The Employees’ State of Mind during COVID-19:
A Self-Determination Theory Perspective
Mark Anthony Camilleri
Citation: Camilleri, M.A. The
Employees’ State of Mind during
COVID-19: A Self-Determination
Theory Perspective. Sustainability
2021,13, 3634. https://doi.org/
Academic Editor: Natalio Extremera
Received: 3 March 2021
Accepted: 22 March 2021
Published: 25 March 2021
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Department of Corporate Communication, Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences, University of Malta,
2080 Msida, Malta; firstname.lastname@example.org
The unprecedented outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had a devastating
effect on the global economy. Many businesses experienced a signiﬁcant decline in their business ac-
tivities. As a result, their employees were concerned on their job security and long-term employment
prospects. This research explores the service employees’ motivations in their workplace environment
and sheds light on their perceptions about their employers’ corporate social responsibility (CSR). The
methodology integrated key measures from the self-determination theory (SDT), CSR, job security
and organizational performance. A structural equations modelling (SEM-PLS3) approach was used
to analyze the proposed research model. The ﬁndings conﬁrmed that the employees’ intrinsic moti-
vations were signiﬁcantly predicting their organizational performance. Their identiﬁed motivations,
job security as well as their employers’ social responsibility were signiﬁcant antecedents of their
intrinsic motivations. Moreover, there were signiﬁcant indirect effects that predicted the employees’
productivity in their workplace during COVID-19.
external motivation; intrinsic motivation; identiﬁed motivation; introjected motivation;
job security; corporate social responsibility
COVID-19 had a detrimental effect on society and the economy at large. Many
governments have introduced preventative measures including social distancing and
hygienic practices to curb the spread of the virus. In all countries and regions, there was,
at least initially, a push toward working from home, as far as possible [
]. Some sectors,
including hospitality, tourism and retail enterprises, among others, have signiﬁcantly
decreased their business activities. Consequently, they registered a considerable decline
in their incomes [
]. COVID-19 has affected mobilities and reduced the demand for
their companies’ products and services. Hence, several employees have lost their jobs or
experienced substantial reductions in their take-home pay [
]. Others were concerned
about their job security and employment prospects.
Various governments have pledged their support to ailing businesses to remain vi-
able during this crisis, to preserve their jobs, in their endeavors to alleviate ﬁnancial
burdens on their employees [
]. Some companies were capable of differentiating them-
selves, as they have taken a proactive stance to support their workers [
]. Many ﬁrms
relied on remote technologies to engage with their employees through the digital media
and organized virtual meetings and team building activities [
]. A few businesses have
also launched programs that addressed their employees’ mental, physical and emotional
]. Others devoted resources for well-being programs, including counselling and
Eventually, the governments and their policy makers have realized that the preventa-
tive measures, including lockdown conditions, that were mandated during the ﬁrst wave of
COVID-19, could not be sustained in the long term. Many countries have eventually eased
their restrictions to revitalize their economies. As a result, many organizations, including
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13073634 https://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 2 of 17
businesses, imposed new health and safety regulations in their premises. They introduced
hygienic practices, temperature checks and expected their visitors to wear masks, to reduce
the spread of the virus. Several businesses including small- and medium-sized enterprises
(SMEs) as well as startups, have availed themselves of their governments’ support [
Governments assisted those enterprises that were the most affected by COVID-19. They
helped them improve their liquidity to safeguard their employees’ jobs, to adopt new
working processes, speed up their digitalization and ﬁnd new markets. In many cases,
they have dedicated speciﬁc funds to (re)train employees to strengthen their post-crisis
]. These ambitious programs were intended to restore the faith and trust
in the businesses and their employees, by reassuring their job security, in the short term.
Hence, many governments and other employers from the private sector became responsive
to their employees’ needs. Their intention was to boost their morale and to provide them
with sense of belonging in order to enhance their productivity levels.
The individuals’ intrinsic motivations are usually driven by their psychological needs
including their sense of relatedness with others, competence and autonomy [
evant literature reported that those employers that recognize, praise and reward their
employees in a commensurate manner will enhance their motivations and job satisfac-
]. The recognition of the employees’ efforts in their day-to-day operations in-
creases their intrinsic motivations and decreases the need for extrinsic motivations [
The employers’ constructive feedback would satisfy their employees’ personal needs for
competence, stimulate their well-being and foster productive behaviors [
]. On the
other hand, destructive feedback would have a negative effect on their intrinsic motiva-
]. Moreover, the reduced conditions of employment as well as job insecurity can
also have a negative effect on the employees’ attitudes and behaviors in their workplace
]. The employees’ perceptions on their job security (or insecurity) and
on their long-term prospects may result from their employer’s internal practices and/or can
be triggered by external issues, such as COVID-19. Therefore, the employers’ responsibility
is to engage with their members of staff. They are expected to communicate about their
policies and procedures with their employees, including those relating to COVID-19.
This research investigates the employers’ socially responsible behaviors from their
employees’ perspective. It also examines the employees’ job security, extrinsic and intrinsic
motivations as well as their organizational performance in their workplace environment
during COVID-19. The methodology incorporates key measures from SDT with other
constructs, including those relating to CSR, job security and employee performance. This
contribution addresses a knowledge gap in academia, as it investigates the effects of CSR
behaviors, external motivations and perceived job security on the employees’ intrinsic
motivations and productivity. Currently, there is no other study that has integrated the
same measures that were utilized in this study, to understand the employees’ motivations
and performance during the challenging times of the pandemic. The underlying purpose
of this research is to raise awareness of the employees’ state of mind, in terms of their
extrinsic and intrinsic motivations in their workplace environments, following the second
wave of COVID-19. This timely contribution adds value to academia, as it clearly identiﬁes
important theoretical and managerial implications.
