ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2023, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (8): 1342-1358.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2023.01342

• Conceptual Framework • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Revisiting family motivation from the actor versus observer perspectives

MENG Liang, LI Dandan()   

  1. School of Business and Management, Shanghai International Studies University; Shanghai Key Laboratory of Brain-Machine Intelligence for Information Behavior; Institute of Organizational Behavior and Organizational Neuroscience, Shanghai International Studies University, Shanghai 200083, China
  • Received:2022-10-10 Online:2023-08-15 Published:2023-05-12


Family motivation describes the desire to expend effort to support one’s family. After its proposal, the construct of family motivation has promoted the progress of work motivation research and provided a new perspective for insights into employees' work behaviors. Existing research mainly emphasizes the prosocial nature of family motivation, while largely ignored its work motivation nature. Although some scholars have indicated that family motivation is a special type of extrinsic work motivation, their research has limitations in scope because of their narrow focus on employees with more controlled forms of family motivation under high family financial pressure. In fact, individuals could experience more autonomous forms of family motivation when they identify with the responsibility of raising the family or even integrate it into their own value system. In other words, individuals with the same level of family motivation might internalize their family motivation in different degrees due to their varied reasons for working to benefit their family. Therefore, based on the self-determination theory, this study defines family motivation as a special extrinsic work motivation and proposes that it has two key dimensions independent of each other. One is the extent to which an individual desires to benefit the family (i.e., level of family motivation), and the other is the extent to which the individual internalizes the goal of working for the family (i.e., internalization of family motivation). Based on this definition, this study adopts both the actor and observer perspectives to explore whether and how family motivation affects employees' organizational citizenship behaviors and the subsequent interpersonal impacts on employees. From the actor perspective, this study consults the conservation of resources theory to propose that employees with high levels of family motivation may have a stronger desire to protect and obtain more resources in the organization. As a result, they would be motivated to proactively engage in more organizational citizenship behaviors to gain additional resources. This effect would further depend on one’s internalization of family motivation. Specifically, employee who internalize their family motivation to a lesser degree (i.e., with more controlled forms of family motivation) tend to place a higher value on the resources at work and thus have a stronger motivation to engage in organizational citizenship behaviors to obtain more resources. Based on the perspective of observers, the first aim of this study is to explore observers’ (i.e., interviewers’) overall perceptions of applicants who disclose their family motivation in job interviews. Then, this research investigates how observers (i.e., leaders) attribute and react to organizational citizenship behaviors performed by employees with varied family motivation. Importantly, leaders’ perceived level of the actor’s family motivation and perceived internalization of the actor’s family motivation are both expected to play moderating roles in the attribution process. Taken together, taking both the actor and observer perspectives, this study not only clarifies the work motivation nature of family motivation but also contributes to understanding of the potential long-term impacts of family motivation on employees from an interpersonal interaction perspective, which expands the boundaries of research on family motivation to a great extent. This research also bears fundamental practical implications. Managers are encouraged to better understand how the level and internalization of family motivation would affect employees’ work behaviors, and then determine proper recruitment standards. In addition, this research enlightens employees who desire to work hard to benefit their family to realize how pivotal observers at work, such as interviewers and leaders, attribute and react to their extra-role behaviors, which helps determine whether they should disclose family motivation in the workplace.

Key words: work motivation, family motivation, actor-observer perspectives, organizational citizenship behaviors, attribution

CLC Number: