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How Are Employees of the Nonprofit Sector Motivated? A Research Need



This article reviews research on motivation of employees in the nonprofit sector, with a major emphasis on the motivation of teachers and hospital nursing staff. Although both areas are widely researched in the nonprofit sector, empirical motivation research conducted in schools and hospitals is certainly not extensive. Nevertheless, based on these limited research findings, we derive potential hypotheses for future research in schools and hospitals.
NONPROFIT MANAGEMENT & LEADERSHIP, vol. 16, no. 2, Winter 2005 © Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 191
How Are Employees
of the Nonprofit
Sector Motivated?
A Research Need
Catherine Schepers, Sara De Gieter,
Roland Pepermans, Cindy Du Bois,
Ralf Caers, Marc Jegers
This article reviews research on motivation of employees in the
nonprofit sector, with a major emphasis on the motivation of
teachers and hospital nursing staff. Although both areas are
widely researched in the nonprofit sector, empirical motivation
research conducted in schools and hospitals is certainly not
extensive. Nevertheless, based on these limited research findings,
we derive potential hypotheses for future research in schools and
THIS ARTICLE EXPLORES the necessity of nonprofit specifications in
the existing motivation theories. Most motivation-related non-
profit research concentrates on existing and well-documented
motivation theories stemming from the for-profit sector. Three basic
themes have received most attention in this respect: the two-factor theory
by Herzberg, Mausner, and Snyderman (1957), the job characteristics
model by Hackman and Oldham (1980), and the expectancy-valence
motivation theory by Vroom (1964). These theories, which represent
either a content approach or a process approach to motivation, domi-
nate the research agenda. Content theories of motivation emphasize the
reasons that elicit behavior, that is, what causes it and what its intended
purpose is. A content theory explains behavioral aspects in terms of
specific human needs, specific values, or other factors that drive behavior
and act as motives. Process theories of motivation focus on how the
motives create arousal of a certain intensity, leading to a particular
behavior, or how a person comes to act in a certain way. There is less
emphasis on the specific factors that cause behavior (Tosi, Mero, and
Rizzo, 2000; Foster, 2000).
While the two-factor theory focuses on the motivation content,
that is, the now classic duality between extrinsic and intrinsic
factors that respectively decrease or increase motivation, the
expectancy-valence motivation theory covers the motivation
process: How do motives affect people’s willingness to work or their
persistence at work? This approach mainly covers the cognitive pro-
cesses involved in motivation. The job characteristics model can
be seen as between the two-factor theory and the expectancy-
valence motivation theory on a continuum, with the content
approach at one end and the process approach at the other. The
original job characteristics (skill variety, task significance, task
identity, autonomy, and feedback) may be considered intrinsic
motives that drive employees to do certain tasks, thus relating to
content theories of motivation. The model explains how these
motives may produce not only job satisfaction and intrinsic moti-
vation, but also higher production and less absenteeism and
personnel turnover, through critical psychological states, thus elab-
orating on the motivational process. Although there exist other the-
ories of motivation (Tosi, Mero, and Rizzo, 2000), our attention will
be directed at studies that apply these most popular work motiva-
tion theories. Also the discussion of motivation-related concepts
such as organizational citizenship behavior (Podsakoff, Ahearne,
and MacKenzie, 1997) or organizational commitment (Meyer and
Allen, 1991) is beyond our scope here.
Two major impetuses have prompted this review. First, while
theoretical developments on work motivation may have declined
in recent years, the work environment has changed dramatically.
Organizations are both downsizing and expanding. The workforce
is characterized by increased diversity with highly divergent
needs and demands. New organizational forms are now common-
place, and globalization, as well as the challenges of managing
across borders, is now the norm instead of the exception. These
changes undoubtedly have an impact on how organizations attempt
to motivate their employees (Steers, Mowday, and Shapiro, 2004),
thus requiring the investigation of a possible update of common
motivation theories. Second, it can be argued that at least the
situation and the employees in the nonprofit sector differ from a
for-profit environment, and doubts may arise as to whether the
classic motivation approaches accurately represent employees’
motivation in the nonprofit sector. Three arguments can be
presented to support the latter point.
