What Motivates Municipal Employees: A Comparison Study of Supervisory vs. Non-Supervisory Personnel

By Jurkiewicz, Carole L.; Massey, Tom K., Jr. | Public Personnel Management, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

What Motivates Municipal Employees: A Comparison Study of Supervisory vs. Non-Supervisory Personnel


Jurkiewicz, Carole L., Massey, Tom K., Jr., Public Personnel Management


Examining the differences in motivating factors between supervisory vs. non-supervisory personnel in the public sector has received little attention to date. Most of the knowledge in the area of public employee motivation has been built upon studies that group public employees together and compare the results to non-public employees. Findings from these studies have generally supported the notion that public employees are motivated in large part by an ethic of service, teamwork, and the promise of a stable and secure future.(1) When the question of differing motivational factors for the two groups is entertained, the public sector literature frequently generalizes from studies conducted in the private sector.(2)

The more precisely public sector managers can measure what motivates their employees, the more effective they will be at enhancing performance and productivity and, by extension, advancing the notion of public sector accountability.(3) Understanding the applicable components of employee motivation is worthwhile to anyone concerned with organizational effectiveness.(4) Equally important is the ability to make objective evaluations about what employees want from their jobs and whether they feel they are getting it.(5) Across the spectrum of managerial functions, keeping employees motivated is essential to reaching goals of productivity and efficiency.(6) Given its degree of importance, an examination of whether public sector supervisors are motivated by factors different from non-supervisors is warranted.

Theoretical Orientation

Expectancy theory,(7) one of the most widely accepted explanations of motivation, is particularly well-suited as a basis for this research. Its premise is that motivation depends on how much an individual wants something (the strength of the valence) relative to other things, and the perceived effort-reward probability (expectancy) that they will get it.(8) The transaction is essentially an economic one and it is assumed that individuals have expectations and preferences regarding the rewards they will receive in exchange for their investment of time and resources,(9) and they use this criteria in choosing among an array of possible behaviors. Additionally, expectancy theory helps explain why many workers are not motivated on their jobs and merely do the minimum necessary to get by,(10) while others who expect desired rewards for their performance will exert themselves.(11) Its basic tenet proposes tailoring the study of motivation to the individual with the anticipation of differences.(12) It recognizes that there is no universal principle for explaining everyone's motivations, and the expected outcomes are either positive, negative, or neutral. The applicability of these notions to both public and private sector employees has been well-documented.(13)

Examining what employees want from their jobs and comparing it to what they are getting reveals the need deficiency that instigates goal-directed behavior,(14) that in turn leads to performance and productivity.(15) In any case, one can presume that if an imbalance exists for an individual, that individual will be motivated to attend to the inequity at the expense of being motivated toward a particular organizational objective.(16) The optimal point exists when an individual perceives the exchange to be a balanced one, when their "wants" and "gets" match. Presumably the focus of individual energies will be toward the organization's goals, and in turn, this will satisfy personal goals. Similarly, imbalance exists when ratios are unequal.(17) In each instance, it is the individual's perception of the situation that determines its degree of balance, as opposed to some measure of objective criteria. What is clear from the research is that organizational commitment depends upon the alignment of what employees want from their jobs and what they get from them.(18)

To determine if a state of disequilibrium exists, it is necessary to know the value placed upon a set of potentially achievable outcomes by the individual in the workplace.

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What Motivates Municipal Employees: A Comparison Study of Supervisory vs. Non-Supervisory Personnel
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