The Effect of Personality Traits on Public Service Motivation: Evidence from Taiwan

By Jang, Chyi-Lu | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, June 2012 | Go to article overview

The Effect of Personality Traits on Public Service Motivation: Evidence from Taiwan


Jang, Chyi-Lu, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


Many researchers have examined the assumption that work motivation among public sector employees is very different from that of their private sector counterparts (Rainey & Bozeman, 2000; Wright, 2001). Employees in the public sector are often motivated by a deeper desire to make a difference, an ability to have an impact on public affairs, a sense of responsibility and integrity, and a reliance on intrinsic rewards as opposed to salary or job security (Brewer, Selden, & Facer, 2000; Crewson, 1997). Public service motivation (PSM) can therefore be defined as an individual's predisposition to respond to motives grounded primarily or uniquely in public institutions (Perry & Wise, 1990). PSM comprises motives such as attraction to policy making, commitment to the public interest/ civic duty, compassion, and self-sacrifice (Perry, 1996, 1997; Perry & Wise, 1990). These motives can be divided into three analytically distinct categories: rational, norm-based, and affective (Perry, 1996). It has been suggested that a rational motive for attracting individuals to public service is the opportunity to participate in the formulation of public policy and maximize their own need for power and self-importance. A normative motive for public service could be an individual's interest in particular public programs or services being altruistic and due to an obligation to one's government or community. The affective motive for public service could be captured by the compassion and self-sacrifice dimensions that represent service as an emotional response to humankind. Perry (1996) based his definition of compassion on Frederickson and Hart's (1985) concept of patriotism of benevolence, which represents an extensive love of all people within our political boundaries (p. 549). Self-sacrifice is the willingness of public servants to forego financial rewards for the intangible rewards they receive from serving the public.

Naff and Crum (1999) found that public employees with high levels of PSM reported receiving higher performance ratings than their counterparts. Accordingly, the concept of PSM provides an explanation for the differences in work motivation between public sector and private sector employees (Perry & Wise, 1990). However, PSM is certainly not the only rationale for people pursuing careers in the public sector. The salary, job stability, or social prestige are all possible reasons for people joining the public sector (Wright, 2001). In this study, however, the concept of PSM only and its relationship with personality are analyzed.

Personality traits reflect stable individual differences that are not susceptible to the influence of the environment and, thus, do not change over time (McCrae, 2000; McCrae & Costa, 1987). The Big Five personality model comprising extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience identifies the salient traits of personality (McCrae & Costa, 1987). Extraversion is the tendency to be sociable, gregarious, talkative, assertive, adventurous, active, energetic, and ambitious. Agreeableness is the tendency to be kind, gentle, cooperative, trustworthy, and warm. Conscientious individuals are hardworking, dependable, efficient, and achievement striving. Neuroticism, often labeled by the negative pole of the trait emotional stability, is the tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability. Individuals who score high on openness to experience are creative, flexible, curious, and unconventional (Costa & McCrae, 1992).

Numerous researchers have indicated that personality is one of the most important determinants of human behavior and work motivation (Judge & Ilies, 2002). It can also be expected that PSM is influenced by personality traits. However, few studies have been carried out to investigate this effect, especially in the Taiwanese context. Thus, the relationship between the Big Five personality traits and the four dimensions of PSM was examined among public employees in Taiwan. …

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