Self-determination theory and public employee motivation research

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Deci and Ryan's (1985) Self-Determination Theory (SDT) has emerged as one of the most prominent theoretical frameworks in psychology and the study of human motivation. While the theory's initial aims were focused on building a more comprehensive understanding of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, SDT has evolved into a metatheory for understanding human motivation, well-being and wellness in a wide variety of social contexts, including the public workplace. This chapter examines the use of SDT for understanding workplace motivation and its recent use and application in public management research. First, the chapter begins with a discussion of the evolution of SDT and an overview of five mini-theories that comprise the foundation of the SDT framework: 1) Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET), 2) Organismic Integration Theory (OIT), 3) Causality Orientations Theory (CIT), 4) Basic Psychological Needs Theory (BPNT) and 5) Goal Contents Theory (GCT). Second, the chapter provides examples of how public management scholars have used SDT in their own studies of intrinsic, extrinsic and public service motivations. Finally, the chapter will conclude with a discussion of the criticisms and limitations of SDT, and the future of SDT in public management research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationResearch Handbook on Motivation in Public Administration
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781789906806
ISBN (Print)9781789906790
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • General Business, Management and Accounting


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