The following section provides a critical review of relevant theoretical underpinnings.
It introduces the readers to the measures that were used in this study and to the formulation
of the hypotheses of this research. The methodology section describes the method that was
used to collect and analyze the data from the respondents. Afterwards, the results section
presents the ﬁndings from a structural equation modelling partial least squares (SEM-PLS)
conﬁrmatory composite analysis approach. In conclusion, this contribution outlines its
theoretical as well as its practical implications. It identiﬁes its research limitations and
outlines plausible research avenues to academia.
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 3 of 17
2. The Conceptual Developments and the Formulation of Hypotheses
Previous studies that investigated the employees’ motivations in their workplace envi-
ronments have often relied on the SDT to explore the relationship between the employees’
extrinsic and intrinsic motivations [
]. These contributions suggested that
whilst intrinsic motivations would lead individuals to engage in activities because they are
interesting and satisfying, extrinsic motivations would necessitate external goals to entice
them to pursue certain behaviors. Many employers strive in their endeavors to motivate
their employees to improve their performance and productivity [
]. They may use
different approaches including extrinsic motivations to internalize organizational behaviors
in their members of staff [
]. Some academic commentators argued that the individuals’
intrinsic motivations may decrease if they perceive that external contingencies such as
incentives and rewards are being used to entice them to engage in certain activities or to
do them well [
]. Employees are usually coerced to follow their employers’ desired
behaviors in workplace organizations [
]. However, their actions can also be triggered by
personal interests and desires. In this case, it is likely that they will enjoy doing them [
2.1. Intrinsic Motivations
SDT presumes that individuals are determined to ﬁnd purpose in their personal life
and to fulﬁll themselves by achieving goals. The persons’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivations
are a means to inﬂuence their behaviors. SDT theorists contend that human beings are
inclined to engage in persistent behaviors to enhance their self-efﬁcacy and to satisfy
their self-actualization needs [
]. Three intrinsic needs, including competence, autonomy
and relatedness can motivate persons to initiate self-determined behaviors [
psychological, innate needs are required for their emotional health and well-being [
Therefore, individuals rely on each other, as they can develop in a social context. Of course,
individuals have different traits, characteristics, values and beliefs. Some persons may
develop stronger intrinsic needs than others.
In a similar vein, the cognitive evaluation theory (CET) seeks to explain how social
and environmental factors could facilitate or hinder intrinsic motivations [
]. Similar to
SDT, CET can be used to investigate the individuals’ needs of competence, autonomy and
]. In fact, it is considered as a sub theory of SDT, as it explains the effects of ex-
ternal consequences on internal motivations [
]. Both theories were often used explore the
employees’ motivations and performance in their workplace
Employees are usually frustrated if they believe that they have a lower locus of control
to perform the task [
]. Their autonomy may be undermined if they perceive that
they are controlled by tangible, motivational factors [
]. Therefore, employees are self-
determined when they feel autonomous and competent [
]. For this to happen,
they require the support of their colleagues. CET suggests that the relatedness construct
provides a sense of security, thereby contributing to increase the individuals’ intrinsic
]. Moreover, according to SDT, positive reinforcement, praise and rewards
would motivate employees to engage in desired behaviors, whilst fulﬁlling their needs
for competence. Collaborative working climates that promote supportive behaviors and
] would facilitate the internalization of the organizations’ shared values,
beliefs and norms of behavior. The interdependence of employees can inﬂuence collective
behaviors and can affect how they interact with each other, with customers and with other
]. An organizational culture that fosters relatedness among workgroups,
ﬂexibility and innovation will increase their employees’ motivations .
The employees’ basic needs for relatedness, competence and autonomy are linked
with their intrinsic motivations, including morale and job satisfaction [
intrinsic motivations are driven by the emotions that emerge while they are engaging in
speciﬁc activities on their job. These inherent motivations can have a positive effect on
their work outcomes [
]. They will lead them to engage in productive behaviors, if they
enjoy doing their job [
]. Hence, their organizational performance is an outcome of
the employees’ subjective feeling of well-being. This leads to the ﬁrst hypothesis.
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 4 of 17
Hypothesis 1 (H1).
Intrinsic motivation is a positive and signiﬁcant antecedent of organizational
performance in workplace environments.
2.2. Extrinsic Motivations
There are different types of intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivations. Extrinsic mo-
tivations comprise externally regulated behaviors, introjected regulations of behavior,
regulations through identiﬁcation as well as integrated regulations. These external motiva-
tions can usually have a negative effect on the individuals’ intrinsic motivations [
Many researchers contended that if employees are incentivized to perform organizational
tasks, they will create the perception among them that their motivation is primarily trig-
gered by extrinsic rewards. The employees’ motivations may shift to extrinsic factors and
undermine their pre-existing, intrinsic motivations .