First, using the structural-operational definition, as suggested
by Salomon and Anheier (1992), nonprofit organizations share some
important characteristics (Morris, 2000):
Formal—institutionalized to some degree in terms of their organi-
zational form or system of operation
Private—institutionally separate from government
Nonprofit-distributing—not returning any profits generated to their
owners or directors but plowing them back into the basic mission
of the organization (the nondistribution constraint)
Doubts may
arise as to
whether the
classic motivation
motivation in
the nonprofit
Self-governing—equipped with their own internal apparatus for
Voluntary—frequently a major participation of voluntary employees
in the operation or the management of the organization’s affairs
(Rudney, 1987)
A for-profit organization, in contrast, can distribute profits to its
owners, is able to give account to its stakeholders, is hierarchically
structured, and is not characterized by the participation of voluntary
employees. Moreover, nonprofit organizations are often less hierar-
chical (Barnabé and Burns, 1994). These differences in features indi-
cate that a nonprofit environment creates a different work situation
in which employees have to perform, thus possibly requiring a dif-
ferent work attitude and motivation. Moreover, even if these features
characterize nonprofit organizations in general, the heterogeneity of
the sector (Hansmann, 1987) may necessitate some subsector speci-
fications as well. Therefore, we believe that all too often, motivation
theories with a for-profit inheritance are too easily applied as a gen-
eral framework for nonprofit applications. Consequently, the inves-
tigation of the specific motives of employees in various nonprofit
sectors represents a significant gap in motivation research.
Second, socioeconomic factors also emphasize the discrepancies
between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. The latter is more
determined by a sociopolitical agenda. The challenge of finding finan-
cial resources is often controlled by external interests, and nonprofit
organizations can often be characterized as open systems (Young and
Steinberg, 1995; Herman and Heimovics, 1991). Moreover, nonprofit
organizations are often less hierarchical (Barnabé and Burns, 1994).
They respond to different economic pressures (Hansmann, 1987)
and have a different competitive place in the market (Young and
Steinberg, 1995; Herman and Heimovics, 1991). A common
approach in the economic literature is to model the behavior of for-
profit, nonprofit, and government service providers separately.
Typically researchers assume that for-profit firms wish to maximize
profits and then derive and evaluate their competitive behavior from
this assumption (Steinberg, 1987). Based on these insights, one
would expect nonprofit specifications for profit-oriented motivation
theories, since the work environment is quite different from the
for-profit sector.
Third, there are indications that employees in the for-profit and
nonprofit sectors differ in personality, values, and behavioral
dimensions. Some time ago, it was shown that individuals wanting
to enter nonprofit organizations were more people oriented than
those who wanted to enter for-profit firms (Rawls and Nelson,
1975; Rawls, Ullrich, and Nelson, 1975). Wittmer (1991) observed
that nonprofit employees cared more about serving the public
needs than about extrinsic rewards like a sizable income. In addi-
tion, nonprofit managers seemed to display a stronger commitment
We believe that
all too often,
theories with a
inheritance are
too easily applied
as a general
framework for
to the philosophy of their organization and were more helpful and
forgiving, in contrast to the more ambitious for-profit managers
who sought high salaries (Handy and Katz, 1998).
These findings suggest that different motives might be at stake
in both sectors, thus supporting our interest in nonprofit motivation
There is reason to believe that nonprofit subsectors may require
alternative motivation insights. We have chosen two sectors for
reviewing existing motivation-related studies: educational and hos-
pital environments. These settings seem to provide the most
research on motivation, perhaps because of their relatively easy
access for empirical research. Furthermore, both are interesting to
study because hospitals bear some resemblance to for-profit orga-
nizations (for example, they have a hierarchical structure; Carney,
2004; Marmor, Schlesinger, and Smithey, 1987) and schools have
less of a resemblance. In this way, some significant variation can be
observed, especially in testing the applicability of managerial tools
with a for-profit origin. As will become clear, existing research
about the motivation of employees in the nonprofit sector puts a
major emphasis on studies of teaching and hospital nursing staff.
