Public-Sector Work Motivation. Case study on Bulgarian Social Services

Academic Paper, 2018

37 Pages, Grade: 1.3





Theoretical framework
Public service motivation
Extrinsic motivation
Intrinsic Motivation
Organizational Structure


Intrinsic factor
Extrinsic factors
Organizational structure







The official report from 2010 of the Public Service Administration in Bulgaria have listed public service motivation as the key challenge, which human resource management in the public administration is facing (2010 Report on the State of the Public Administration). The report from 2015 addresses the fact that the strategies to improve motivation have not produced the expected results. The difficulty to attract young, educated people and also to maintain the good quality employees in the system are still present (2015 Report on the State of the Public Administration).

This study would use the social service agency in Bulgaria, which is part of the Ministry of labor and Social policy, as a case, to research the questions: what motivates employees in the public sector to work hard and to stay in the public sector? What values and incentives play a role for their motivation? (Official website of Ministry of labor and Social policy)

Van de Walle, Steijn and Jilke (2015) analyze the role of PSM as a factor for employment in the public sector. However, they recognize “importance of also looking at extrinsic factors when analysing public sector employment, and stresses the need to also consider structural factors which affect the opportunities people have” (Van de Walle, Steijn and Jilke, 2015, p. 851). The literature review from Rainey (2014) on the incentives and values of the public employees has also listed extrinsic and intrinsic incentives and PSM as related to motivation in organizations. Additionally, it would be expected that motivation is also affected by the public-sector environment (Rainey, 2014). In order to get a better understanding of what causes motivational growth and decline in the social services sector in Bulgaria, this study will use public service motivation, extrinsic factors, intrinsic concept and role of the organizational structure as key factors. However, taking into account the explanatory approach of the study, the interviews would be semi-structured and will also look for other potential factors.

This study is organized as follows. The next section presents the scientific literature found on the four factors that influence employees’ motivation. After that the methodology chosen to study this problem statement and the data gathering is explained. The result section presents the findings of the interviews and it is structured again following the four motivational concepts and it is followed by a brief discussion of the findings. Finally, the last section concludes this case study.

Theoretical framework

Downs (1968) list of incentives for public official includes power, income, security, desire to serve public interest, prestige, loyalty to organization and others. Lawler (1971) divides two incentive types: extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. Herzberg, Mausner, Peterson and Capwell (1957) have found the fowling factors as more important incentives: security, interest, opportunity for advancement, intrinsic aspects of job, wages, social aspects and others. Perry and Porter (1982) have proposed comparative framework, which helps to understand the motivation in public organizations. They include four factors in this framework: individual, job, work environment and external environment characteristics. In order to understand better the motives, values and incentives behind the Bulgarian social workers motivation this study will modify the above-mentioned factors. The following sub-sections will address the theoretical background on four factors: public service motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and the influence of the organizational structure on motivation.

Even though there has been many scientific research about PSM, a small part of them have been conducted in Eastern Europe and even smaller in Bulgaria. Zeger Van der Wal (2014), for example, has argued that because much bigger part of the research studies (over 80 %) on PSM are made in Western Europe and the United States, the implementation of the approaches found out to be working on in these countries could not be the best instruments for other societies due differences in historical, cultural, governance and institutional contexts.

Even scarcer literature has been found on the extrinsic and intrinsic motivational factors. After a computer search in Web of Science and Scopus in English and in Google Scholar in English and Bulgarian, there were only few articles that have included Bulgaria in their analysis. However, Van de Walle et al. (2015) argue that people choose to work in the public sector more because of individual characteristics, rather than country-level labor conditions. This statement and the limited information found for the Bulgarian employees proofs the need for further research on that question.

This qualitative study aims to bring more light to the highly understudied public sector in Bulgaria and to find the most influential factors for social service employees’ motivation.

