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Public Service and Motivation: Does Mission Matter?


Bradley E. Wright is an assistant professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His research focuses on how employee attitudes and behavior are influenced by the organizational work environment. His most recent research has appeared in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Administration & Society, Review of Public Personnel Administration, and American Review of Public Administration.


This study advances our understanding of employee work motivation and performance in the public sector by reinterpreting the literature on public service motivation within the psychological framework of goal theory. An empirical test of this new framework suggests that goal theory provides a strong theoretical foundation for understanding the independent contributions of task, mission, and public service to employee work motivation and performance. The importance of an organization’s mission increases employee work motivation in the public sector by making the job more important, even after controlling for the effect of performance-related extrinsic rewards.