Arguably, this may not always be the case. It may appear that intrinsic and extrinsic
motivations represent opposite poles of the same dimension or, rather, distinct, indepen-
dent dimensions of motivation [
]. The external rewards or incentives may not necessarily
reduce their intrinsic motivations. Although there may be situations where extrinsic moti-
vations are perceived as controlling and coercive, people can differ in their propensity to
perceive situations as controlling [
]. Individuals may internalize extrinsic regulations
when they feel secure and cared for. The internalization of extrinsic motivation is also
linked to their feelings of competence in carrying out their jobs. The employees’ autonomy
is particularly important when trying to integrate external motivations and regulations
into their sense of self [
]. However, to integrate employers’ regulations they should be
knowledgeable about their extrinsic goals .
Therefore, the individuals’ competence, sense of relatedness and autonomy can help
them internalize extrinsic regulations into intrinsic motivations and personal behaviors.
Their identiﬁed motivations are often felt to be caused by themselves [
they are considered as autonomous forms of external motivations that are driven by their
own values, goals and experiences [
]. Individuals may be intrigued to perform certain
activities not because they ﬁnd them interesting and enjoyable, but because they perceive
their utilitarian value or meaning [
]. However, the extrinsic goals, rewards, regulations
and associated cues (that are external) can inﬂuence their self-evaluations [
]. As a
result, they may be willing to engage in activities that would enable them to achieve goals
that are self-deﬁning and that can help them express their identity. Hence, their identiﬁed
regulations would sustain their intrinsic motivations and their needs for psychological well-
]. The identiﬁed motivations can also have a positive effect on their organizational
performance [50,55]. This leads to the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis 2 (H2).
Identiﬁed motivation is a positive and signiﬁcant antecedent of intrinsic
motivation in workplace environments.
Hypothesis 2a (H2a).
Intrinsic motivation mediates the relationship between identiﬁed motivation
and organizational performance.
The SDT theorists suggest that other external motivations are manifested when individ-
uals replicate behaviors or follow controlled regulations to comply in expected behaviors.
However, they may not necessarily accept them. Their introjection occurs when persons do
not internalize the regulations as their own [
]. The introjected motivations would entice
individuals to engage in certain behaviors or to commit themselves to performing activities,
because there are compelled to do so, to satisfy their self-esteem and ego enhancement.
The individuals’ introjected motivations trigger behaviors that are intended to avoid guilty
feelings or to demonstrate their ability of self-worthiness. Thus, the perceived locus of
control and the causality of their behaviors are external to them [34,42].
In a similar vein, it is very likely that employees would experience certain pressures
from their organizations’ introjected regulations to behave in a certain manner. As a result,
their actions are not self-determined. Therefore, employees are not fully accepting the said
regulations as their own. Relevant studies that were focused on individuals’ introjected
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 5 of 17
motivations and their effect on their performance have yielded different ﬁndings [
many authors pointed out that introjected motivations and other external motivations
are unstable forms of regulation, that will or will not always have an effect on intrinsic
]. Hence, there is a possibility that introjected motivations may be
internalized and accepted by employees. If it is the case, they could trigger a positive effect
on their organizational performance. This leads to the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis 3 (H3).
Introjected motivation is a signiﬁcant and positive antecedent of intrinsic
motivation in workplace environments.
Hypothesis 3a (H3a).
Intrinsic motivation mediates the relationship between introjected motiva-
tion and organizational performance.
The individuals’ externally regulated behaviors will usually involve incentives or
rewards. External motivations are the least autonomous type of extrinsic motivations, as
the individuals’ actions are completely inﬂuenced by an external locus of control [
The introjected as well as the identiﬁed motivations have higher degrees of autonomy or
self-determination than external motivations [
]. Thus, external motivations are clearly
manifested when the persons’ behavioral regulations have been internalized by them. Their
internalization occurs when people perform tasks to obtain rewards or avoid punishments.
Hence, they recognize their organizations’ regulatory structures and their values .
Again, there were mixed findings in the academic literature that shed light on the rela-
tionship between the employees’ external regulations and their work
Whilst some studies suggested that external motivations such as rewards and incentives
were a signiﬁcant antecedent of performance, other research reported that such external
regulations may not always undermine intrinsic motivations [
]. Some researchers con-
tended that external motivations are necessary to enhance the employees’ motivations,
organizational performance and productivity levels [
]. Very often, they held that external
regulations foster dedicative performance in workplace environments. Their commitment
to their job may result in an increased organizational performance. This leads to the
Hypothesis 4 (H4).
External motivation is a positive and signiﬁcant antecedent of intrinsic
motivation in workplace environments.
Hypothesis 4a (H4a).
Intrinsic motivation mediates the relationship between external motivation
and organizational performance.
2.3. Job Security
The employees could be motivated to increase their job productivity in exchange for
higher salaries and for further recognition from their employer [
]. Conversely, deteriorat-
ing working conditions and job insecurity can lead to worsened employees’ attitudes and
]. Those employees who are experiencing job insecurity ought to safeguard
their employment while they are carrying out their usual duties and responsibilities.
The job security can be deﬁned as the employees’ psychological state relating to their
expectations about job continuity in their foreseeable future [
]. Most researchers treat job
security as a subjective, perceptual variable that is based on environmental cues [
The employees who are working for the same organization, who have the same job, will
usually experience different levels of job security [
]. They may perceive that their job is
insecure due to internal pressures such as organizational restructuring, reduced conditions
of employment and/or since they are engaged on a temporary basis or on a short-term
contract. Alternatively, external factors such as political, economic and/or social forces
can also present possible risks to the employees’ jobs. No matter the source, job insecurity
represents a substantial threat to the individuals’ intrinsic motivations .
