Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Hans P. Schmitz, PhD, Chair; Afsaneh Nahavandi, PhD, Member; Fred J. Galloway, EdD, Member; Robert Parker, PhD, Member; Rear Admiral Shoshana Chatfield, EdD, Member


government retention, STEM, mixed-methods research, public service motivation (PSM), job design


The U.S. government workforce has been consistently shrinking since a peak in the 1990s. At the same time, the need for technologically-savvy government workers has dramatically risen in this same period. This divergence in the demand for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) employees challenges government leaders to retain these highly demanded workers in the public sector.

Decades of psychological research across many industries has investigated what motivates workers and how best to incentivize them to increase productivity. Maslow and Herzberg, among others, theorized that adult workers have both intrinsic and extrinsic needs that drive their behaviors and resultant productivity. Following from those early psychological explorations, extensive Public Service Motivation theory and Job Design studies provide the scaffolding on which management of federal government employees is built. A number of themes emerged from these studies which affect public service personnel: competitive pay and benefits, bureaucracy, human resources, career options, personnel development. These themes are used to develop human capital policies that drive managerial incentives intended to motivate their employees. Traditionally, these studies focus only on groups of current civil servants.

This dissertation was a two-phased explanatory sequential mixed-method investigation into STEM workers who departed federal service. The first phase was a quantitative examination into former employees’ motivations and decisions leading up to their departure; sample size = 73. Phase 2 qualitatively inquired into eight intentionally selected interviewees about the factors that influenced their decision-making process. Regression analysis of the responses showed a significant positive correlation between Years of Government Service with Decision Making Autonomy and Task Significance. In short, this means that if a person has meaningful work and the self-authority to complete it, they will stay working longer. The Phase 2 interviews brought one additional important piece to the conclusions which is that supervisors are the key factor in motivation and retention. The results are in line with predictions of Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene approach to motivation.

Recommendations were made to improve the control and impact of first-line supervisors; such as to standardize and monitor supervisor training; and, to implement a talent management program.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies