- Top of page
- The study
- Conflict of interest
- Author contributions
The public often perceives nursing as a profession where the main task is providing care, and qualities like empathy, compassion and altruism are considered vital for performing the job (Bridges 1990, Fletcher 2007, Hoeve et al. 2014). The widely held perception of nursing as a caring profession may explain why the helping motive is a commonly reported incentive among nursing students for entering the profession (Newton et al. 2009). The desire to make a difference in other people's lives, known as ‘prosocial motivation’ (Grant 2007), is a central theme in helping professions. Helping professions can be perceived as professions where workers are in daily personal contact with recipients like patients and clients (Schaufeli & Enzmann 1998). Because the main task of nursing is to provide physical and emotional care to sick people, it is the stereotypical helping profession.
The prosocial take on professional motivation has been widely acknowledged (Mastekaasa 2008, Mimura et al. 2009). The assumption is that individuals working in helping professions have been drawn to the profession because of the opportunity to help other people and make a valuable and meaningful contribution to the society through their work (Rognstad 2002, Grant 2008b, Mastekaasa 2008, Mimura et al. 2009). Various studies have found the helping aspect to be a typical motive for entering nursing, often ranked as the number-one reason for choosing the profession (Rognstad 2002, Newton et al. 2009, McLaughlin et al. 2010, Jirwe & Rudman 2012). Whereas prosocial values have been well documented as a motivation for pursuing a nursing career, they have been considered to a lesser extent in relation to different work commitment concepts. Whether this prosocial motivation commits nurses to their job is less clear. The nursing profession is anticipating a massive need for trained personnel in the near future. The projected nursing shortage is global in scale (Oulton 2006). Research on work commitment illustrates how individuals who are committed to different aspects of their work setting also have a higher probability of remaining in their profession, organization and job (Cohen 2002). Obtaining a better understanding of work commitment by identifying antecedents of commitment is therefore of vital importance. It could be of great value not only for individuals but also for clients, employers and society. This article seeks to investigate whether prosocial motivation could be understood as an antecedent of work commitment in nursing. To my knowledge, there exist no studies investigating whether the prosocial motivation revealed during the pursuit of nursing education is associated with professional commitment or job involvement when students start their careers. Following students at the beginning of their work life could provide insight into how the number-one motive for entering nursing relates to their future careers.
Research on prosocial motivation
The lack of research on the relationship between prosocial motivation and work commitment could stem from the idea that helping others is considered fulfilling and personally rewarding and, therefore, automatically commits the individual to the job. For instance, some occupations, such as nursing, are still widely thought to be a calling (Wrzesniewski 2012); that is, individuals in these professions view the work as their purpose in life or their destiny. Prosocial motivation is related to a calling, but a calling transcends prosocial motivation and includes a strong intrinsic motivation and compassion to perform the job. There exist, nevertheless, several examples of how acting prosocially benefits the helper (Batson et al. 2011) by enhancing well-being (Post 2005), inducing joy (Smith et al. 1989, Batson et al. 1991), boosting self-esteem (Crocker & Park 2004) and influencing mood (Sprecher et al. 2007).
The main issue with the research on the benefits of acting prosocially is that most of these studies have concentrated on voluntary helping (Weinstein & Ryan 2010), which could potentially be very different from professional helping. The most evident difference is in the scope of helping; whereas the effort made in volunteering could be relatively low compared with the benefits, the effort made in helping every day could be quite extensive. It is widely known that the nursing profession can be emotionally demanding and is associated with strains like burnout and compassion fatigue (Schaufeli & Enzmann 1998, Yoder 2010). Aiken et al. (2001) report that emotional exhaustion was a common stated reason for leaving the nursing profession among British, American, Canadian and German nurses. In a meta-analysis conducted by Price (2009), it became apparent that newly educated nurses experienced a ‘reality shock’ when they entered their careers and found their idealistic views to be incongruent with job demands. Several studies have in fact exposed a weakening of altruistic values between vocational training and practicing a profession (Hagström & Kjellberg 2007, Johnson et al. 2007, Miers et al. 2007, Rognstad & Aasland 2007). The idea that helping others is rewarding in itself for nurses is therefore challenged.