The employees’ psychological contract is based on their working conditions and on
their ongoing relationships with their employer. Hence, their job security relies on their
continuous engagement, mutual trust and agreement from the part of both sides of the
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 6 of 17
employer and the employee [
]. When employees perceive that their job is in peril, they
may not engage in altruistic behaviors [
]. If they perceive low levels of job security, they
tend to be less productive in their workplace environment [
]. Their low levels of job
security (or job insecurity) can have a negative impact on their psychological well-being
and work behaviors [
]. Several researchers reported that job insecurity can lead to
negative attitudes and adverse behavioral effects in workplace environments .
Employees ﬁnd it difﬁcult to remain motivated if they perceive the risk of losing their
job and their economic well-being. Their job insecurity would affect their attitudes and
intrinsic motivations because they feel their loss of autonomy whilst they are grappling
to preserve their jobs [
]. The employers should not undermine their employees’
sense of autonomy [
]. They went on to suggest that employees ought to be assured
of their job security. Their perceived job security can have a positive impact on their
intrinsic motivations and organizational performance. This argumentation leads to the
Hypothesis 5 (H5).
Job security is a positive and signiﬁcant antecedent of intrinsic motivation in
Hypothesis 5a (H5a).
Intrinsic motivation mediates the relationship between job security and
2.4. The Employers’ Social Responsibilities
The employees may perceive that their job is secure if their employer is responsive
to their needs . There are different views on the social responsibility of the businesses.
Whilst the supporters of the shareholder theory contend that the responsibility of the
business is to increase proﬁts [
], other commentators argue that proﬁtability and respon-
sibility are compatible [
]. Businesses are capable of implementing responsible behaviors,
as they pursue proﬁt-making activities. Their economic responsibility is to provide a decent
return on investment to owners and shareholders; to create jobs and fair pay for their em-
ployees; to discover new resources; to promote technological advancement and innovation,
and to create new products and services, along with its other objectives [
]. Therefore, a
ﬁrm’s ﬁrst responsibility is to earn a proﬁt and to ensure its survival, its sustainable growth
and competitive advantage [71,72].
Successful businesses are in a position to allocate discretionary resources to CSR,
provide training and development opportunities to their workforce, to enhance their skills
and competences [
]. Organizations can encourage certain behaviors if their members
are emotionally attached to them [
]. Employees are motivated to work for ﬁrms if their
values and ethics reﬂect their self-concept. This argumentation is also consistent with the
social identity theory [
]. The employees’ perceptions of their companies and of their
behaviors can have a major impact on their commitment on the job [
]. Many commen-
tators maintained that laudable CSR behaviors may result in positive outcomes, including
increased employee motivations [
], job satisfaction [
], trust [
], employee loyalty [
], and improved organizational performance in
workplace environments [32,88].
The employees will satisfy their psychological needs of belongingness with fair and
trustworthy businesses who engage in CSR activities [
]. Their employers’ CSR be-
haviors would have an effect on their intrinsic motivations, as they feel satisﬁed in their
workplace environment [
]. They may perceive that their employers challenge them
and encourage their self-expression. Hence, CSR may also enhance the employees’ produc-
tivity and creativity . This reasoning leads to the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis 6 (H6).
The employees’ perceptions about their ﬁrms’ social responsibility is a positive
and signiﬁcant antecedent of their intrinsic motivation in workplace environments.
Hypothesis 6a (H6a).
Intrinsic motivation mediates the relationship between the employees’
perceptions of their ﬁrms’ social responsibility and organizational performance.
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 7 of 17
Figure 1illustrates the research model of this empirical study.
Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 7 of 17
The employees will satisfy their psychological needs of belongingness with fair and
trustworthy businesses who engage in CSR activities [79,89]. Their employers’ CSR be-
haviors would have an effect on their intrinsic motivations, as they feel satisfied in their
workplace environment [90,91]. They may perceive that their employers challenge them
and encourage their self-expression. Hence, CSR may also enhance the employees’
productivity and creativity . This reasoning leads to the following hypotheses:
Hypothesis 6 (H6). The employees’ perceptions about their firms’ social responsibility is a positive
and significant antecedent of their intrinsic motivation in workplace environments.
Hypothesis 6a (H6a). Intrinsic motivation mediates the relationship between the employees’ per-
ceptions of their firms’ social responsibility and organizational performance.
Figure 1 illustrates the research model of this empirical study.
Figure 1. A research model that explores the employees’ motivations during COVID-19.
3.1. Survey Administration
The data were collected through an electronic survey questionnaire that was dissem-
inated amongst trade unions and industry associations in a Southern European Union
(EU) country. There were more than 27,000 affiliated members who could have taken part
in this quantitative research. The targeted research participants had voluntarily given
their consent to receive requests to take part in academic studies. The respondents re-
ceived an email from the researchers that comprised a hyperlink to an online question-
naire. After two weeks, there were 824 respondents who have completed their survey.
This survey questionnaire complied with the EU’s general data protection regula-
tions (GDPR). The research participants remained anonymous. There was no way that
they can be identified, as only aggregate data were analyzed. The respondents indicated
the extent of their agreement with the survey’s measuring items that were presented in a
five-point Likert scale. The responses ranged from 1 “strongly disagree” to 5 = “strongly
Figure 1. A research model that explores the employees’ motivations during COVID-19.