Public service motivation

According to Perry and Wise (1990) higher level of PSM is positively related to higher interest in public sector employment. They define public service motivation as “an individual’s predisposition to respond to motives grounded primarily or uniquely in public institutions and organizations” (Perry and Wise, 1990, p. 368). They differentiate three main reasons for such behavior. Employees in public sector want to be part of policy formulation, they want to serve the public interest and third they identify themselves with public programs. In other words, they have a desire to contribute to society. Perry (1996) has developed four dimensions in order to measure the concept of PSM: attraction to public affairs (policy-making), commitment to public interest, compassion and self-sacrifice. However, other researches argue that not the sector itself, rather the job type have bigger influence (Christensen and Wright, 2011; Kjeldsen and Jacobsen, 2013).

Testing the influence effect of PSM on the attraction selection process Kjeldsen and Jacobsen (2013) haven’t found significant positive relationship between PSM and attraction or actual employment in the public sector. Their research shows a significant post entre shock effect in the public sector, which is expressed by decline in the motivation after starting work. They argue that PSM is more associated with the nature of public services, rather than the public sector itself. The authors have used Danish physiotherapy students, who are starting their career live. In this special case employees could perform the same tasks under very similar environment in both sectors, public and private. This research design idea could be also implemented in the social services case, where employees could choose to work for the government or for private institution, like private hospitals or private houses for underprivilege people. This possibility would be included in the interview section below.

Leisink and Steijn (2008) have looked deeper into this relationship and focused on two main directions: person–organization fit and person–job fit. The theory behind this research wave is more connected to the attraction selection model (Scheider, 1987) and to Person-Environment Fit Theory (Kristof-Brown, 1996; Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman, and Johnson, 2005), however trying to get a deeper understanding of the public social employee’s motivation, it is going to be used in the constructing the interview questionnaire. Person–organization fit addresses the similarity between individual values and these by the organization (Christensen and Wright 2011). The person–job fit refers to the match between the individuals needs and the job tasks performed at work (Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman, and Johnson, 2005).

Houston (2014) uses this concept and tests the effect of locus and focus of public service motivation in post-communist countries. In his study the Bulgarian communist bureaucratic regime is described as patrimonial regime, which is defined by “weak administrative structures and a lack of professionalism”, where “individual politicians have a large influence on bureaucratic operations that are consequently characterized by patronage, nepotism, and corrupt circles of power holders” (Houston, 2014, p. 847). The results show that the person-job fit is more important for the public service motivation in these countries. According to Houston (2014) the lower impact of the locus of occupation is due to the effects of the administrative culture during the communist regime. For intrinsic and extrinsic work motives the author didn’t find difference between public and private sector workers.

Van de Walle, Steijn and Jilke (2015) tested the factors that attract employees to the public sector. They used 26 countries, including Bulgaria. They have found that people, who decided to work in the public sector, consider it important to help others and be useful to society trough their work.

Extrinsic motivation

Taylor and Taylor (2011) have done a study on efficiency wages in the government sector. Their research shows that Bulgaria was one of the countries, in which the government is paying its employees less than the measured efficiency wage. In comparison to the other 15 countries in the study, Bulgarian wages had to be raised more in order to get the same amount of increased effort. However, they found out that the most cost-effective way to achieve higher government workers’ motivation is through their PSM levels. It is important to mention that the authors did not include job security as an incentive.

Van de Walle et al. (2015) data shows that a little over 50% of Bulgarian employees are working for the government or civil services and also that Bulgaria had the lowest ratio of public and private sector wages among the countries included in the study. This proposes that payment in the Bulgarian public services is not the leading extrinsic factor for motivation. However, Frey and Osterloh (2002) point out that employees with intrinsic motives could also value extrinsic motivation, such as job security and high salary.

Houston (2000, 2011) findings present that for public employees, job security is a major motivation factor. This is expected to be the case also for the Bulgarian public sector.

Van de Walle et al. (2015) have tested the hypotheses that career-based system of employment, where after entry employees are dependent from the organization decisions and are expected to work there for long term, is positively correlated with public sector employment. This kind of system provides a sense of security. In contrast, the position-based systems provide less security for public sector employees, because they have to compete with others to get promoted or keep their job. Van de Walle et al. (2015) also argue that people, who choose public sector have high preferences for job security, high income and good opportunities for advancement. The results of their study support both of above described hypothesis. Even though, Bulgaria is part of the 26 counties in the study (Van de Walle et al., 2015) the results would not be taken as general, provided the different specifics across public departments, positions and job types. In a following section the relativeness of the extrinsic factors and also type of employment would be explored for the case of the social services sector.