The literature on nurses' prosocial motivation for entering the profession has primarily identified this motivation as altruistic. There are, however, important differences between altruistic motivation and prosocial motivation that could affect how these motivations are related to commitment outcomes on entering a nursing career. Behaviour that is initiated by altruistic motivation is carried out with the sole intention to increase the welfare of other individuals; external motives are not a legitimate cause in the performance of altruistic behaviour (Batson 2002). Some scholars have therefore classified altruistic motivation as internal and autonomous (Gagné & Deci 2005, Weinstein & Ryan 2010) because the execution of the helping behaviour is the ultimate goal. Prosocial behaviour does not take into account the underlying motive, thus the motivation to act prosocially could be caused by having an altruistic disposition, and by attaining external rewards like adherence to norms, guilt avoidance and positive self-rewards (Grant & Berg 2012). Haigh (2010) has emphasized the importance of acknowledging that what is often referred to as altruistic values displayed by nurses can also be a social identifying mechanism. Altruism is not only an expression of internal motivation but also a means by which to unify and ensure survival of a social group. Other researchers have also suggested that nurses are not necessarily more altruistic than other occupational groups but rather that they comply to a larger degree with a strong helping norm that characterizes the profession (Jacobsen et al. 2011). This reasoning implies that altruistic values are a big part of the socialization of nurses and that they are not necessarily just associated with an internal motivation to enter nursing. To investigate in what way prosocial values revealed during education relate to commitment in the professional world, it is essential to measure different qualitative forms of commitment to work. Professional commitment and job involvement are good candidates to capture the predictability of prosocial motivation on identification with the group and its effect on internal motivation to perform the job.
The work commitment literature includes studies on commitment to different aspects of the work life. In general terms, the ultimate aim of this research has been to identify factors that make individuals satisfied and involved in their work. Work commitment is often divided into five different ‘targets’ of commitment: affective commitment to the organization, continuous commitment to the organization, commitment to the job, professional commitment and work ethic endorsement (Morrow 1993). These targets are theoretically distinct; thus, employees can be highly involved in their work and simultaneously display low commitment towards their profession. Studies on professional commitment have revealed that employees who display strong commitment to their profession also have a higher likelihood of remaining in their profession (Lee et al. 2000). There exists, however, limited knowledge on what makes individuals committed to their profession. Researchers have thus called for studies investigating antecedents and predictors of professional commitment (Cohen 2002).
Professional commitment measures the attitude towards and identification with, one's profession (Blau 1985, 1988); it does not capture the individual's involvement and motivation to perform the specific job. Job involvement is related to how important the specific job is to the individual (Kanungo 1982). It is also associated with ‘intrinsic employee rewards', like job satisfaction and motivation (Brown 1996). The theoretical distinctions in the work commitment concepts suggest that the identification of factors that contribute to strong professional commitment does not automatically imply that the same antecedents are valid for involvement in the job. In terms of the impact of prosocial values on career commitment and job involvement, few studies have analysed these relationships. Research on the related subjects of having a calling and feeling empathy has investigated to a certain extent how these phenomena influence work commitment concepts. Having a calling has been shown to relate positively to occupational commitment and job satisfaction. The perception of having a calling overlaps with – but does not equate to – prosocial motivation (Duffy et al. 2010). Empathy, which is also associated with prosocial motivation, is considered an important component in performing altruistic and prosocial acts (Batson et al. 1991). Two studies investigating whether empathy can predict occupational commitment, however, produced contradictory results, with one study revealing a negative association between empathy and occupational commitment (Omdahl & O'Donnell 1999) and the other a positive association (Raiziene & Endriulaitiene 2007).