3.1. Survey Administration
The data were collected through an electronic survey questionnaire that was dissemi-
nated amongst trade unions and industry associations in a Southern European Union (EU)
country. There were more than 27,000 afﬁliated members who could have taken part in
this quantitative research. The targeted research participants had voluntarily given their
consent to receive requests to take part in academic studies. The respondents received an
email from the researchers that comprised a hyperlink to an online questionnaire. After
two weeks, there were 824 respondents who have completed their survey.
This survey questionnaire complied with the EU’s general data protection regulations
(GDPR). The research participants remained anonymous. There was no way that they can
be identiﬁed, as only aggregate data were analyzed. The respondents indicated the extent
of their agreement with the survey’s measuring items that were presented in a ﬁve-point
Likert scale. The responses ranged from 1 “strongly disagree” to 5 = “strongly agree”,
whilst 3 signaled an indecision. In the latter part of the questionnaire, the participants were
expected to disclose their age by choosing one of ﬁve age groups. They indicated their
gender and the industry sector they worked for. The questionnaire was pilot tested among
a small group of post graduate students (who were not included in the survey results)
in order to reduce the common method bias, as per MacKenzie and Podsakoff’s (2012)
3.2. The Measures
The survey instrument has used valid constructs from the self-determination theory
and from other valid measures that were drawn from the business ethics and tourism
literature. This research explored the individuals’ perceptions about their external motiva-
], introjected motivation [
], identiﬁed motivation [
], job security [
corporate (or SMEs’) social responsibilities [
], intrinsic motivation [
], as well as or-
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 8 of 17
ganizational performance [
]. Table 1features the list of measures and their corresponding
items that were utilized in this study.
Table 1. The measures that were used in the survey instrument.
Identiﬁed Motivation Ident1 My job allows me to reach my life goals.
(Zhang et al., 2016; Gagnéet al., 2010). Ident2 My job fulﬁls my career plans.
Introjected Motivation Intro1 My job is my life.
(Deal et al., 2013; Gagnéet al., 2010). Intro2 My reputation depends on my job.
External Motivation Ext1 This job affords me a certain standard of living.
(Zhang et al., 2016; Gagnéet al., 2010). Ext2 I have a good paying job.
Job Security Js1 I will be able to keep my present job as long as I wish.
(Kraimer et al., 2005). Js2 I am secure in my job.
Corporate (or SMEs’)
Social Responsibility Sr1 My employer provides training and development
opportunities to its employees.
(Camilleri, 2018; Singh and Del Bosque, 2008). Sr2 My employer promotes equal opportunities when hiring
and promoting its employees.
Sr3 My employer has made suitable arrangements for the
health and safety of its employees.
Sr4 My employer is concerned about improving the general
well-being of society.
Intrinsic Motivation Intrins1 I enjoy my job very much.
(Zhang et al., 2016; Gagnéet al., 2010). Intrins2 I am pleased with my job.
Job/Organizational Performance Perf1 I am one of the best at the work I do.
(Giri and Kumar, 2010). Perf2 I set very high standards for my work.
3.3. The Demographic Proﬁle of the Respondents
The sample consisted of 623 females (75.6%) and 201 males (24.4%). Most of the
respondents (n = 348, 42.2%) were between 29 and 39 years of age. The second largest group
(n = 220, 26.7%) was between 40 and 50 years old. The sample included respondents from
service industry sectors. The majority of respondents were employed in the retail industry.
The second largest group of research participants worked in marketing, advertising and/or
4.1. Descriptive Statistics
The respondents agreed with the survey items in the model, as the mean scores
(M) were mostly above the mid-point of 3 (except for the introjected motivation items,
Intro1 and Intro2) as reported in Table 2. The highest mean scores were reported for
external motivation—Ext1 (M = 3.762), job performance—Perf2 (M = 3.718) and social
responsibility—Sr3 (M = 3.65). The standard deviations (SD) indicated that there was a
narrow spread around the mean. The values of SD ranged from 0.714 for job performance—
Perf2, to 1.145 for perceived social responsibility—Sr2. .
4.2. Conﬁrmatory Composite Analysis
This study relied on a structural equation modelling approach to explore the measure-
ment quality of this research model [
]. SEM-PLS 3
s conﬁrmatory composite analysis’
algorithm revealed the results of the reﬂective measurement model.
The values of the standardized loadings were higher than the usual recommended
threshold of 0.7 and had an associated t-statistic above
1.96. The composite reliability
values were above 0.8. The constructs that were used in this study had reported acceptable
convergent validities, as their average variance extracted (AVE) values were higher than
]. There was evidence of discriminant validity, as the square root value of AVE
was higher than the correlation values among the latent variables [
]. This study also
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 9 of 17
examined the heterotrait–monotrait (HTMT) as indicated in the shaded area of Table 2. The
correlations re-conﬁrmed the presence of discriminant validity, as the HTMT values were
higher than the recommended threshold of 0.9.
Table 2. The descriptive statistics and an assessment of the reliability, convergent validity and discriminant validity.
