain one's goals, has been consistently ranked as the least important value (the 23rd) in relation to the rest, with little variation across groups and over time, with the exception of two groups - Thai businessmen who ranked it the 19th, and highest of all Thai groups was the Thai of Chinese descendants who ranked it the 13th. This finding evidently substantiated certain attributes of Chinese characters that accounted for their success story of "rags-to-riches". However, all Thai, without exception, ranked hardworking achievement value much lower than the group of social relationship values. Furthermore, this value ranking result was highly and consistently substantiated by the work achievement related attitudes and behaviors. For example, in a forced choice statement of choosing the importance between "maintaining good relationship" as opposed to "seriously devoted to work", 61.0% of the total national sample perceived "maintaining good relationships" as more important than "work", with only 15.0% seeing the reverse as more important.


A closer look further revealed that 64.9% of the Bangkok Thai and 55.2% of the rural Thai perceived maintenance of good relationships as more important than work. It was interesting to find that government officials valued "work" the least (8.7%), while valuing "maintenance of good relationship" the highest of all groups (65.8%). And vice versa, it was the farmers who preferred "work" the highest. This confirms the accepted reality of the low performance - the Chao chaam yen chaam lethargic performance - of government employees who are more keen in paying lip services, taking bribes, seeking good relations with the powerful others, etc. A good relation wins all, not tasks.

However, the bottom 23rd ranking of this achievement value (as opposed to the 3rd ranking of industrial society like the United States), and the overall 61.0% preference of "relations over work" as opposed to the 15.0% preference of "work over relations", are sufficient to endorse that, according to the Western sense of achievement need which is based on the person's internal drive of hard work, the Thai achievement need score is very low. And this is because it is seen in the cultural context where social relations is of utmost importance.


With regard to this achievement value orientation, many writers both foreign and Thai, have for years talked about the Thai as having low achievement needs to work for economic and material gains, that they abhor hardwork and value only what is sanuk and fun.


In fact, empirical data have shown quite the opposite picture that the Thai are very much material possession oriented. They do spend some money on merit-making according to various appropriate occasions throughout the year, but they spend much more on regular basis, for abundance of material possessions. Besides, they are constantly struggling for more. When the national samples were asked: "When one's life is reasonably comfortable or livable (Pho kin pho chai, meaning having enough to eat and spend), that should be enough, and there is no need to continue struggling for more", more than half (63.7%) of the national samples indicated it is not enough, one should continue to struggle for more.


Examining the break down of various occupational groups from skilled workers, hawkers, farmers, up to government officials and businessmen, the degree of intention to struggle for more increases accordingly. This might indicate an increasing incentive or drive to struggle for more, when they see higher possibility of success as they move higher up the social ladder with higher education, status and money. It seems to be the spiral moving-up of higher education/status - higher possibility, higher drive, higher expectation, etc. This tendency was consistent in the rural and urban Thai, with the exception of the older people of 50 years and above, and the peasants of the North and the Northeast. The slackening drive of these group is understandable. The old age would probably not drive against their decreasing energy. Whereas for the North and the Northeast peasants who are among the poorest regional groups of the country, they have to exhaust their ingenuity against the harsh nature of the most arid region and find themselves survive on such food like small frogs, silkworms, crickets, or the Kudjii (beetles) found in the buffalo dung, and the like.


Even so, if to say that these poorest Thai are generally lazy, abhor hardwork, and just want to have fun and Sanuk, how can one explain the fact that these poor peasants from the Northeast, despite their inability to speak any foreign language and with little education and skills, dare to go and work as un-skilled or semi-skilled laborers in totally alien countries like, the Middle-East, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Singapore and Brunei, etc. One can hardly see Sanuk or fun in their plight. Not only that they do work to survive and to accumulate more monetary and material gains, they are thinking of making money all the time, particularly more than the government officials who sit securely in the life-long employment of the government offices, enjoying their status, and through which in no hurry, they can make easy money along the way.


In actuality, do the Thai really abhor hard work as many foreigners have described? The low achievement value ranking should not lead one to interpret so. They do work hard, particularly those independent occupations, like small business, shop owners, skilled workers, hawkers, down to farmers. One would realize this fact if he would just take a look at the lower unskilled labor force circles, like laborers at any construction site, peddlers and street vendors, hawkers, shopkeepers, and Mae khaa (market women) in the fresh markets, etc. where most of them have minimum education, and 90% of them are women of all ages.

A typical picture of the laborers at a construction site will illustrate the hardworking drive of this lower less-educated class, where one can see some male construction workers working on the building, with a good number of children and women sometimes as old as 60s and over, shouldering buckets of water, cements, etc., doing all the details work of mixing and paving the finished mixture. . They are hardworking, and are "this-worldly" material oriented, to struggle for more and to gain more. Data further revealed that the rural peasants showed a higher preference of "material possession" to "fun or Sanuk". It revealed that "fun" or "Sanuk" is more a characteristic of the Bangkokians, the government officials, students, and the higher educated, definitely not the less advantaged classes. This is consistent with the value ranking of the rural people who ranked Ambitious-hardworking higher than Fun-loving and Pleasure, where the government officials, students, and the Bangkokians ranked the reverse.

9.2. Nature of Achievement Motivation of the Thai

The general low achievement value of the Thai should not be misinterpreted as abhorrence of hardwork, but that in the context of Thai social value systems, hardworking alone is not sufficient. What is then the nature of the achievement motivation of the Thai? For other cultures, like the Americans whose culture is characterized by high individualism together with high freedom and equality, achievement means one perseveres aggressively towards one' goal and succeeds in a rags-to-riches, self-made man manner. Understandably, the American achievement value was ranked 2nd and 3rd by the national samples and was positively correlated with competence and assertive values.

On the contrary, in the Thai context, S. Komin found out that task achievement value was ranked the bottom 23rd, and was negatively associated with all the important social relationship values. For the Thai, it is Hardworking through Competence (r=.16) and Education (r=.15) to attain Social recognition (r=.16) for Success in life (r=.15). However, in the process, it seems to disrupt or seen as negatively related to important social relationship values like Caring-considerate (r=-.20), Kind-helpful (r=-.20), etc., and also negatively related to the time-honored Asian value of being Obedient-respectful (r=-.20). This means that while the Americans having task itself and professionalism as achievement goals with self assertive efforts as means, the Thai give prestige and social recognition as goals for success in life, with work and relations as necessary means. With social recognition as an important underlying motive for success, achievement in Thai society is more social in nature. Also it is very rare that work alone would lead one to the Thai sense of achievement. Instead, it has always been the good relationships, with or without work, that guarantees this Thai sense of achievement, exemplified in the majority of government position holders.


In conclusion, for the Thai, task achievement value is usually inhibited by social relationship values. While submissiveness and good relations, with or without work, has always paid-off, task per se or worst still, task which seen as threat or without submissive relations to superior, does not lead to success in life. In the Thai cultural context, achievement in the Western sense indeed would not fit.


Primary Source : Fr. Peter S. Niphon SDB, Hat Yai
Full unedited text (includes footnotes and references)
Secondary Source :   S. KOMIN, Psychology of the Thai People: Values and Behavioral Patterns. Bangkok, Research Center, National Institute of Development Administration.