- Top of page
- The study
- Conflict of interest
- Author contributions
Descriptive statistics of the scales show normal distribution for both the response variables job involvement and career commitment. Prosocial motivation, however, is positively skewed and all the respondents either agree or strongly agree with the idea that prosocial motivation is important when assessing a new job. To investigate the association between the response and explanatory variables, bivariate correlations were conducted (Table 1).
Table 1. Correlations, means and standard deviations.
|Variable||M|| sd ||1||2||3||4||5|
|(1) Prosocial motivation||4·27||0·611||–|| || || || |
|(2) Job involvement||3·27||0·883||0·123||–|| || || |
|(3) Career commitment||3·41||1·08||0·290**||0·460**||–|| || |
|(4) Age||30·41||6·95||0·035||−0·114||−0·045||–|| |
|(5) Hours per week||34·75||7·68||−0·036||0·168*||0·019||−0·058||–|
Prosocial motivation was not significantly related to job involvement, but the results showed a moderate association between prosocial motivation and career commitment. A relatively strong association between job involvement and career commitment was detected. Working hours per week was significantly correlated with job involvement, albeit a weak correlation.
Two multiple regression analyses were conducted, with career commitment as the response variable. The first analysis included age, gender, working hours per week and prosocial motivation as predictors (model 1 and model 2 in Table 2). Because of the relationship between job involvement and career commitment, a second regression analysis on career commitment was conducted with job involvement as an additional explanatory variable (model 3 and model 4 in Table 2). This second analysis was carried out so as to control for the potential covariance between job involvement and career commitment and, therefore, determine the effect of prosocial motivation on career commitment, thus eliminating the potential effect of prosocial motivation on the shared variance.
Table 2. Regression analyses on career commitment, with age, gender, working hours per week, prosocial motivation and job involvement as explanatory variables.
|Variable||Model 1||Model 2||Model 3||Model 4|
| B || se B ||β|| B || se B ||β|| B || se B ||β|| B || se B ||β|
|Hours per week||0·01||0·01||0·01||0·01||0·01||0·02||−0·01||0·01||−0·06||−0·01||0·01||−0·05|
|Job involvement|| || || || || || ||0·56||0·09||0·47||0·53||0·01||0·45a|
|Prosocial motivation|| || || ||0·44||0·14||0·26a|| || || ||0·34||0·13||0·20a|
| R 2 ||0·003|| || ||0·07|| || ||0·22|| || ||0·26|| || |
|F for change in R2||0·13|| || ||9·86a|| || ||9·89a|| || ||7·13a|| || |
In the first analysis, prosocial motivation was the only variable that significantly predicted career commitment three years after graduation. The model predicted 7% of the variance in career commitment, with an R2 change of 6 percentage points. Prosocial motivation continued to be a significant contributor to career commitment after controlling for job involvement; however, the variance accounted for by prosocial motivation decreased. The r2 value increased from approximately 22–26%, leaving 4% of the variance accounted for by prosocial motivation.
The same procedure was performed with job involvement as the response variable. In the first analysis, age, gender, hours worked per week and prosocial motivation were included as explanatory variables (model 1 and model 2 in Table 3). In the second analysis, career commitment was included as a control variable (model 3 and model 4 in Table 3). Prosocial motivation did not significantly explain any variance in job involvement, neither in the first nor in the second regression analysis.