Construct Items Mean Deviation Loadings CR AVE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Ext1 3.762 1.008 0.897 0.898 0.815 0.903
Ext2 3.35 1.072 0.908
0.578 0.407 0.483
Ident1 3.427 0.966 0.911 0.921 0.854
Ident2 3.393 0.993 0.937
3.578 0.888 0.96 0.96 0.923
3.597 0.886 0.961
0.465 0.436 0.289 0.229
Intro1 2.733 1.048 0.932 0.835 0.719
0.331 0.456 0.378
Intro2 2.981 1.115 0.755
5Job Performance Perf1 3.597 0.769 0.851 0.814 0.687
Perf2 3.718 0.714 0.806
6Job Security Js1 3.636 0.994 0.97 0.941 0.889
0.115 0.182 0.275 0.084 0.196
Js2 3.612 1.063 0.915
Sr1 3.534 1.1 0.778
0.301 0.433 0.478
Responsibility Sr2 3.34 1.145 0.795
of the Employer Sr3 3.65 1.121 0.796
Sr4 3.422 1.057 0.869
Note: The discriminant validity was calculated by using the Fornell–Larcker criterion. The values of the square root of AVE were presented
in bold font. The AVEs for each construct were greater than the correlations among the constructs. The shaded area features the results
from the HTMT procedure.
4.3. Structural Model Assessment
The results indicated that there were no collinearity issues, as the variance inﬂation
factors (VIFs) have exceeded the recommended threshold of 3.3. The PLS algorithm re-
vealed the model’s predictive power, in terms of the coefﬁcient of determination (R
the endogenous latent variables. The ﬁndings from this research model revealed that the
constructs that were used in this study predicted 46.2% of the participants’ intrinsic moti-
vations and 9.6% of their job performance. SEM-PLS’ bootstrapping procedure was used to
explore the statistical signiﬁcance and relevance of the path coefﬁcients. The signiﬁcance of
the hypothesized path coefﬁcients in the inner model were evaluated by using a two-tailed
t-test at the 5% level (Hair et al., 2012). Table 3presents the results of the hypotheses of this
study. It tabulates the ﬁndings of the standardized beta coefﬁcients (original sample and
sample mean), the conﬁdence intervals, t-values and the signiﬁcance values (p). Table 4
features the ﬁndings from the mediation analyses.
H1: This study reported that there was a positive and highly signiﬁcant effect be-
tween the individuals’ intrinsic motivations and their job performance, where
t = 4.473
and p< 0.001. H2 indicated that the individuals’ identiﬁed motivations were a
very signiﬁcant antecedent of their intrinsic motivations (where
= 0.45, t = 6.735 and
H2a: They also had indirect effects on their job performance, where p< 0.001.
H3: The respondents’ introjected motivations were not signiﬁcantly affecting their intrinsic
motivations as p< 0.05. Similarly, H4 revealed that the participants’ external motivations
were not a signiﬁcant antecedent of their intrinsic motivations.
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 10 of 17
Table 3. Testing of the hypotheses.
Path Coefﬁcient Original Sample Conﬁdence
Sample Mean Bias Corrected
Intrinsic motivation -> Job
performance 0.309 0.311 [0.164, 0.434] 4.473 0.000 Supported
H2 Identiﬁed motivation ->
Intrinsic motivation 0.45 0.449 [0.323, 0.577] 6.735 0.000 Supported
H3 Introjected motivation ->
Intrinsic motivation 0.102 0.102 [−0.018, 0.216] 1.756 0.080 * Not Supported
H4 External motivation ->
Intrinsic motivation 0.029 0.025 [−0.098, 0.148] 0.469 0.639 ** Not Supported
H5 Job security -> Intrinsic
motivation 0.106 0.106 [0.008, 0.211] 2.087 0.037 Supported
Firms’ social responsibility
-> Intrinsic motivation 0.238 0.237 [0.095, 0.378] 3.182 0.002 Supported
Note: * Introjected motivation was found to be a very weak antecedent of intrinsic motivation as
= 0.102 and 0.05 < p< 0.1. ** External
motivation did not have a signiﬁcant effect on intrinsic motivation as p> 0.05.
Table 4. The mediation analyses.
Direct Indirect Total Conﬁdence
Effect Effect 1 Effect Intervals
Identiﬁed motivation -> Intrinsic
motivation 0.45 0.589 [0.062, 0.214] 3.644 0.000
Identiﬁed motivation -> Job
Introjected motivation ->
Intrinsic motivation 0.102 0.134 [−0.004, 0.076] 1.439 0.151
Introjected motivation -> Job
performance 0.032 No Mediation
External motivation -> Intrinsic
motivation 0.029 0.038 [−0.029, 0.046] 0.470 0.639
External motivation -> Job
performance 0.009 No Mediation
Job security -> Intrinsic
motivation 0.106 0.139 [0.004, 0.077] 1.800 0.073 No Mediation
Job security -> Job performance 0.033
Firms’ social responsibility ->
Intrinsic motivation 0.238 0.311 [0.024, 0.130] 2.661 0.008
Firms’ social responsibility ->
Job performance 0.073
Note: there was no mediated effect in H3a, H4a and H5a, as p> 0.05.
H5: The respondents’ job security was positively related with their intrinsic motiva-
tions. There was a small effect on the endogenous construct as
= 0.106, t = 2.087 and
p< 0.05. H6: The results suggest that their perceptions about their employer’s social
responsibility were a positive and signiﬁcant precursor of their intrinsic motivations in
their workplace environment, where
= 0.238, t = 3.182 and p< 0.05. Moreover, they were
having an indirect effect on the employees’ organizational performance, where p< 0.05.
