Are We There Yet? the State of Public Human Resource Management Research

Article excerpt


Public human resource management (PHRM) reforms aimed at improving the efficiency of public personnel functions have embraced a critical view of traditional civil service systems. Politicians and managers alike have depicted traditional civil service systems as archaic, rule-bound, and in need of private sector know-how. Subsequently, changes to the civil service laws at the local, state, and federal levels have dramatically altered public personnel functions. Since the 1990s, governments at all levels have taken on civil service reform to various degrees by targeting perceived inefficiencies of personnel functions--in particular, the inability of public personnel systems to dismiss poor performing employees and recognize performance.

Despite the extent of reform over the last few decades, there have been few systematic studies that have advanced the theoretical and methodological discussion of PHRM reform and performance (e.g., Bowman & West, 2007; Condrey & Maranto, 2001; Kellough & Nigro, 2006b). While a growing body of literature has underscored the dubiousness of the purported efficiency of these reforms (see, for example, Perry, Engbers, & Jun, 2009), the 2012 election year demonstrated that the push for PHRM reform across the country is very much alive. Voters and legislatures in several states, including Colorado, Tennessee, and Arizona, have opted for state personnel reforms akin to the deregulation measures in Georgia (Kerrigan, 2012a, 2012b; Maynard, 2012). A comprehensive review of the current state of research in the field of PHRM is essential to providing an assessment of existing theoretical and methodological developments, the fruit of those developments, and in what directions future research efforts should focus.

How might an assessment of the PHRM reform research be useful? A critical objective professed elsewhere is a greater synthesis of the empirical theory underlying PHRM reform (Kellough & Nigro, 2006a; Llorens & Battaglio, 2010). The reforms themselves are often couched in motivational and organizational change theories taken from the private sector. These theories may fall short in adequately explaining the results of reform leading to a more robust consideration of "what it takes to build a productive and dedicated public workforce" (Kellough & Nigro, 2006a, p. 463). Often times, many variables are used for analyzing and evaluating the impact of reform. This leads to a second and more critical goal professed as well in the literature--that of the take-away for practitioners operating in a PHRM reform environment (Llorens & Battaglio, 2010). Empirical theory should actually assist those in the public service with empirically based recommendations and therefore such recommendations should be usable and feasible in the PHRM environment. The aim of this paper is to provide greater clarity to the empirical theory developed thus far and investigate the extent to which empirically based recommendations have been offered from PHRM research. To accomplish this, we examine the published product of the research community--238 published articles from 13 journals since 1996. Our investigation is interested in synthesizing the type and consistency of findings put forward by researchers in the PHRM community with suggestions for a future research agenda.

Assessing the State of the Field

The type of PHRM reform is an essential characteristic toward assessing overall effectiveness (Llorens & Battaglio, 2010). While research often takes a general approach to assessing reform writ large (Bellou, 2007; Bradbury, Battaglio, & Crum, 2010; Brudney, Hebert, & Wright, 1999; Christensen & Laegreid, 1999; Daley & Vasu, 2005; Daley, Vasu, & Weinstein, 2002; Donahue, Selden, & Ingraham, 2000; Dunford, Bramble, & Littler, 1998; Durant & West, 2001; Elling & Thompson, 2006; Glendenning, 2002; Harel & Tzafrir, 2001; Hays & Kearney, 2001; Kellough & Nigro, 2006b; Kellough & Selden, 2003; Kim, 2010; Loffler, 1997; Nigro & Kellough, 2000; Ruhil & Camoes, 2003; Selden, 2005; Selden, Ingraham, & Jacobson, 2001; Wise, 1999), it has become increasingly necessary to unpackage the "black box" of PHRM reform to gain a greater appreciation for the nuances of reform type in greater detail (Llorens & Battaglio, 2010). …


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