Motivation of public employees

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The public sector offers very limited incentives for high performance. Many incentives that come to mind when talking about the public sector are related to entering public service: job security with tenure, pensions, secure career perspectives, and so forth. However, after entering the public service performance incentives are limited. Because this is the case, other motivational factors become very important. Public management research calls them prosocial motivation and public service motivation.

Prosocial Motivation

Studying prosocial motivation of public employees is one of my main research interest. It is defined as “the desire to benefit others or expend effort out of concern for others.”1 This motivation is especially important in the public sector, where many jobs are meant to help others.

Public Service Motivation

The so-called public service motivation adds the perspective of serving the public interest to the construct of prosocial motivation. Public Service MOtivation can be defined as “the beliefs, values, and attitudes that go beyond self-interest and organizational interest to energize employees to do good for others and contribute to the well-being of organizations and society.”2

James Perry3 had a strong influence on the research on public service motivation by defining four dimensions that build this type of motivation:

Attraction to policy making: The motivation that is based on the opportunity to actively engage in forming public policy.

Commitment to public interest: The motivation that is based on the opportunity to contribute to the common good.

Self-sacrifice: The motivation that is based on the opportunity to help others.

Altruism: The motivation that is based on the opportunity to do something selfless.


  1. Bolino, M. C., & Grant, A. M. (2016). The Bright Side of Being Prosocial at Work, and the Dark Side, Too: A Review and Agenda for Research on Other-Oriented Motives, Behavior, and Impact in Organizations. The Academy of Management Annals, 10, 599–670. https://doi.org/10.1080/19416520.2016.1153260 ^
  2. Paarlberg, L.E.; Lavigna, B. (2010): Transformational Leadership and Public Service Motivation: Driving Individual and Organizational Performance. Public Administration Review, 70(5): 710–718. ^
  3. Perry, J. L. (1996). Measuring Public Service Motivation: An Assessment of Construct Reliability and Validity. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 6(1) 5–22. ^
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Dominik Vogel
Assistant Professor of Public Management

I am Assistant Professor of Public Management at the University of Hamburg. My research focuses on the motivation of public employees, what makes leadership in the public sector successful, how citizens interact with public administrations, and how public organizations manage performance.

Publications

While previous research has shown that organizational social capital benefits organizations and creates performance gains, most of this …

A gap in research on prosocial motivation is that very little is known about its change across time, let alone, how such changes affect …

This article is a response to calls in prior research that we need more longitudinal analyses to better understand the foundations of …