Why Do Public Employees Desire Intrinsic Nonmonetary Opportunities?

Article excerpt

Gaining a better understanding of the motivational tendencies of public employees is crucial. The United States faces new challenges that require public organizations to operate at the highest levels of productivity and effectiveness. Public employees must be motivated to meet these important goals.

Accepted wisdom recognizes that work motivation is an energizing force that directs and sustains the efforts of employees in organizations3 One important task of public organization leaders is to find ways of releasing this energizing force within employees so that they achieve their critical missions. One strategy of releasing this energy is to provide employees with the kinds of opportunities they desire. (2) As employees are provided with opportunities that are desirable to them, the greater the likelihood is that they will be motivated toward accomplishing organizational goals.

The public administration literature has contributed extensively to our understanding of the kinds of job opportunities that are desirable to public employees. This body of research has consistently demonstrated that public employees highly desire intrinsic nonmonetary opportunities. (3) Yet scholars have not undertaken any empirical work that directly explains why public employees desire these opportunities so highly. Scholars and practitioners have largely assumed that public service motivation (PSM) is the reason. Indeed, indirect support for this argument has been provided by studies that have shown that public employees with high levels of PSM were less interested in monetary opportunities than their counterparts who had lower levels of PSM. (4) In light of this research, there is a need for scholars to directly determine whether PSM is a viable reason for why public employees desire nonmonetary work opportunities.

This study aims to fill a gap in the literature by empirically investing the relationship between PSM and intrinsic nonmonetary preferences of public employees while controlling the potentially confounding explanations of management level, racial differences, public sector tenure, age, gender, and education level. It also aims to contribute to the practice of public administration by demonstrating how the motive to serve the public interest can be nurtured in employees of public organizations through the use of various kinds of intrinsic nonmonetary opportunities. In order to accomplish these purposes, this article is organized into five parts. The first presents a definition of intrinsic work opportunities. The second reviews current research on the intrinsic preferences of public employees, as well as the explanations that have been given for those preferences. The third describes the methodology used to test the hypotheses of this study. The fourth discusses the findings of this study. Finally, a summary of the contributions of this study and a discussion of some areas for further research is presented.

What Are Intrinsic Opportunities? Source. Based vs. Need-Based Perspectives

There is considerable disagreement about what is specifically meant by the term intrinsic in the field of psychology. (5) In light of this disagreement, scholars must not assume that only one definition of intrinsic opportunities is agreed upon. Reviewing the major definitions will provide a more robust understanding of the theoretical foundations of intrinsic work opportunities, and it will also meet the calls for cross-fertilization in the field of public administration. (6) A survey of the literature reveals at least two major definitions of intrinsic opportunities.

One definition can be called the source-based perspective. Under this perspective, job opportunities are categorized on the basis of their originating source. Incentives such as recognition and monetary rewards, which are generated from outside of the recipients, are considered to be extrinsic. Incentives that are generated from within recipients, such as feelings of appreciation and well-being, are considered to be intrinsic. …