Intrinsic Motivation

Van de Walle et al. (2015) have found that high intrinsic work values lead to preference to work in the private sector. They have used independent work, interesting job and not fixed work time as factors associated with intrinsic work motivation. In other words, people who have such preferences would choose the public sector. Expecting similar results for the Bulgarian social services sector, these findings would be further explored given that personal intrinsic reasons behind job motivation could be something other than those three factors.

Cowley and Smith (2014) have measured the intrinsic motivation across 51 countries using data from the World Values Survey. They show that Bulgaria is one of the few countries, where private sector workers are more intrinsically motivated then public ones. For their second argument they used self-reported motivation measures. Cowley and Smith analysis shows that corruption leads to lower correlation between intrinsically motivated workers and employment in the public sector. The Bulgarian corruption index according to this study in one of the highest in Europe, which predicts low intrinsic motives among the social service employees in Bulgaria.

Organizational Structure

Marcheva (2013) identifies three administrative subcultures in Bulgaria: traditional, entrepreneurial, and political. The first one is described to separate politics from administration and to be loyal to procedures. The second is identified with the rise of the New Public Management models and emphasis on innovation, market competition and adaptability. The political one is tied to the politics. She points out problems like corruption, slow modernization and hardly proactive behavior as reasons for the inefficiency work in most public sectors. Later in this study these types of problems, environment issues and constraints would be analyzed as possible factors that increase or decrease employees’ motivation.

Hackman and Oldham (1976) model of work motivation includes five core job dimensions: task identity, task significance, skill variety, autonomy and feedback. The study argues that these dimensions influence indirectly the internal work motivation of the employees. Hackman and Oldham (1981) found small negative correlation between these job dimensions and organizational structure variables, such as size, levels, formalization and centralization. However, these findings were conducted in public and private organizations across the United States and Canada. No scientific papers, which test such correlation for Bulgarian employees were found. Rainey (2014, p. 217) have listed also red tape and complexity as part of the dimensions that define organizational structure. He includes factors as size, environment, technology and tasks that have an effect on the structure and design (Rainey, 2014, p. 217-23). The impact of these organizational components on the personal motivation and the reasoning for such, will be looked for in the following study.


The main problem statement of this paper is dealing with questions, as what are the main motives for social service employees to work hard and to work well. How do they feel about their current working environment? Why are they working in the public sector? Yin (2014, p 52) describes such type case study design as common case, where “the objective is to capture circumstances and conditions of an everyday situation” and extract “the lessons it might provide about the social processes related to some theoretical interest”. Van Evera (1997) has proposed five different situations, when the case study method is especially relevant. This study covers two of them, by testing the existing theory for of public employee’s motivation in the context of Bulgarian public sector and using the results from the analysis for establishing the right path for future managing strategies and development in this sector.

This study has an explanatory single case study design. The single-unit of analysis is the department of social services in one of the central municipalities in Sofia (Yin, 2012). In order to get better understanding of the problem statement three semi-structure in depth personal interviews with employees of the social services sector have been conducted. The interviews lasted between 30 and 40 minutes on the telephone and have used strategies proposed by Yin (2014) for a proper interview base data collection. More specifically the principles followed were to be a good listener, trying not to be trapped by existing conception, adapting to respondents’ answers, but still baring the questionnaire guide in mind (Yin, 2014, p. 73).

Such interviews could “offer richer and more extensive material that data from surveys or even the open-ended portions of survey instruments” (Yin, 2012, p.12)

Yin (2014) has described four tests that could measure the quality of the research design. The first one is constructing validity, which have been covered in this study by focusing on the four factors that have been identified to have influence on motivation and then chosen the right questions to measure these concepts. The second important point that Yin makes is to have internal and extern validity. Internal validity would be presented in the result section below, where pattern matching and building explanation would be made. External validity in this case would be checked by analytical generalization with confirming or rejecting the statements discussed in the theoretical review part and this would be displayed in the result section below. The last necessary test according to Yin is to have a reliable study, which here is approached by designing a questionnaire guide followed by semi-structured interviews making it possible to repeat for future researches.

