Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Where Does Public Service Motivation Count the Most in Government Work Environments? A Preliminary Empirical Investigation and Hypotheses

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Where Does Public Service Motivation Count the Most in Government Work Environments? A Preliminary Empirical Investigation and Hypotheses

Article excerpt


Public service motivation (PSM) has emerged as one of the most popular areas of research in the field of public administration nationally and internationally (see Perry & Hondeghem, 2008). This domain of research has not only grown in quantity but also in terms of quality. Scholars are utilizing advance techniques to test the long-held theories regarding the positive effects of PSM in organizations, most notably on the performance, satisfaction, and commitment of public employees (Alonso & Lewis, 2001; Bright, 2005,2007,2008,2009; Naff & Crum, 1999; Perry, 1997). This research could not have come too soon. The field of public administration is facing challenges for which PSM research could provide answers. One of the major challenges is the fact that within the next 10 to 15 years, all levels of government will be greatly affected by the enormously large numbers of retirements from the aging public employees. Government leaders are scrambling to develop recruitment strategies that will offset these large upcoming reductions in force. However, merely determining the number of employees that will be needed to replace future retirees does not solve the problem of ensuring that the right employees are selected, nor does it guarantee that these individuals will have long-term interest in public sector employment. There is growing competition for obtaining excellent employees among government, business, and nonprofit organizations, thus the best and brightest individuals tend to have a number of employment options to choose from. Astonishingly, there is evidence that government organizations may not even be able to count on being selected as the sector of choice among those enrolled in public affairs education programs (Light, 1999; Volcker, 1987). Therefore, it is crucial that public organizations develop a competitive edge in attracting desirable employees.

Determining which individuals have high levels of PSM and recruiting those individuals to careers that best suit them, at the same time avoiding those individuals who are less inclined toward PSM, may be the edge that government organizations have when attracting the right individuals to public service work. This is particularly important given the strong relationship PSM has with the preferences, attitudes, and behaviors of public employees. However, the degree to which PSM has positive results on these outcomes depends on the characteristics of the work environment. Person--environmental (PE) fit researchers suggest that the work environment is multidimensional and that it embodies many demands and opportunities that flow from not only the features of organizations but also from the features of the jobs within organizations. Subsequently, this suggestion highlights an important question regarding the level of work environment that PSM contributes the most to. Specifically, does PSM have the greatest impact on individuals' public organizations (PO Fit) or public jobs (PJ Fit)? The answer to this question has implications for the recruitment strategies government organizations should use in our competitive labor market, as well as to our understanding of the kinds of work outcomes PSM should logically predict.

Subsequently, the purpose of this study was to comparatively investigate the relationship that PSM has to PO Fit and PJ Fit. This article begins with a review of the PSM and PE Fit literatures. The research questions and hypotheses that will be the focus of this study are presented after the review. The methods that were used to collect and analyze the data will be presented next, and the article will conclude with a discussion of the implications that this study has for research and practice in the field of public administration.


The concept of PSM is often used as an argument for why individuals choose government careers over careers in a business organization. Many scholars and practitioners believe that the explanation for these decisions can be attributed to the importance that some individuals place on meaningful opportunities to contribute to society. …

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