Does Public Service Motivation Always Lead to Organizational?Commitment?

[We’re pleased to welcome author Wisanupong Potipiroon of Prince of Songkla University. Potipiroon recently published a paper in Public Personnel Management entitled, “Does Public Service Motivation Always Lead to Organizational Commitment? Examining the Moderating Roles of Intrinsic Motivation and Ethical Leadership,” which is free to read for a limited time. Below, Potipiroon reflects on the motivation for pursuing this research:]

PPM_C1 template_rev.inddIt is widely accepted that individuals with high public service motivation (PSM) are more likely to join, feel emotionally attached to and remain in public service organizations. Although we concur with this prevailing notion, our observations and anecdotes from street-level bureaucrats indicate that this is not always the case. Although it is true that public organizations can provide considerable opportunities to employees to do good for others and to be useful to society, we know from experience that service-minded employees often end up working in jobs that do not allow them to put their motivation to use effectively. Indeed, not all jobs are created equal: Some can be less interesting or challenging than others. This may form part of the reasons why many talented workers may decide to leave public service in the first place.

Well, this is precisely what we found in our data which were drawn from a large public organization in Thailand. We found that the relationship between PSM and organizational commitment was dependent upon intrinsic motivation—the extent to which one finds enjoyment in the work even without rewards. When task enjoyment was high, we found that the effect of PSM on organizational commitment was positive. When task enjoyment was lacking, however, the effect of PSM became significantly negative. This indicates that low levels of intrinsic motivation could undermine the achievement of the opportunities inherent in meaningful public services.

Interestingly, we also learned that highly motivated individuals put a great deal of importance on the extent to which their leaders are ethical. In particular, the highest level of organizational commitment was observed when there were high levels of motivation and ethical leadership simultaneously. This suggests that ethical leaders play an instrumental role in fulfilling employees’ needs to act on their motivation. In the public sector, ethical leaders are those who place great emphasis on making an outward, societal impact and showing concern for the common good while also providing a supportive work context that allow employees’ motivation to flourish.

Our study findings underscore the fact that PSM may not offer infinite benefits in every type of settings because PSM effects will likely depend on the whole range of contextual factors including job characteristics and leadership styles. Indeed, public managers should be aware that highly motivated workers could develop a particularly unfavorable view of their organizations if their prosocial needs go unmet.

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