The questionnaire guide has been constructed on the four factors based to measure motivation in this study: PSM, intrinsic factor, extrinsic factors, organizational structure.

Kim et al (2012) have tried to create an internationalized PSM index, that could be used across different countries. However, their results show that the modified PSM dimensions they developed were not universal across cultures and languages. One of the future directions of PSM research drawn by Perry and Vandenabeele (2015) is the need for more qualitative studies, which would help with deeper understanding of public employees’ motivation. The question guide for PSM in this study is based on the multidimensional framework designed by Perry (1996). It includes: attraction to public policy making, commitment to the public interest/civic duty, compassion and self-sacrifice. Part of the questions are displayed in the tables below. The whole interview guide, as well as a transcript of the interviews are placed in the appendix.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The role of the PSM is also influenced by the amount of red tape, high levels of centralization and strict rules codex (Rainey, 2014, p. 316), which leads to the question how organizational structure effects PSM and also motivation overall. Based on Rainey (2014, p. 216-17) review and description on the topic of structure, in this study three dimensions have been included: centralization, formalization and red tape. As a starting point of the conversation about the organizational influence on employees’ motivation the following questions have been used.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

In order to research how much value social service employees place on extrinsic factors, like money, security and other benefits, and on intrinsic factors like, interesting job, working independently and challenging tasks, the following guide was constructed (Rainey, 2014; Van de Walle et al. 2015):

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


Taking into account the explanatory character of this case study, the result section is structured by pattern matching technique (Yin, 2014, p. 143). The data would be examined following the motivational factors discussed above and compared with the statements from the theoretical section. In order to provide a triangulation to the data the interviews would be compared between themselves and also between the theory and newspaper articles.


By starting the interviews with an open question about what is the first most important thing that brings motivation in their current job, all three respondents answered that they like helping people in need.

“we help people and in Bulgaria people really need this kind of social help.” (Employee 1, 00:06:40)

“I always try to deal with understanding, no matter how nervous or stressed the person is. If I have to be honest, I feel that they need my help and I try to put myself in their shoes.” (Employee 2, 00:53:40)

“The most important thing is that you can really help the people…” (Employee 3, 1:21:26)

These answers are consistent with to Van de Walle, Steijn and Jilke (2015) findings, which show that people who decided to work in the public sector, consider it important to help others and be useful to society trough their work. Further, all respondents answered positively to the question “Do you think everyone should somehow contribute to the public wellbeing?”. These findings show the existence of commitment to the public interest as a factor to the overall public service motivation.

Testing if this attraction is due to the person-job fit and not due to the publicness of the sector itself as Kjeldsen and Jacobsen (2013) and Houston (2014) have argued, the employees were asked if they could find similar type of work in the private sector. The answers were different from each other, however, a pattern across the employees’ decision to work in the public sector was that they lack motivation for upgrading their skill set and also lack of motivation to compete in the private sector.

The existence of the factor compassion from Perry (1996) dimensions in the case of the Bulgarian employees was also found to have strong influence on their motivation. All of them were contributing to the process of helping people outside their job tasks. The reasoning they gave for this type of behavior was that they put themselves in the shoes of the citizens. For example, one of the employees said that she doesn’t take lunch breaks and that she come half hour earlier, in order to keep people not waiting. By resolving different cases, the employees were contacting different institutions and looking for different ways to help the people, which is not part of their daily routine. Another example, is the fact that they consult people outside the office hours, whenever they have been asked to. However, these actions were not considered as self-sacrifice, when they were asked. Another example of similar behavior came from the second employee, whit a case she had, where a citizen was unable to receive the service he needed, because of error in the computer system. She advised him to complain about this in the municipality, even though this complain would be against her as an employee, it would be a solution to the person’s problem.


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Public-Sector Work Motivation. Case study on Bulgarian Social Services
Aarhus School of Business
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public-sector, work, motivation, case, bulgarian, social, services
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Anonymous, 2018, Public-Sector Work Motivation. Case study on Bulgarian Social Services, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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