The Passion for Public Service: What Attracts People to the Park and Recreation Profession? (Research Update)

Article excerpt

Exploring what prompts individuals to seek employment within the public parks and recreation field is essential to understanding our profession with respect to public service. Public service represents the act of doing something valuable and worthwhile for society (Brewer & Selden, 1998). Within our field, the benefits movement literature and marketing tools have helped the profession to articulate the value that our programs and services provide to our community leaders and citizens. While this information is essential to strengthen our position within our communities, it's important to explore public service related to what our professionals contribute to recognize their efforts and provide for continued employee motivation. The purpose of this research update is to address the uniqueness of a public-service orientation, and to explore if we, as parks and recreation professionals, have a public-service orientation. In addition, this update will highlight how research on public service can assist parks and recreation organizations with re-energizing and motivating professionals in their organizations.

The assumption that public- and private-sector employees are similar contradicts conventional wisdom in public-administration literature. Rainey (1997) noted that common characteristics of individuals motivated by a public-service orientation place a high value on work that helps others and benefits society as a whole, involves self-sacrifice, and provides a sense of integrity and responsibility. It's generally believed that the public employee is motivated by a sense of service not found among private-sector employees (Gabris & Simo, 1995).

Because public-sector administrators are characterized by an ethic to serve the public, they're motivated by different job characteristics than are private-sector employees (Houston, 2000). Public-service employees can be described as having a reliance on intrinsic motivational rewards over extrinsic motivational rewards (Crewson, 1997). Intrinsic rewards are derived from the satisfaction an individual receives from performing a task. Examples of these are a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of self-worth. In particular, employees in public organizations are seen as being concerned for the community and having a desire to serve the public interest. In contrast, extrinsic rewards are those offered to an employee by someone else. Examples of extrinsic rewards are a pay raise, a promotion, job security, and status and prestige (Houston, 2000).

One of the most important jobs of any manager is to motivate employees within the organization to perform at high levels (Jurkiewicz, Massey, & Brown, 1998). The more accurately park and recreation professionals can answer the question of what motivates their employees, the more effectively they'll maximize productivity and enhance performance.

Serving the Community or Serving for Pay

Research generally supports the view that public-sector employees value the ethic of serving the public and community more than financial rewards (Crewson, 1997; Houston, 2000; Rainey, 1982, Wittmer, 1991). Rainey (1982) studied 275 public- and private-sector employees, and found that the importance of pay was valued less by the public-sector employees, whereas the private-sector employees placed more emphasis on pay. Performing meaningful public service was more important than pay to the public-sector employees.

Using data from the General Social Survey, Crewson (1997) found that public employees rated a feeling of accomplishment and performing work that's helpful to society and to others as more important job characteristics than do private-sector employees. Similarly, in a study that investigated employee reward and motivation preferences, Wittmer (1991) reported that public-sector employees place a higher value on helping others and performing work that's worthwhile to society.

Persons who seek employment within public organizations are different in important respects from those in the private sector (Wittmer, 1991). …