Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Administration


Public Administration

First Reader/Committee Chair

Silard, Anthony


While there are many outstanding questions surrounding the motivations of employees, a key problem is that there is not a defining construct to explain why public employees behave as they do. Although the concept of Public Service Motivation (PSM) has developed over the past three decades to help explain these motivations, there are still disagreements as to the definition, characteristics, and value of PSM. Moreover, this lack of congruity in the literature suggests that the underlying components of PSM, historically studied via cross-sectional quantitative surveys, have not yet been well-defined via rigorous theory-building. Accordingly, this study looks at PSM from a more fundamental level of motivation – basic human needs – to study how need-based motivations might affect the relationship between PSM and public employee behaviors. To obtain context-rich data on employee’s emotions, perceptions, and feelings toward work and public service, 30 semi-structured interviews of existing public servants were conducted in Monterey County, California. Utilizing grounded theory principles, a theoretical framework emerged that describes how temporally-specific circumstances influence an individual employee’s sector choice, person-sector fit, and the development of PSM behaviors as moderated by their identity-based motivations. Based on this framework and the interview data, recommendations for future PSM research and strategies / tactics for public sector managers are presented.