Therefore, this review concentrates on studies of these employees
in an attempt to develop some hypotheses and suggestions for
further study in view of our knowledge of work motivation in
nonprofit organizations.
Work Motivation of Teachers
Barnabé and Burns (1994) noted that teachers may be motivated
quite differently from business workers because education systems
differ in many respects from business systems. Teachers work in a
flat, craft-style organization structure; they work primarily with
students; they are physically isolated from the continuous interac-
tions with other adults that characterize most business work; and
they are faced with qualitatively based, subjective judgments of
effectiveness. Business workers, in contrast, work mainly in a hier-
archical organization structure, have continuous contacts with other
adults, and receive judgment of individual competence from
management (Miner, 1993). Clearly, the work environment in edu-
cational settings presents employees with specific challenges that
can be expected to result in different motivational forces (for
example, an urge for feedback).
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Educational
Miskel (1982) emphasized the importance of intrinsic motivation for
teachers, although intrinsic motivation is also receiving attention
in for-profit studies. Since the work of Herzberg, Mausner, and
Snyderman (1957), the concept of intrinsic motivation has been
Teachers may be
motivated quite
differently from
business workers
systems differ in
many respects
from business
elaborated on; it can be considered a force that brings someone to do
an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separate
consequence. An intrinsically motivated individual is moved to act
for the fun or challenge entailed rather than because of external prods,
pressures, or rewards (Ryan and Deci, 2000). According to Hackman,
Oldham, Janson, and Purdy (1975), intrinsic motivation occurs when
an individual is “turned on to one’s work because of the positive inter-
nal feelings that are generated by doing well, rather than being depen-
dent on external factors (such as incentive pay or compliments of the
boss) for the motivation to work effectively” (p. 58).
In a British study, affiliation and altruism as well as personal
growth were seen as important motives for teaching staff (Dinham
and Scott, 1997). Affiliation and altruism are particularly neglected
in motivation theories coming from the for-profit sector. Scott, Cox,
and Dinham (1999) conducted a further study with 609 English
teachers and school administrators to examine and benchmark teach-
ers’ occupational motivation, satisfaction, and health and to test a
model of teacher satisfaction developed in Australia in a previous
research phase. For the majority of teachers in the English sample,
the most popular reason for entering teaching was similar to their
Australian counterparts: “always having wanted to teach” (p. 296).
They scored highest on those aspects of commitment that suggested
a preference for working with and for people, which supports find-
ings on the differences between for-profit and nonprofit employees
(Wittmer, 1991; Handy and Katz, 1998). Personal growth indicated
that the English teachers and their Australian peers valued their own
continuing development as human beings (Scott, Cox, and Dinham,
1999). A more extensive study by Scott, Stone, and Dinham (2001)
on the career motivation and satisfaction of more than three thou-
sand teachers in four countries (Australia, New Zealand, England,
and the United States) revealed that teachers everywhere enter the
profession to serve children. They are motivated by altruism and
activism and seek to make a difference by aiding individual children.
However, teachers complain about students who are extremely emo-
tionally and socially needy or who have serious self-discipline prob-
lems. In addition, they are demotivated by the expansion of external
assessments, requiring the production of more written documents in
greater detail, causing an increase in paperwork.
In a Belgian qualitative study, Dierynck and others (1998) inter-
viewed forty-three teachers with at least fifteen years of educational
experience about their work motivation. Three factors contributed
to their motivation: personal biography, job characteristics, and work
conditions. Personal biography refers to information about the moti-
vation to start teaching (for example, they enjoy working with
pupils) and the career and family context (for example, teachers’ pri-
vate life situations influenced their performance). The fact that these
authors suggest a particular set of motives when choosing the career
can also be seen as an indication of the potential dynamic construct
Three factors
contributed to the
work motivation
of teachers:
biography, job
and work
that motivation may be, in contrast to the long-standing trait-related
approach (Locke and Latham, 2004). The second category, job char-
acteristics, refers to the relationships with pupils, the perception of
achieving results with pupils, innovation in class, and, similar to the
British studies, teaching itself. The last category, work conditions, con-
tains information about the relationship with the principal, the
autonomy of teachers, participation in extracurricular decisions, and
possibilities for professional development.
