Motivation in public sector organizations – introduction to the special issue

Evidence-based HRM

ISSN: 2049-3983

Article publication date: 13 May 2014



Homberg, D.F. and Heine, D.V.T.a.P.K. (2014), "Motivation in public sector organizations – introduction to the special issue", Evidence-based HRM, Vol. 2 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Motivation in public sector organizations – introduction to the special issue

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Evidence-based HRM: a Global Forum for Empirical Scholarship, Volume 2, Issue 1.

For more than 20 years public sectors in European countries are under reform agendas inspired by ideas from new public management (NPM). NPM transfers private sector management tools to public sector organizations. However, a common finding across Europe is that those reforms fail to achieve expected benefits. For example, Pollitt and Dan (2013) in their review of NPM reforms report failure in half of the cases. So far, it seems that NPM has contributed very little to make European public sector organizations more efficient.

One potential explanation for such high failure rate may be that NPM neglects an important behavioral driver: the motivation of the individuals – civil servants and public sector employees – who implement these reforms and make organizations more efficient through their desire to serve the public. In other words, responding to the individual motivational dispositions of public sector employees is a crucial prerequisite for public sector reform.

All countries rely on vital public services, such as education, health and public utilities. Some of these sectors are quite labor intensive, often require exertion of discretionary effort and successful service delivery is dependent on the individuals’ efforts driven by their underlying motivation.

Ultimately, the rise of NPM has led to an increase in the use of output-related performance measures and rewards in the public sector, aiming at mimicking the market. However, recently numerous authors have identified several difficulties inherent to the introduction of such incentive and control systems in the public sector. Critics argue that output-related performance measures and rewards can have detrimental consequences, in particular crowding out intrinsic motivation (Georgellis et al., 2011; Frey et al., 2013). Thus, understanding incentive regimes and their impact on work motivation in the public sector has become of great interest.

In this context, two theoretical lenses have proven to generate valuable insights when studying individual work motivation in the public sector. First, and maybe less familiar to the readership of EBHRM, public service motivation (PSM) defined as “an individual's predisposition to respond to motives grounded primarily or uniquely in public institutions and organizations” (Perry and Wise 1990, p. 368) developed into an established concept in public sector research – a recent review (Perry et al., 2010) mentions more than 90 studies on the topic. However, PSM still draws mainly on insights from the field of public administration whereas a broader approach integrating insights from psychology, human resources and organizational behavior is clearly desirable.

Second, more recently PSM research tried to integrate with the well-known self-determination theory (SDT; Deci and Ryan, 2000), which is rooted in psychology and frequently employed in the fields of human resources and organizational behavior. In addition to amotivation and pure intrinsic motivation, SDT distinguishes various forms of controlled (external and introjected) and autonomous (identified and integrated) motivation. PSM is frequently considered as one manifestation of autonomous motivation and thus, merges neatly into the SDT continuum of motivations (Vandenabeele, 2007; Jacobsen et al., 2013). The articles in this special issue take those two frameworks – PSM and SDT – as their main points of reference, which enables the authors to make valuable contributions to the study of work motivation in the public sector.

Contributions to the special issue

First, Wilkesmann and Schmid study the teaching motivation of German university professors using self-determination theory. Their results highlight the negative effects triggered by NPM reforms at universities. In particular, a supportive culture is identified as a stronger motivator than any extrinsic incentive that the institution may provide. Overall, their results are relevant for managers and academics in higher education institutions and add further empirical evidence to failures of NPM reforms.

Second, using data from the German healthcare sector Schott and Pronk analyze the impact of perceptions of high-performance work systems on PSM. Their results provide a nuanced picture on various high-performance work practices of which only a subset serves as antecedents of PSM. Additionally, their work provides a further step for the integration of SDT with PSM.

Third, Petrovski and Ritz take a critical look at the relation between PSM and performance, thereby making also a methodological contribution. Their work re-assesses the available empirical evidence of the relation between PSM and performance employing a correction for common method bias. The result of their study casts doubt on the trustworthiness of available empirical evidence produced in this particular stream of literature.