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 11 of 17
Figure 2depicts the explanatory power of this research model. It illustrates the total effects,
outer loadings and the coefﬁcient of determination (i.e., R squared) values.
Sustainability 2021, 13, x FOR PEER REVIEW 11 of 17
workplace environment, where β = 0.238, t = 3.182 and p < 0.05. Moreover, they were hav-
ing an indirect effect on the employees’ organizational performance, where p < 0.05. Figure
2 depicts the explanatory power of this research model. It illustrates the total effects, outer
loadings and the coefficient of determination (i.e., R squared) values.
Figure 2. A graphical illustration of the results.
5.1. Implications to Academia
This research has presented a critical review of the self-determination theory and its
key constructs, as well as on other theoretical underpinnings that were drawn from busi-
ness ethics and tourism literature. It shed light on the employees’ job security as well as
on their extrinsic and intrinsic motivations in their workplace environment. Moreover, it
explored their perceptions on their employers’ CSR practices during COVID-19. The
study hypothesized that the employees’ identified motivations, introjected motivations,
external motivations, job security and their firms’ socially responsible behaviors would
have a positive and significant effect on their intrinsic motivations and organizational per-
formance. The findings confirmed that the employees’ intrinsic motivations were predict-
ing their productivity. This relationship was highly significant. Evidently, the employees
were satisfied in their job, as they fulfilled their self-determination and intrinsic needs for com-
petence, autonomy and relatedness [15,48,56]. Their high morale in their workplace environ-
ment has led to positive behavioral outcomes, including increased organizational perfor-
The results reported that there were highly significant effects between the employees’
identified motivations and intrinsic motivations, and between their perceptions on their
firms’ socially responsible practices and their intrinsic motivations. The mediation analy-
sis indicated that these two constructs were indirectly affecting the employees’ job perfor-
mance. These results suggest that although previous studies reported that extrinsic factors
could undermine the intrinsic motivations of individuals [35–37], this study found that
Figure 2. A graphical illustration of the results.
5.1. Implications to Academia
This research has presented a critical review of the self-determination theory and
its key constructs, as well as on other theoretical underpinnings that were drawn from
business ethics and tourism literature. It shed light on the employees’ job security as well
as on their extrinsic and intrinsic motivations in their workplace environment. Moreover,
it explored their perceptions on their employers’ CSR practices during COVID-19. The
study hypothesized that the employees’ identiﬁed motivations, introjected motivations,
external motivations, job security and their ﬁrms’ socially responsible behaviors would
have a positive and signiﬁcant effect on their intrinsic motivations and organizational
performance. The ﬁndings conﬁrmed that the employees’ intrinsic motivations were
predicting their productivity. This relationship was highly signiﬁcant. Evidently, the
employees were satisﬁed in their job, as they fulﬁlled their self-determination and intrinsic
needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness [
]. Their high morale in their
workplace environment has led to positive behavioral outcomes, including increased
The results reported that there were highly signiﬁcant effects between the employees’
identiﬁed motivations and intrinsic motivations, and between their perceptions on their
ﬁrms’ socially responsible practices and their intrinsic motivations. The mediation analysis
indicated that these two constructs were indirectly affecting the employees’ job perfor-
mance. These results suggest that although previous studies reported that extrinsic factors
could undermine the intrinsic motivations of individuals [
], this study found that the
research participants have internalized and identiﬁed themselves with their employers’
extrinsically motivated regulations, as they enabled them to achieve their self-deﬁning
goals. In this case, the respondents indicated that they were willing to perform certain
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 12 of 17
tasks, as they perceived that their utilitarian values were also sustaining their psychological
well-being and self-evaluations.
The employees also identiﬁed motivations that led as an incentive to increase their
organizational performance. The empirical results have proved that the employees were
motivated to work for ﬁrms that reﬂected their own values [
]. This research is
consistent with other contributions on CSR behaviors [
]. The respondents
suggested that their employers had high CSR credentials. The ﬁndings revealed that the
businesses’ CSR practices enhanced their employees’ intrinsic motivations and satisﬁed
their psychological needs of belongingness and relatedness. Evidently, the ﬁrms’ socially
responsible behaviors were enhancing their employees’ productivity and performance in
their workplace environment.
The participants’ beliefs about their job security were also found to be a signiﬁcant
antecedent of their intrinsic motivations. Their perceptions on their job security were affect-
ing their morale at work, in a positive manner [
]. During COVID-19, many employees
could have experienced reduced business activities. As a result, many businesses could
have pressurized their employees in their organizational restructuring and/or by imple-
menting revised conditions of employment, including reduced working times, changes in
sick leave policies, et cetera, particularly during the ﬁrst wave of the pandemic. However,
despite these contingent issues, the research participants indicated that they perceived that
there will be job continuity for them in the foreseeable future. This study indicated that
many employees were optimistic about their job prospects during the second wave.
The ﬁndings suggest that employees are attracted by and motivated to work for trust-
worthy, socially responsible employers [
]. On the other hand, they reported that
the participants’ introjected and external motivations were not having a signiﬁcant effect
on their intrinsic motivations and did not entice them to engage in productive behaviors
during the COVID-19 crisis. A plausible justiﬁcation for this result is that the participants
were well aware that their employers did not have adequate and sufﬁcient resources during
COVID-19. Their employers were not in a position to reward or incentivize their employees
due to ﬁnancial constraints that resulted from their reduced business activities or were
never prepared to deal with such an unprecedented contingent situation. Hence, external
motivations were not considered as stable forms of regulation [
]. Many researchers
noted that extrinsic motivations will not necessarily inﬂuence the individuals’ behaviors,
as their perceived locus of control is external to them. Therefore, their actions will not be
autonomous and self-determined [35,52].