Although the methodology of Dierynck and others (1998) can
be critiqued (for example, this was a sample of exclusively highly
motivated teachers, and there was lack of clarity about the research
method), these authors point out, as Scott, Cox, and Dinham (1999)
did, that teachers may be highly motivated by intrinsic rewards, but
extrinsic factors are relevant as well.
Older studies (Garbarino, 1975; McLaughlin and Marsh, 1978;
Spuck, 1974) have indicated that although financial incentives can
promote specific behaviors (such as accepting difficult teaching
assignments) and direct teachers’ efforts toward measurable goals
(such as achieving higher test scores among their pupils), they are
less promising as tools to improve general teaching performance
(Moore, 1986). There seems to be extensive evidence that teachers
regard professional efficacy, not money, as the primary motivator in
their work (Scott, Cox, and Dinham, 1999; Dierynck and others,
1998; Garbarino, 1975; McLaughlin and Marsh, 1978; Spuck, 1974).
There is even some evidence that the prospect of extrinsic rewards
may diminish the potential of intrinsic rewards (Moore, 1986). These
findings are in line with a meta-analysis conducted by Deci, Ryan,
and Koestner (1999) confirming that virtually every type of expected
tangible reward made contingent on task performance does in fact
undermine intrinsic motivation.
Interesting in this regard are the career ladders for teachers,
which aim at improving teacher performance by increasing the
opportunities for teacher incentives (Luce, 1998). These ladders are
designed to generate intrinsic rewards such as recognition, chal-
lenges, and opportunities for growth. Career ladders have been
implemented in some schools across the United States to improve
teacher motivation and expand teachers’ contributions to the effec-
tiveness of their schools (Luce, 1998). Teachers are evaluated accord-
ing to defined competencies, and their roles may be modified
according to their evaluation. Professional development needs, as
determined by individual assessment, can be addressed in this way.
More capable teachers assume responsibilities as peer coaches or
mentors for those with less competence or less experience. In recog-
nition of these new responsibilities, teachers receive additional com-
pensation over and above their scheduled salary, which is usually
based on years of experience and educational preparation (as is the
case in many countries). These career ladders do not emphasize a
shift to different work: teaching remains the main responsibility
There seems to
be extensive
evidence that
teachers regard
efficacy, not
money, as the
motivator in
their work
(Luce, 1998). Career ladders are especially interesting in flat
organization structures such as schools, because they allow changes
in the rather flat careers of teachers; furthermore, continued learn-
ing may get rewarded in the future (Sels, 2003).
This review of previous research leads us to hypothesize that
teaching in itself is motivating. This is in contrast to most other pro-
fessions where executing the basic professional activities is seldom
considered as motivating in itself. Often activities are motivating
because they serve another intrinsic or extrinsic purpose, such as the
need for variation in tasks or to get a promotion. The question
remains, of course, which essential characteristics make teaching
itself motivating and whether these account for all individuals in all
The Two-Factor Theory in Educational Settings
The interviews of seventy-one teachers by Sergiovanni (1967) and of
fifty-seven teachers who resigned by Dinham and Scott (1997) are
two examples of studies showing that the factors giving rise to satis-
faction and dissatisfaction are largely mutually exclusive. In both
studies, responses from the teachers tended not to differ. While
intrinsic aspects of teaching like student achievement and teacher
self-growth were found to be uniformly satisfying, extrinsic factors
of teaching, such as poor interpersonal relations and administrative
responsibilities, uniformly generated dissatisfaction. In other words,
dissatisfiers (extrinsic aspects of teaching) were perceived as detract-
ing from or militating against the core business of teaching students.
The results of these studies (Sergiovanni, 1967; Dinham and Scott,
1997) may be seen as supporting Herzberg’s two-factor theory
(Herzberg, Mausner, and Snyderman, 1957), insofar as the factors
giving rise to teacher satisfaction and teacher dissatisfaction are con-
sidered different and thus not arranged at the opposite ends of the
same continuum. Dinham and Scott (2000) observed that the major
dissatisfiers are not located within the school (that is, within the con-
ditions of work) but within the broader social context and environ-
ment in which each school operates. These dissatisfiers were largely
out of the control of teachers and schools and found within the wider
domain of society, government, and the employing body (Dinham
and Scott, 2000).
