Employee motivation in the public and private sectors

Oliver Neumann’s cumulative dissertation project focuses on individuals’ job-related motivational preferences. Additionally, it provides an analysis of various implications different motives in individuals have on employing organizations, particularly during the recruiting process. This dissertation is supervised by Prof. Dr. Adrian Ritz.

Point of Departure

This dissertation is embedded in the literature and scientific discourse on Public Service Motivation (PSM), which has been defined as “an individual’s predisposition to respond to motives grounded primarily or uniquely in public institutions and organizations” (Perry and Wise, 1990). While the concept of PSM did not have a very substantial impact on public administration research in the 1990's, interest and research surrounding PSM and its related concepts has increased dramatically in recent years. PSM has been shown to be a related to various key individual and organizational outcomes such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, OCB, occupational and sectoral intentions, turnover intentions, work effort and performance, emphasizing the importance of this field both to scientists and practitioners. This dissertation aims to contribute to PSM research by providing a systematic and encompassing literature review, allowing for the identification of crucial gaps in the scientific discourse, and by introducing rational choice modeling as a way to improve the links between PSM and traditional behavioral economics research.

Research Questions

As this dissertation project is cumulative in nature, the three constituting research papers pursue multiple yet closely interrelated research questions and goals. The first paper, written in co-authorship with Prof. Adrian Ritz, is the first quantitative-systematic literature review on Public Service Motivation, a concept which has seen rapid growth in theoretical and empirical publications in recent years. As such, the goal of the first paper is to summarize and structure the body of literature on PSM, identifying key publications, theories and findings, thereby facilitating further research and the development of a more encompassing theoretical framework. 

The second paper builds upon a key research gap identified in the first paper, asking and analyzing the question whether PSM can be understood as an integral part of the more general, sector-unspecific intrinsic-extrinsic motivation framework frequently used in behavioral economics research. To answer this research question, the paper draws upon the common assumption that individuals with high levels of PSM are attracted to public service jobs while individuals with low levels of PSM are attracted to other kinds of jobs, depending on their individual motivational preferences. Based on person-environment fit theory, the author develops a spatial rational-choice model comprising three general dimensions of motivation: “extrinsic motivation”, “enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation” and “obligation-based intrinsic motivation”. Within the model, PSM is conceptualized as a set of combinations of relatively high values on the obligation-based intrinsic dimension, and relatively low values on the enjoyment-based intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions. By mapping individuals based on their motivational preferences (denoted “P” in the illustration), and specific jobs based on their advertised motivational incentive structure (denoted “Ei”) into the model, it is possible to predict mutual attractiveness (“fit”) by calculating the spatial distance between the two. An experimental research design is proposed and will be carried out to test the model.

The third paper will be based on the insights of the first two papers and is currently being developed.


  • Quantitative analytical methods
  • Rational choice-based modeling and game theory
  • Experimental research

Expected insights

  • Providing a systematic review of previous publications on PSM, identifying key research streams, gaps, and findings
  • Conceptualizing and testing PSM as a subset of the intrinsic-extrinsic motivation framework, connecting two theoretical streams
  • Analysis of the implications of varying motivational preferences in individuals for organizations, particularly regarding employer attractiveness and the recruiting process

This dissertation was written by Oliver Neumann under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Adrian Ritz (secondary advisors: Prof. Dr. David Houston, University of Tennessee and Prof. Dr. Rick Vogel, University of Hamburg). It was awarded “summa cum laude” by the Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Bern, Switzerland on August 25, 2016.