Motivation in caring labor: Implications for the well-being and employment outcomes of nurses

Janette Dill, Rebecca J. Erickson, James M. Diefendorff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


For nurses and other caregivers there is a strong emphasis on prosocial forms of motivation, or doing the job because you want to help others, even in formal, institutionalized care settings. This emphasis is based in gendered assumptions that altruistic motivations are the “right” reasons for being a nurse and lead to the best outcomes for workers and patients. Other motivations for pursuing care work, particularly extrinsic motivation, depart from the prosocial model of care and may be indicative of substandard outcomes, but little research has examined variation in care workers' motivations for doing their jobs. In this study, we use survey data collected from 730 acute care hospital nurses working within one health care system in the Midwestern United States to examine whether different sources of motivation for being a nurse are related to nurse job burnout, negative physical symptoms, and turnover intentions. Our findings suggest that nurses who have high intrinsic and extrinsic motivation actually have better perceived health and employment outcomes (i.e., less likely to say that they will leave, lower burnout, fewer negative physical symptoms) than those with high prosocial motivation, who are more likely to report job burnout.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-106
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The data used in this study were collected with funding from the National Science Foundation 1024271 . An earlier version of this paper was presented at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco in August 2014.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Care work
  • Extrinsic motivation
  • Intent to turnover
  • Intrinsic motivation
  • Job burnout
  • Nursing workforce
  • Prosocial motivation
  • United States


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