It is known that most studies using the Herzberg methodology
support the two-factor theory, while a different research method does
not (King, 1970; Soliman, 1970; Janssen, Nijhuis, Peeters, and de
Jonge, 1996). Indeed Sergiovanni (1967) and Dinham and Scott
(1997) used the critical incidents interview approach and content
analysis procedures, as did Herzberg, Mausner, and Snyderman
(1957), and supported the two-factor theory. Similar problems about
the empirical divide between intrinsic and extrinsic motives have
also been encountered in for-profit sector research (King, 1970;
Grigaliunas and Weiner, 1974; Janssen, Nijhuis, Peeters, and
de Jonge, 1996). However, to our knowledge, the method depen-
dency of these findings has not been systematically tested yet in a
nonprofit environment.
Moreover, there is a lack of conceptual clarity as a result of the
Herzberg legacy. As Edgar (1999, p. 15) noted, “. . . Many of the arti-
cles on job satisfaction appeared to be measuring aspects of motiva-
tion.” This also seems to be the case in several studies in educational
settings discussed here (Dinham and Scott, 1997; Scott, Cox, and
Dinham, 1999; Dinham and Scott, 2000), but arises in work moti-
vation studies in the for-profit sector as well (for example, Kovach,
1987; Maidani, 1991). However, the problem may be less funda-
mental for our purpose if one considers satisfaction as the attitude
(or emotional state) that results from meeting the motives, and since
the concept “refers generally to a variety of aspects of the job”
(Arnold, 2005, p. 255), then satisfaction studies indeed provide infor-
mation as to what factors energize work behavior. As long as research
does not concentrate only on the correlates of the attitude itself, “atti-
tudes and attitude measurement [are] seen as pathways to uncover-
ing motivational keys” (Landy and Conte, 2004, p. 343). In his
cognitive value theory of job satisfaction, Locke (1976) concentrates
on certain job aspects (motives) that influence the employee’s work
behavior. Alternatively, Warr (1987) suggested, more from a content
point of view, nine job factors that might energize or restrain behav-
ior (although still concentrating on for-profit settings). Therefore,
conceptual clarity remains a requirement for identifying the variables
that are investigated.
Finally, and as a suggestion for further studies, the traditional
profit-oriented distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic motives
may need refinement for nonprofit purposes. Although the Dinham
studies, given the methodology constraints, generally supported the
importance of the distinction, the meaning of extrinsic motives
seemed to be narrower than what has been found in profit studies;
that is, extrinsic demotivators are not necessarily part of the teach-
ers’ conditions of work as they are often in profit research. Whether
this finding also holds in other teaching environments or in other
nonprofit settings may be put on the research agenda.
The Expectancy-Valence Motivation Theory
in Educational Settings
Investigations in educational organizations based on expectancy
theory were mainly published in the 1970s and the beginning of the
1980s. Mowday (1978) found that school principals with higher
motivation were more active in attempting to influence district deci-
sions. In a study of secondary and higher education teachers, Miskel,
De Frain, and Wilcox (1980) found motivation to be significantly
related to job satisfaction and perceived performance for both groups,
which supports the original Vroom hypotheses. Using a longitudinal
approach, Miskel (1981, 1982) suggested that teachers’ motivation
The traditional
between extrinsic
and intrinsic
motives may need
refinement for
was positively related to student achievement, student and teacher
attitudes, and communication among educators.
Although these studies emphasized a process approach, some
support is found for the earlier reported outcomes about the nar-
rower meaning of extrinsic motives in a teaching environment.
Communication among educators is not exactly an intrinsic factor,
yet it seemed to increase teachers’ motivation.
