Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Creating a Motivated Workforce: How Organizations Can Enhance and Develop Public Service Motivation (PSM)

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Creating a Motivated Workforce: How Organizations Can Enhance and Develop Public Service Motivation (PSM)

Article excerpt


The effects of public service ideals and ethics are of crucial concern for human resource managers, public administrators, and scholars alike. What causes individuals to seek public sector employment? What motivates them to stay in their jobs and, most importantly, to perform well? What traits characterize those who dedicate their lives to public service? Can organizations effectively impact motivation, specifically public service motivation? These and similar questions have been the foundation for academic and practitioner efforts aimed at gaining a better understanding of how public management practices impact the performance of government. (1)

Public service motivation (PSM), a specific branch of motivational research, is one theoretical framework that is useful for considering these issues. It offers a lens for viewing the nature of public sector incentives as well as a mechanism to evaluate public servants' behavior. PSM is most often grounded in the definition developed by James Perry and Lois Wise: "[A]n individual's predisposition to respond to motives grounded primarily or uniquely in public institutions and organizations." (2) This definition suggests that some individuals are instilled with a unique public-service ethos attracting them to government service and influencing subsequent job performance. (3)

In the past two decades, research into PSM from theoretical, conceptual, and empirical perspectives has produced many advances. (4) To date, a majority of the research has focused on the existence of PSM and on broad comparisons between public sector and private sector employees, with some authors expanding the scope to include nonprofit organizations. Extensive comparisons of public and private sector employees yielded rich results that have extended the understanding of what PSM is, the pro-social impacts of PSM levels, and antecedents of PSM (5), as well as the behavioral impacts of PSM. (6) Human Resources journals have seen an expansion of this topic in their pages as authors have further explored the managerial implications of this topic. (7)

The research presented in this article responds to the call for more empirical work aimed at validating and testing the theory of public service motivation specifically in the area of practical implications for public employers. An examination of the comments of mid-level managers at two federal agencies explores the role that organizational action plays in the enhancement and development of employees' public service motivation. In addition, the research examines whether public service motivation or orientation was in fact an important determinant in job selection.

Participants expressed substantial individual variation in their initial reasons for pursuing government employment, with a large majority citing pragmatic reasons rather than the altruistic ones PSM research might indicate. However, individuals' conceptions of public service motivation are dynamic over time and change as those individuals move through organizational levels and positions. Findings indicate that individuals view organizational behavior as having an impact on the development of employees' public service motivation and organizational dedication.

Individual perceptions of the importance, their personal level of public service motivation, and perspectives on public service were found to be highly varied; reasons for higher levels were attributed first to personal development or characteristics, (8) with secondary reasons stemming from organizational factors, management practices, and leadership styles. (9) The findings presented in this research offer support for previous research in the area of public service motivation development, and contribute to the understanding on this concept through the inclusion of a unique sample and the use of in-depth qualitative research with rich data that provides contextually based results. …

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