Motivating Public Sector Employees

The public sector is different from the private sector in several respects. Employee motivation is a key factor that accounts for one of the differences. While both sectors share the established intrinsic-extrinsic motivational approach, Valerie Martinelli, writing on Careers in Government, tells how employees in each sector are motivated differently. Noted is the fact that the importance of employee engagement in the public sector surrounds budgetary constraints and possible public criticism.

The challenge in motivating public sector employees may be greater than that for private sector employees. Also, the task of motivating may be more crucial to government functions and calls for ethical guidelines. With the reputation of being underworked and overpaid, public sector workers feel less engaged and less motivated by how they are perceived. They are often bitterly criticized by the public and this, in turn, has a negative effect on their performance as well as public sector outcomes.

In relation to intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, the application within the public sector is inclined to be intrinsic. This is due to the financial requirement of extrinsic incentives and the fact that extrinsic incentives are seen as unscrupulous in light of public, political, and budgeting concerns. Extrinsic motivation is unrelated to the job itself and is likely to be administered to private sector employees through such financial mediums as salary increases and bonuses, which are prohibitive in the public sector.

Public sector employees ideally enjoy psychological rewards that they receive from skillfully completing meaningful work. Their motivation is intrinsic, obtained directly from doing a fulfilling job. They are largely expected to use their astuteness and experience and work autonomously to accomplish the objectives of the government bodies they work for. This approach to work offers public sector employees a sense of responsibility, pride in their work, and satisfaction from a meaningful job done well.

As a current or imminent public sector leader, you need to understand in-depth how public sector workers are motivated. eCornell’s program in Public Sector Leadership is a great place to start or to further your knowledge and understanding in this critical area. 

eCornell courses are approved by SkillsFuture Singapore for SkillsFuture Credit as well as by HRDF Malaysia under its SBL Scheme.

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