The Job Characteristics Model in Educational Settings
Barnabé and Burns (1994) investigated whether the Job Diagnostic
Survey (JDS), a questionnaire filled out by employees to measure the
variables at stake in the Job Characteristics Model (JCM), provided
support for the propositions of the model in educational settings,
similar to the findings in business settings. The basic proposition of
the JCM (Hackman and Oldham, 1980) is that favorable work out-
comes such as motivation arise from five characteristics of jobs that
create critical psychological states (experienced meaningfulness,
experienced responsibility, and knowledge of results). The results of
Barnabé and Burns (1994) provided preliminary support for the the-
ory. They revealed that while recognizing its limitations, school
administrators can use the JCM to diagnose the need for redesigning
the work of teachers. JDS data can be useful in determining whether
improvement is needed and what particular changes may be required.
If the JDS is useful for both diagnosis and evaluation, school admin-
istrators will have better information on which further changes can
be based. But as we have noted, we cannot assume that only struc-
tural or monetary changes will enhance teacher motivation (Moore,
1986; Scott, Cox, and Dinham, 1999; Dierynck and others, 1998).
Moreover, the actual status of the five job characteristics is not fully
clear yet. Can they be seen as job-related motivators for employees
with a growth need, and which role do the critical psychological
states play? It may even be suggested that the latter can be consid-
ered a motivational force as well, since the need for a responsible job
(according to the model, influenced by autonomy in the job) may
energize work behavior as well. Therefore, although the JCM is a
well-researched topic in the for-profit sector, questions remain as to
its application in a nonprofit setting.
Teachers express a preference for working with and for people (for
example, they enjoy working with pupils). Important motives
for teaching are affiliation, altruism, and personal growth. Also,
teachers experience student achievement as uniformly satisfying.
Furthermore, the studies revealed that it is not high salary but pro-
fessional efficacy that is very important to teachers, a conclusion in
line with studies revealing differences in motivation between
for-profit and nonprofit employees. According to Wittmer (1991),
nonprofit employees care more about serving public needs than
We cannot
assume that only
structural or
changes will
enhance teacher
about extrinsic rewards like income. In addition, nonprofit managers
display a stronger commitment to the philosophy of their organiza-
tion and are more helpful and forgiving, in contrast to more ambi-
tious for-profit managers who are seeking a high income (Handy and
Katz, 1998).
As the research of Dinham and Scott (2000) indicated, research is
needed on the application of the two-factor theory in educational set-
tings. Dinham and Scott also suggest a third domain of teacher dis-
satisfaction: the broader societal context and the environment in
which each school operates. More extensive research is needed as
well on the personality differences between teachers and employees
in the for-profit sector. As work by Dinham and Scott (1997), Scott,
Cox, and Dinham (1999), and Scott, Stone, and Dinham (2001) indi-
cated, one would expect that teachers would score higher on affilia-
tion and would be less competitive and money oriented than their
counterparts working in the for-profit sector. But how stable is this
finding, given some varying working conditions?
Work Motivation of Nurses
Although the literature specifically directed to motivation of nurses
is scarce, some interesting results should be considered.
The Job Characteristics Model in Hospital Settings
Kivimäki, Voutilainen, and Koskinen (1995) tested the JCM by inves-
tigating whether the level of job satisfaction and work motivation
is higher in more enriched jobs on primary nursing wards than in less
enriched jobs on wards with functional nursing. Work motivation was
assessed through a scale developed by Philips (1988; see also
Kivimäki, Voutilainen, and Koskinen, 1994). The scale included three
items on willingness of the staff to do their best at work and to be held
accountable for their work performance. Job satisfaction was mea-
sured by a six-item scale that dealt with one’s job, the people in one’s
work group, the supervisor, the hospital, one’s professional progress
at the current workplace, and the chances for getting ahead in the
organization in the future (Taylor and Bowers, 1972; see also
Kivimäki, Voutilainen, and Koskinen, 1994). The results revealed that
nursing jobs on the primary nursing wards were clearly more enriched
than those on the functional nursing wards. Furthermore, the results
indicated that the motivation of the nursing staff on primary nursing
wards was stronger than on the functional wards. The staff expected
nurses on primary wards more often to do their best and to be
accountable for their work outcomes. Kivimäki, Voutilainen, and
Koskinen (1994) supported the relationship between work motiva-
tion, job satisfaction, and job enrichment as presented in the JCM but
this time in a nonprofit environment. This is in line with the findings
on work allocation by Mäkinen and others (2003), which also corre-
spond to Hackman and Oldham’s hypotheses (1976) on the associa-
tions among autonomy, work motivation, and job satisfaction.