Table 3. Regression analyses on job involvement, with age, gender, hours worked per week, prosocial motivation and career commitment as explanatory variables.
|Variable||Model 1||Model 2||Model 3||Model 4|
| B || se B ||β|| B || se B ||β|| B || se B ||β|| B || se B ||β|
|Hours per week||0·02||0·01||0·15||0·02||0·01||0·16||0·02||0·01||0·14*||0·02||0·01||0·15*|
|Career commitment|| || || || || || ||0·39||0·06||0·46**||0·38||0·06||0·45**|
|Prosocial motivation|| || || ||0·19||0·12||0·13|| || || ||0·02||0·11||0·02|
| R 2 ||0·04|| || ||0·06|| || ||0·25|| || ||0·25|| || |
|F for change in R2||2·07|| || ||2·59|| || ||11·74**|| || ||0·04|| || |
- Top of page
- The study
- Conflict of interest
- Author contributions
This study showed that prosocial motivation in the final year of study may predict career commitment three years into practicing the career. This finding indicates that prosocial values not only are significant as a motivation for entering nursing but also are related to becoming committed to the profession. Prosocial values, however, are not significant predictors of job involvement. The findings underscore the distinction made in the literature between commitment to a career and involvement in a specific job. Although they are often empirically related, the same antecedents are not necessarily significant for these two different forms of commitment (Morrow 1993).
The association between prosocial motivation and career commitment demonstrates that prosocial values are a part of what it entails to identify oneself as a nurse. The literature supports the idea that prosocial or altruistic values are central in nursing and that these values are often present during training (Weis & Schank 2000, Weis & Schank 2009). Studies on outcomes of career commitment have revealed that career commitment predicts the intention to quit the profession. In relation to the present study, identifying individuals with strong prosocial values increases the probability of commitment to the profession, which again could result in a higher likelihood of these individuals staying in the profession. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) suggests that more attention should be given to altruistic values in the nursing curriculum (American Association of Colleges of Nursing 1998). The results of the present study support this idea, which could have rewarding outcomes. However, in this study, the level of prosocial motivation among the nursing students was already quite high. Whether devoting greater attention to altruistic values will induce even stronger levels of prosocial motivation in students who are already motivated – or, alternatively, will target students who are not primarily motivated to enter the profession out of a desire to help – is uncertain.
Career commitment does not capture the importance of a job to an individual. In a review on commitment and well-being, Meyer and Maltin (2010) drew attention to the fact that the literature on commitment has primarily focused on the positive effects of commitment on the employer and the organization (e.g. reduced turnover and productivity), whereas the well-being of the employee has received less attention. Knowing what predicts employees' well-being and satisfaction with their work setting is also of value. Being involved in one's job is, for instance, negatively associated with burnout (Elloy et al. 1991, Su-fen & Miao-Ching 2006). The finding that prosocial motivation was unrelated to job involvement in this study might be somewhat surprising because the participants were explicitly asked about their motivation for the ‘job', not their profession.
The difference in character between job involvement and career commitment could insinuate that this difference involves a perception of prosocial motivation as extrinsic rather than intrinsic. The aspect of prosocial motivation is a large part of the professional identity of nurses. Adopting these values is crucial in becoming a member of the group. Prosocial motivation is perhaps not considered intrinsic but rather external and instrumental; it is a necessity to possess it to achieve membership in the professional group. The research findings of Weinstein and Ryan (2010) have illustrated how prosocial behaviour that is experienced as something that is intrinsically motivated is more strongly related to well-being for the actor than is prosocial behaviour that is conducted in response to external motivation. When the helping acts are performed in response to external motivators (e.g. an obligation to norms or self-inflicted values), the positive effects become smaller for the helper. This internal/external dichotomy is a parallel to the discussion of altruistically versus prosocially motivated behaviour. Altruistically motivated behaviour, as defined in the introduction section of this article, can be viewed as intrinsic because the behaviour is performed with the sole intention to help, not to achieve external goals.
