Employee motivation in the Australian Public Service
: A frontline service delivery perspective

  • Scott Bailey

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis investigates what motivates a group of Australian Commonwealth Public Service (APS) employees who deliver health and welfare services to the Australian public. The research aims to explore and understand: what motivates APS employees, what key themes exist, whether common perspectives exist, and what motivations drive these perspectives and why? The research adopted a five-stage Q methodology approach to unpack what and why these motives are important.

    Understanding what motivates employees is an important first step in being able to lead and ensure that employees stay engaged and perform to an optimal level. There is little research on the motivation of public servants conducted within the Australian Public Service context. This study, involving a small number of participants within a single government agency, provides a specific focus on frontline service delivery staff and aims to provide new insights and contributions to the existing international body of knowledge pertaining to the motivation of public service employees.

    Fifty-two participants attended one of seven focus groups during the development of the Q set which raised 200 individual statements outlining their motives for working in the public service. A consolidation resulted in a final Q set of 54 items which were grouped into seven distinct dimensions (personal growth, mastery, socialisation, work/life balance, public interaction, and pay and conditions). Forty-two participants completed a Q sort requiring the placement of the Q set statements on a forced distribution matrix that ranged between -6 and +6. A factor analysis using PQMethod combined with the qualitative insights captured during post-sort interviews, led to the emergence of five distinct perspectives (The Career Minded, The Entitled, The Carers, The Baby Boomers, and The Well Rounded). These findings and implications from this research suggest that public service motivation is more nuanced than researched oriented towards Perry & Wise 1990) and using the Perry (1996) instrument.

    From this research, an exciting line of research to explore public service motivation exists within Australia to explore across different functions/role, different organisations, different jurisdictions, and across the three tiers of government.
    Date of Award2022
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorNaomi Dale (Supervisor) & David Carter (Supervisor)

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