The motivation of
the nursing staff
on primary
nursing wards
was stronger than
on the functional
Similar support has been found in a Dutch study by Janssen, de
Jonge, and Bakker (1999) with 156 Dutch general hospital nurses.
Three important reactions to stress could be identified: diminished
intrinsic work motivation, occupational burnout, and an inclina-
tion to leave the job. In this research, conceptually integrated mea-
sures were used. Intrinsic work motivation, for example, was
measured with six items derived from a scale developed by Warr,
Cook, and Wall (1979). The study also revealed that intrinsic work
motivation is clearly and positively related to the quality of the job
content, that is, to elements of the job that make the work chal-
lenging and worthwhile, such as skill variety, autonomy, social con-
tacts, and opportunities to learn. Management can clearly focus on
these work content elements when trying to improve nurses’ intrin-
sic motivation. Yet studies to date concentrate on the existing
profit-originated JCM.
In an attempt to look at nonprofit specifications, Edgar (1999)
investigated the relationship between motivation, job satisfaction,
and job characteristics in nursing care delivery systems. For the pur-
pose of this study, the JCM was modified by adding four components
that were found in the literature to influence nurses’ work life (Baggs
and others, 1992; O’Brien-Pallas and Baumann, 1992): autonomy and
its supports, informal and formal communication, preference for the
division of tasks, and the patient environment. The research sample
in this study consisted of more than four hundred nurses who
worked in four Canadian hospitals. The data collection instrument
consisted of the Job Diagnostic Survey (Hackman and Oldham,
1976), as well as a questionnaire identifying nursing practices that
are conceptually related to the outcomes of motivation and demo-
graphic information. While the addition of the four attributes seemed
helpful in identifying specific areas of the nursing work that con-
tribute to satisfaction, these additional components did not
contribute directly to the explanation of internal work motivation. It
appears that support for autonomy may be the aspect of the nursing
work environment that, together with the core job characteristics
from the JCM, contributes significantly to work motivation through
a psychological state related to self-esteem (Edgar, 1999).
Most research in this area starts with the JCM to investigate work
motivation in hospital environments and concludes that expected
intrinsic rewards are by far more rewarding than extrinsic rewards.
However, knowing that the duality between intrinsic and extrinsic
motivation may be somewhat too general, a more differentiated
approach seems worth exploring. The JCM should not be neglected,
but perhaps nonprofit specifications are worth exploring further. The
additional characteristics that Edgar (1999) introduced did not prove
to be significant. But one wonders whether that is all there is. Given
that this is the only study so far that did not just transfer the JCM to
a nonprofit environment, an effort could be made to study work moti-
vation based on nonprofit employees instead of starting with motiva-
tion theories that originate mainly from the for-profit sector. Perhaps
other characteristics will be observed if one starts with in-depth inter-
views that could be used to reconceptualize work motivation in
nonprofits from a grounded theory approach (Hayes, 1997).
The investigation of motivation of nursing staff is not only scarce but
seems to concentrate heavily on testing the JCM. As Edgar (1999,
p. 15) mentioned, “There is a sparsity of nursing literature specifi-
cally directed to motivation; besides . . . many of the articles on job
satisfaction appeared to be measuring aspects of motivation.” Since
hospitals bear a greater resemblance to for-profit organizations than
to schools in terms of their hierarchical structure (Carney, 2004;
Marmor, Schlesinger, and Smithey, 1987), most researchers seem to
assume that classic motivation theories are applicable in hospital
settings. This may explain why schools are more popular for doing
alternative motivation research. Nevertheless, the work environment
of hospitals is totally different from that of a for-profit organization;
their patient-related work constitutes a unique client relationship
with an atypical product orientation: health. In nonprofit hospitals,
generating income has a different emphasis, which has an impact on
the rewarding potential of these organizations. We consider both
arguments to be reason enough to suggest that nurses may have dif-
ferent work motivators and that the application of work motivation
theories based on insights from for-profit organizations can be
questioned and requires more empirical fieldwork.
