employeeIt is not a secret that employee engagement has a significant impact on organizational outcomes. It also is not a surprise that what motivates public sector employees is different from those within the private sector. Employee engagement can vary between individuals and the two sectors. Intrinsic and extrinsic rewards play an important role in the motivation of employees in both sectors. However, government employee engagement is uniquely important due to budgetary constraints and possible public criticism.

Private vs. Public Sector Engagement

Engaging public sector employees may be more challenging; imperative to government functions, and require the application of ethical guidelines. Public sector employees are oftentimes characterized as “overpaid” and “underworked”. These characterizations impair morale and negatively affect employee engagement. Public sector agencies do not have the ability to utilize financial incentives as the private sector may. Harsh public criticism of government employees affects job performance, organizational outcomes, the performance of agencies, and the manner in which services are rendered to citizens. According to the book, “Engaging Government Employees: Motivate and Inspire Your People to Achieve Superior Performance” written by Robert Lavigna, employee engagement is defined as “a heightened employee connection to work, the organization, the mission or coworkers.” Organizations with engaged and passionate employees report higher levels of performance than those with detached employees. Lavigna stated in his book that according to Gallup, high-engagement organizations are approximately 20 percent more productive than those with lower engagement. 

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Rewards

Differing type of rewards affects employee motivation in both sectors. Extrinsic rewards, typically financial (i.e. salary increases, bonuses, etc.) in nature, are concrete rewards provided to employees by their managers. These types of rewards are called extrinsic because they are external to the work itself and other individuals control the size and if it is provided. Extrinsic rewards cannot be offered within public service due to their financial nature. In addition, these types of rewards are inappropriate and unethical due to public, political interests, and budgeting issues. Extrinsic rewards are typically utilized within the private sector where these are not a concern.

In contrast, intrinsic rewards are psychological rewards that employees receive from accomplishing purposeful work and completing it well. The majority of employees are required to self-manage to a substantial degree through the utilization of intelligence and experience and the management of work activities in order to accomplish organizational objectives. Allowing employees to feel a sense of meaningfulness supports the opportunity to accomplish something of real value, which matters within the larger scheme of life. A sense of meaningfulness provides a strong sense of direction and purpose. Employing a sense of choice permits employees to utilize their best judgment to choose work activities that make the most sense and complete them in appropriate manners, which allows employees to feel ownership over their work, trust in the employed approach, and feel responsible. A sense of competence permits employees to feel that work activities are being managed well, execution of these activities either meets or exceeds standards, and that an employee is completing high-quality work. A sense of competence offers pride and satisfaction. A sense of progress allows employees to feel encouraged that work is on track and moving in the proper direction. Once an employee sees that things are working out, it boosts their confidence in the choices that have been made and their confidence for the future. 

Building a Culture of High-Engagement

In order to keep public sector employees engaged, it is best to focus on intrinsic rewards and motivation. Public sector workers oftentimes do not choose their careers for the extrinsic benefits, thereby rather choosing to focus on public good and championing for change. These employees are driven by a higher purpose and serving others, which would empower them to be motivated through a sense of meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress.

Maintaining Employee High-Engagement

Organizations can employ a meaningful purpose into the culture to maintain high-engagement. By building intrinsic motivation into management training, it can also drive the process of self- management. Once an organization conveys that important work is being completed with a higher purpose, employees will utilize their intrinsic rewards and remain driven and engaged.

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