Motivational Strategies for Public Managers: The Budgetary Belt-Tightening Precipitated by the Recession Has Placed Renewed Emphasis on the Importance of Employee Motivation

By Christensen, Peter | Government Finance Review, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Motivational Strategies for Public Managers: The Budgetary Belt-Tightening Precipitated by the Recession Has Placed Renewed Emphasis on the Importance of Employee Motivation


Christensen, Peter, Government Finance Review


There is pleasure in using valued skills and abilities. This propensity is a basic asset, an ally of productivity.

Ellen Doree Rosen

Improving Public Sector Productivity

A recent newspaper article reported that declining revenues in one state are threatening to undermine the morale of state employees, who face possible layoffs and little or no pay increases in the next budget year. (1) After nearly a decade of revenue growth and budget surpluses, the recent recession has sparked a new round of fiscal austerity among state and local governments. Not surprisingly, staffing levels and employee compensation and benefits have attracted close scrutiny as officials have labored to balance budgets. Many managers no longer have the luxury of using pay increases, bonuses, tuition reimbursements, and other financial incentives to reward performance. Unless public managers find other means of motivating their workers, morale and productivity are likely to suffer.

Fortunately, there is evidence to suggest that money is not the primary motivator for public sector employees. The nature of the job itself may have greater influence on motivation, organizational commitment, and productivity than monetary rewards. However, the proliferation of pay-for-performance systems in the public sector over the last several years has blurred the motivational distinction between public and private sector employees by emphasizing monetary incentives. Now that eroding revenues have placed necessary restrictions on the use of financial rewards, public managers need to refocus their attention on intrinsic motivators. Following a brief review of motivation theory and recent studies of public sector motivation, this article will describe non-monetary strategies for maintaining morale and productivity in an uncertain economy.

Motivation Theory and the Public Employee

Because theory drives practice, no discussion of employee motivation would be complete without a brief review of motivation theory. Almost all modern studies of public sector motivation are based on one or more theories of motivation. Four of the best known theories are summarized below, (2) followed by a review of recent studies of public sector motivation.

Expectancy Theory

Victor Vroom's expectancy theory holds that workers are motivated by the expectation that increased effort will be rewarded commensurately. The perceived value of the reward and the likelihood of receiving that reward determine how much time and effort a worker will invest in an activity. Of course, the value placed on any given reward--either monetary or nonmonetary--varies from worker to worker. This kind of subjectivity demands that managers have a keen understanding of individual employees.

Two-Factor Theory

As its name implies, this theory classifies motivators into two categories: extrinsic (or "hygiene") factors and intrinsic factors. Extrinsic factors, which pertain to the work environment, include salary and benefits, physical working conditions, supervision, and policies and procedures. Although these factors largely determine the tolerability of work, they are not believed to contribute to job satisfaction or performance. Intrinsic factors, which pertain to the content of the work itself, include achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, advancement, and growth. According to Frederick Herzberg, the father of two-factor theory, these factors are considered the primary determinants of job satisfaction and performance.

Need Hierarchy Theory

Abraham Maslow suggested that human behavior is governed by the satisfaction of a five-level hierarchy of needs. Starting at the bottom of the pyramid, these needs are (1) physical survival, (2) safety and security, (3) love and social belonging, (4) self-esteem, and (5) self-actualization. As one level of needs is satisfied, the level directly above it becomes the predominant motivating factor. …

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Motivational Strategies for Public Managers: The Budgetary Belt-Tightening Precipitated by the Recession Has Placed Renewed Emphasis on the Importance of Employee Motivation
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