5.2. Managerial Implications
Businesses are continuously affected by ongoing challenges arising from their macro
environment. The pandemic has exacerbated their transformation on behavioral, cultural
and organizational levels. The ﬁrst wave of COVID-19 was devastating for many businesses,
in different contexts. The social-distancing procedures have led to changes in their working
conditions and diminished communications. Many of the non-essential businesses were
expected to follow their government’s preventative measures to slow the spread of the
pandemic and to close the doors to their customers. Moreover, several employees have
experienced their employers’ cost cutting exercises, as they reduced salaries and wages.
These uncertainties have affected their employees’ psychological capital and caused them
anxiety and frustration [
]. Notwithstanding, many employees were concerned about their
job security and long-term prospects. During the work-from-home scenario, employers
had to ﬁnds new ways to manage their employees’ performance. The change in their
working environment allowed them to do their work, whilst also attending to personal
needs. Very often, employees found themselves taking other responsibilities including
parenting/schooling their children.
Remote working has served as a reminder to managers that there are a number of
non-work-related factors that can affect their employees’ mindsets and engagement levels.
Hence, many employers set virtual meetings with their human resources to inject a sense of
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 13 of 17
purpose in them. During the ﬁrst wave of the pandemic, the employees’ intrinsic motiva-
tions have declined with the decreasing visibility of their management or colleagues. The
lack of motivation could have led to a decrease in their productivity levels [
employers were expected to look after their employees and to foster a culture of trust and
recognition to improve their motivations and performance at work .
This study was carried out during the second wave, when many governments had
eased their preventative restrictions to restart their economy. As a result, many employees
were returning to work. They were encouraged to work in a new normal, where they were
instructed to follow their employers’ health and safety policies as well as hygienic and san-
itizing practices in their premises. They introduced hygienic practices, temperature checks
and expected visitors to wear masks to reduce the spread of the virus. Many businesses,
including SMEs and startups, were beneﬁting of their governments’ ﬁnancial assistance.
Resources were allocated to support them in their cashﬂow requirements, to minimize lay-
offs and to secure the employment of many employees. These measures instilled conﬁdence
in employers, as they provided their employees with a sense of relatedness, competence
and autonomy in their workplace environments. Evidently, employers were successful
in fostering a cohesive culture where they identiﬁed their employees’ values and their
self-determined goals .
In sum, this contribution revealed that employees felt a sense of belonging in their
workplace environment. The results conﬁrmed that their intrinsic motivations were en-
hancing their productivity levels and organizational performance.
5.3. Limitations and Directions for Future Research
This research explored the employees’ extrinsic and intrinsic motivations during
s second wave, when they were expected to return to their workplace envi-
ronment. It examined their perceptions about job security on their employers’ corporate
social responsibility practices and investigated their effect on organizational performance.
Of course, all research has its inherent limitations in its research design and/or in the
methodology. This study relied on the measures relating to SDT and on valid constructs
that were adapted from other contributions. The measuring scales that were utilized in
this research were used to investigate the employees’ motivations and performance in the
context of COVID-19. This study has integrated the constructs of job security and corporate
social responsibility with SDT’s key constructs.
The ﬁndings reported that the participants’ identiﬁed motivations, job security and
their employers’ social responsibility were signiﬁcant antecedents of their intrinsic motiva-
tions and organization performance. Hence, the employees’ identiﬁed motivations (i.e.,
one of the external motivations) were found to be a signiﬁcant precursor of their intrinsic
motivations in their workplace environment. This is in stark contrast with other theo-
retical underpinnings where commentators noted that external motivations will usually
have a negative effect on the individuals’ intrinsic motivations [
]. The mediation
analysis also revealed that identiﬁed motivations together with the employers’ socially
responsible practices were also having an indirect effect on the employees’ productivity.
Therefore, this contribution puts forward plausible research avenues to academia. In future,
researchers can utilize the measures that were used in this study and replicate this study
in different contexts in order to explore the employees’ motivations and performance in a
Alternatively, researchers may validate other theoretical frameworks to examine
the employees’ commitment, job satisfaction and loyalty, among other constructs. Other
methodologies and sampling frames can be used to capture and analyze their data. Perhaps,
inductive studies may shed more light on the employees’ in-depth opinions and beliefs
on their organizational culture and working conditions. Interpretative studies can reveal
important insights on the employees’ intrinsic motivations and on their sense of relatedness,
competence and autonomy in their working environments.
Sustainability 2021,13, 3634 14 of 17
This research was funded by the University of Malta Research Fund, grant number
Institutional Review Board Statement:
The study was conducted according to the guidelines of the
Declaration of Helsinki, and approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the Faculty of Media
and Knowledge Sciences of the University of Malta (7561_11012021_Mark Anthony Camilleri—13
Informed Consent Statement:
The informed consent statement was integrated in the online survey
Data Availability Statement: Not applicable.
Conﬂicts of Interest: The author declares no conﬂict of interest.
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