It has been commonly assumed that public sector organizations are more likely to employ individuals whose values and needs are consistent with the public service mission of the organization. Charged with promoting general social welfare, as well as the protection of the society and every individual in it, public organizations often have missions with broader scope and more profound impact than typically found in the private sector. The composition of the public workforce has been expected to reflect the nature of the work in the public sector by attracting employees who desire greater opportunities to fulfil higher-order needs and altruistic motives by performing public service. It is these individual characteristics that are often touted as the key to motivating behaviour because “understanding the values and reward preferences of public managers is essential in structuring organizational environments and incentive systems to satisfy those preferences”. In fact, it is believed that the importance public employees place on the opportunities thought to be more readily available in the public sector, such as performing altruistic acts or receiving intrinsic rewards, compensates for the low levels of extrinsic rewards associated with the public sector and explains why no differences have been found between public and private employee work motivation.

In addition to having achievable goals, employee work motivation also requires that performance objectives be viewed as important. If employees do not perceive their job to be important or meaningful, they have little reason to be motivated to perform their work. Although self-efficacy is important when understanding motivation at the job level, it is the concept of job importance that is especially salient in understanding the contributions public service motivation and organization mission make toward organization performance.