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Scholars and practitioners are interested in public service motivation (PSM). This interest is influenced by a desire to uncover the benefits that PSM has for public organizations. Public service motivation has the potential of transforming the way employees are recruited, motivated, and retained in public organizations. For example, one potential benefit of PSM is its connection to the occupation choices of public employees. Scholars have hypothesized that an ethic to serve the community and help others eventually drives individuals into public service careers. (1) Yet, there are various occupations that exist in public organizations. Are public employees with high levels of PSM more attracted to one public sector occupation than another? While there is evidence that public service motives are related to the career inclinations of individuals, (2) there is a need to empirically prove that public service motives are connected to their career choices. Demonstrating this connection will influence the strategies that are used to manage and motivate employees in public organizations. It will also add to the growing body of research on the affects that PSM has on the preferences and choices of employees.
Consequently, this study will explore the degree to which high levels of PSM is an explanation for why public employees choose public service occupations over non public service occupations in public organizations. This goal will be accomplished in several stages. This article will begin by exploring the current state of the research on PSM. Following this review, this article will bring the question and hypothesis of this study into focus. Next, the methods used to collect the data and test the hypothesis will be reviewed. Afterwards, the findings of this study will be discussed in detail. This article will end by exploring the implications this study has for research and practice in public administration.
Public Service Motivation
Public service motivation (PSM) is arguably one the most important ideas introduced into the field of public administration within the last two decades. Scholars have characterized PSM in many different ways, such as a service ethic, calling, or altruistic aims that motivate individuals to serve the public interest, help others, and be useful to society. Some have argued that people with high levels of these characteristics are good employees in public organizations. As a result, many scholars set out to better understand the impact that PSM has in public organizations with the hope of developing better ways of recruiting, motivating, and retaining public employees. Unfortunately, early research on PSM was unable to meet these goals. This was largely because the field had not developed an acceptable way of operationalizing PSM. In place of a more valid approach, many scholars defined PSM with various indirect proxies, such as employment sector, job preferences, altruistic intentions, organization commitment, and job satisfaction. (3) However, while public service motives may be related to these factors, PSM should be treated as a separate and distinct concept.
One of the most important breakthroughs in PSM was the pioneering work of Perry and Wise. (4) These scholars provided a conceptually sound definition of PSM, as well as a tool that measures it apart from other related concepts. For example, they defined PSM as an individual's predisposition to respond to motives that are grounded uniquely in public organizations and institutions. According to Perry and Wise, (5) individuals with high levels of PSM are attracted to public service work for various reasons, such as self-interest, an ethical stance, or emotional attachments. They further hypothesized that PSM is related to the work preferences, performance, and career choices of public employees. Building on this framework, Perry (6) went on to develop the only known scale that measures PSM by rating individuals' attraction to public policy making, the public interest, compassion, and self-sacrifice.
The Outcomes of Public Service Motivation
How have scholars used these theoretical and methodological advances to further our knowledge of the benefits and consequences of PSM in public organizations? Specifically, does PSM have important affects on the work preferences, performance, and career choices of employees? Fortunately, existing research provides some answers to these questions. For instance, research has consistently shown that PSM is connected to the work preferences of public employees. Scholars have found that public employees with high levels of PSM want non-monetary opportunities less than monetary opportunities. (7) Second, Naff and Crum (8) found that individuals with high levels of PSM were more satisfied and less likely to leave public organizations when compared with their counterparts with lower levels of PSM. More recently, scholars have even found a connection between PSM and employees' perception of red tape. Public service motivation seemingly increases the tolerance that public managers have for procedural rules. (9)
Unfortunately, the literature does not offer clear answers about the relationship between PSM and the performance of public employees. In fact, even though Frank and Lewis (10) found that most government employees rate their work effort highly, the literature differs on the connection that PSM has to these ratings. On one hand, Naff and Crum (11) found that public employees with high levels of PSM reported receiving higher performance ratings than their counterparts. However, in a more recent study, Monso and Lewis (12) found …