Fourth, Getha-Taylor and Haddock-Bigwarfe embark on a rarely studied but extremely important issue by investigating the link between PSM and the willingness to collaborate. The study is embedded in the context of large regional collaboration projects providing a rich analytical context. The results underscore the importance of PSM for both individual and organizational boundary spanning activities and have implications for the allocation of tasks in public sector organizations.

The final study in this issue is unconventional and forces us to think outside the box. Inauen takes a creative approach to the analysis of rules and traditions by studying monasteries as archetypes of public sector organizations. Similar to the contributions by Wilkesmann and Schmid and Schott and Pronk, he employs SDT as his main point of reference. The results show that even in highly regulated environments autonomous forms of motivation can thrive – a result which is of relevance to managers and employees of any bureaucracy, too.

The special issue concludes with two shorter viewpoints which we have considered on an “as is” basis. Nordberg takes a look at the motivation of governors in public organizations and Osterloh comments on performance pay in the healthcare sector.

Some final remarks

We hope the collection of articles presented in this issue of EBHRM will appeal to its readership. The articles make a contribution to bridging the boundaries between public administration and various other disciplines interested in work motivation such as human resource management, organizational behavior, and economics and psychology. Thus, we hope that this special issue adds to the development of an interdisciplinary approach to investigating work motivation in the public sector in different social, cultural, political and economic contexts.

We thank all authors for their thought provoking works as well as all reviewers who helped authors to improve their works and who helped us to make decisions on the various submissions. Finally, we want to thank the Editor-in-Chief of Evidence-based HRM, Professor Thomas Lange, for devoting the first special issue of this new journal to the important topic of work motivation in the public sector.

Dr Fabian Homberg
Department of Human Resources & Organizational Behavior, Bournemouth University, Bournemouth, UK

Dr Vurain Tabvuma
Surrey Business School, University of Surrey, Surrey, UK

Professor Klaus Heine
Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands


Georgellis, Y., Iossa, E. and Tabvuma, V. (2011), “Crowding out intrinsic motivation in the public sector”, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 473-493

Frey, B.S., Homberg, F. and Osterloh, M. (2013), “Organizational control systems and pay-for-performance in the public service”, Organization Studies, Vol. 34 No. 7, pp. 949-972

Deci, E.L. and Ryan, R.M. (2000), “The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: human needs and the self-determination of behaviour”, Psychological Inquiry, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 227-268

Pollitt, C. and Dan, S. (2013), “Searching for impacts in performance-oriented management reform”, Public Performance & Management Review, Vol. 37 No. 1, pp. 7-32

Jacobsen, C.B., Hvitved, J. and Andersen, L.B. (2013), “Command and motivation: how the perception on external interventions relates to intrinsic motivation and public service motivation”, Public Administration, available at: (accessed 25 March 2013)

Perry, J.L. and Wise, L.R. (1990), “The motivational bases of public service”, Public Administration Review, Vol. 50 No. 3, pp. 367-373

Perry, J.L., Hondeghem, A. and Wise, L.R. (2010), “Revisiting the motivational bases of public service: twenty years of research and an agenda for the future”, Public Administration Review, Vol. 70 No. 5, pp. 681-690

Vandenabeele, W. (2007), “Toward a public administration theory of public service motivation”, Public Management Review, Vol. 9 No. 4, pp. 545-556

Further reading

Krawiec, K.D. (2005), “Organizational misconduct: beyond the principal-agent model”, Florida State University Law Review, Vol. 32 No. 2, pp. 571-615

About the Guest Editors

Dr Fabian Homberg is a Senior Lecturer at the Bournemouth University. He holds a doctorate from the University of Zurich. His current research interests are motivation and incentives in private and public sector organizations, top management team diversity, and decision-making biases. Dr Fabian Homberg is the corresponding author and can be contacted at:

Dr Vurain Tabvuma is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in the Surrey Business School at the University of Surrey. His research focuses on public service motivation, job satisfaction in the public sector, and adaptation in organizations. He is the author of several journal articles, papers and reports.

Dr Klaus Heine is a Professor of Law and Economics at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam. His main fields of interest are: regulatory economics, European economic policy (especially state aid control and federalism), and the theory of the firm and organizational science. He holds an economics degree (1996) from the Philipps-University Marburg (Germany), where he also earned a doctorate (Regulatory Competition between Corporate Laws, 2001) and Habilitation (2007) in economics.

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