Prosocial motivation in this study is measured at the end of vocational training (before the participants begin their careers). For many, the transition from student to nurse could involve a ‘reality shock'. The prevalence of reality shock could be dependent on the amount of clinical practice which is offered during the education. In the UK, Norway and Denmark half of the bachelor degree is constituted by clinical practice (Ministry of Education and Research 2008, Ministry of Higher Education and Science 2008, Nursing & Midwifery Council, 2012), in fact an EU directive dictates that 50% of the education should be allocated to practical training (Gobbi 2011). However, there is a difference between experiences acquired during praxis periods compared with those waiting when entering the professional world. The student role makes it legitimate to not manage the same work load as Registered Nurses during placement and students are not accountable in the same way as regular personnel. Studies show that one reason nurses experience a shock when entering the professional world is due to the focus on ‘bureaucratic’ values rather than the idealistic values emphasized in school. Being efficient and manage the work tasks on time is highly valued in many organizations (Maben et al. 2006, Duchscher 2009). There is a chance that these nurses could initially (during education) be intrinsically motivated to help, but external factors like workload and time pressure shift the focus of the work. Through extensive research, the self-determination theory has shown how intrinsic motivation to perform behaviour can be changed by the introduction of external rewards (Deci & Ryan 2002). One explanation for this change in motivation is that the introduction of an external cause to perform behaviour prompts individuals to reinterpret their motive for executing behaviour externally rather than internally (Deci & Ryan 2002). This mechanism could be at work for nurses because they are contracted to provide help to others as part of their job. In this respect, they do not choose to help – they are ordered to do so.
Does it matter whether prosocial motivation is extrinsic rather than intrinsic? If preventing turnover is the main goal, the results of this study suggest that extrinsic prosocial motivation is sufficient. However, if enhancing the well-being of the individual is also an aim, stimulating prosocial motivation does not seem to be the proper solution. Stimulating students' intrinsic motivation about the job could be a better way to foster well-being and involvement in the job. If the transition from school to work results in a reality shock, which influences students' motivation about the job, addressing the situation and making efforts to smooth this transition could be a healthy intervention.
Future research should pay greater attention to the qualitative differences in prosocial motivation among nurses. Most of the research on nurses' motivation treats prosocial motivation and altruistic motivation as similar concepts although they could potentially have very different implications. Of particular interest is investigating how the transition between training and work life influences prosocial motivation. The introduction of external pressures and incentives in the work setting could influence the expression of prosocial motivation. The work commitment of the nurses participating in this study was measured three years after graduation, which means that the nurses were still fairly new in their careers. Following the nurses further into their careers would provide knowledge about how the relationship between prosocial motivation and work commitment has fared after the nurses have become well adapted to their work.
This study used a longitudinal design, which ensures that variables handled as explanatory variables are prior in time to the response variable. However, a longitudinal survey does not include a rigorous control of the environment and interpretation of causality has to be carried out with caution. In addition, questions about the accuracy of the attitudes and feelings reported by the sample are always raised when designs are based on self-reports. The wish of survey participants to provide socially desirable responses or survey participants' lack of self-insight could affect the results. This could be a problem in the present study because the explanatory variable, being prosocially motivated, measures a concept that is strongly associated with and valued in, the nursing profession. However, the results of several other studies where different methodologies were used support the finding that prosocial motivation is a common incentive for entering nursing.
Ideally, this study should have achieved a higher response rate. Baruch and Holtom (2008) compared response rates on questionnaires in 463 studies in behavioural science journals and found that the average rate reached 52·7%. In this study, the same individuals were invited to fill in questionnaires first in 2007 and then in 2010. After the first round of data collection the response rate reached 53%. After the second round of data collection the total response rate of those answering both questionnaires was reduced to 25%. This means that 50% of those participating in round one continued to participate in round two which is in line with what Baruch and Holtom (2008) report. The main concern is whether those participating in both rounds differ from the rest of the population, in worst case conveying biased results. However, when comparing the scores on the explanatory, response and control variables, individuals answering both questionnaires did not differ from those answering only one of the questionnaires.
The present study measured prosocial motivation at the end of the nursing students' vocational training. At this time-point, the students had become socialized into a professional culture and identity. Ideally, the nursing students' motivation for entering this type of vocational training should perhaps have been measured before they started their training so as to ensure that their motivation was less influenced by professional values and norms. However, of greatest interest to this study was the transition from training into work.