The literature review of the occupational motivation of nurses
reveals that they were more motivated in more enriched nursing jobs
than in less enriched nursing jobs. This general statement is indeed
in line with findings from for-profit organizations. Also, the intrinsic
work motivation of nurses proved to be determined primarily by ele-
ments of the job that make the work challenging and worthwhile,
such as skill variety, autonomy, social contacts, and opportunities to
learn, thus confirming hypotheses based on the JCM. Although some
attempts have been made to extend this model for nonprofit purposes
through motives such as social contacts and opportunities to learn,
more extensive research is required on issues as to what motivates
nurses to do their job, to what extent extrinsic motivators play a role,
whether nurses also have an unconditional preference for working
with and for people, and how different nurses are from employees in
for-profit organizations. Furthermore, the emphasis on one motiva-
tion theory in this nonprofit setting led us to ask whether other
theories should be considered.
Concluding Remarks
The dominant research paradigm used in nonprofit motivation
research concentrates on testing the validity of the two-factor theory
(Herzberg, Mausner, and Snyderman, 1957), the job characteristics
The application
of work
theories [to
nursing] based
on insights from
organizations can
be questioned and
requires more
model (Hackman and Oldham, 1980), and the expectancy-valence
motivation theory (Vroom, 1964) in a nonprofit environment. Since
the results of these efforts in most cases lead to the acceptance of
these applications, researchers agree that these profit-oriented theo-
ries can also be applied to nonprofit environments. At the same time,
most studies assume that workers are motivated by the same motives,
whether they are working in the for-profit sector, nonprofit organi-
zations, or the public sector (Silverthorne, 1996).
We have offered some arguments to emphasize the differences
between for-profit and nonprofit environments, which may have
consequences for nonprofit work motivation. Our review reveals
some empirical evidence showing that compared to employees
working in for-profit organizations, employees in the nonprofit
sector may be motivated by different factors—for example, pref-
erences for working with and for people, altruism, personal
growth, social contacts, opportunities to learn versus more ambi-
tion, and intrinsic rewards versus extrinsic rewards like income
and money. Further empirical attention to these topics is impor-
tant. In addition, as Locke and Latham (2004) recommended,
there is a general need to address the issue of motivational states
as being readily manipulated constructs rather than stable traits.
Therefore, it is important to investigate whether there are differ-
ences between for-profit and nonprofit employees considering the
stability of motivational states.
As a result of this review, we believe that the completeness of the
existing motivation theories when applied to a nonprofit environ-
ment and to nonprofit employees is questionable. Moreover, we
emphasize that there is little recent motivation research on the non-
profit sector. Consequently, various suggestions have been made and
hypotheses can be formulated to create a research agenda.
Of course, it is possible that the existing motivation theories can
be applied to the nonprofit sector, but as we have indicated, these
theories may be adapted, extended, or even reformulated in several
ways given the specific nonprofit constraints. We do realize that only
two nonprofit sectors have been reviewed in this article, but we are
quite confident that looking at other sectors would not have altered
our conclusions. Hence, this article serves as a call for more empiri-
cal research about employees and their work behavior in nonprofit
CATHERINE SCHEPERS is a doctoral research student in the Department of
Work, Organizational and Economic Psychology, Vrije Universiteit,
Brussels, Belgium.
SARA DEGIETER is a doctoral research student in the Department of Work,
Organizational and Economic Psychology, Vrije Universiteit, Brussels,
ROLAND PEPERMANS is a professor in the Department of Work, Organiza-
tional and Economic Psychology, Vrije Universiteit, Brussels, Belgium.
CINDY DUBOIS is a doctoral research student in the Department of
Microeconomics for the Profit and the Nonprofit Sectors, Vrije Universiteit,
Brussels, Belgium.
RALF CAERS is a doctoral research student in the Department of Micro-
economics for the Profit and the Nonprofit Sectors, Vrije Universiteit,
Brussels, Belgium.
MARC JEGERS is a professor in the Department of Microeconomics for the
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