Can Training Enhance Public Employees’ Public Service Motivation? A Pretest–Posttest Design

AuthorChih-Wei Hsieh,Don-Yun Chen,Chung-An Chen
Date01 March 2021
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18MaJq5lu2N44c/input 872244ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X19872244Review of Public Personnel AdministrationChen et al.
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(1) 194 –215
Can Training Enhance
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
Public Employees’ Public
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X19872244
Service Motivation? A
Pretest–Posttest Design
Chung-An Chen1 , Chih-Wei Hsieh2 ,
and Don-Yun Chen3
Recent evidence shows public service motivation (PSM) may be unrelated to one’s
consideration of a public service career. In places where civil service examinations
prevail, even adverse selection (selecting low-PSM individuals) can occur. This leaves
public sector managers with tough questions: “Can we improve new recruits’ PSM?
Does training matter?” The present study attempts to answer these questions by
using a case of onboard training in Taiwan. We hypothesize that PSM, along with
public service–related knowledge and a positive attitude toward public service work,
improves after training, and that the improvement hinges on trainees’ satisfaction
with training and perceived usefulness of training. Analytical results indicate that
knowledge and attitudes are more “trainable” than PSM. Meanwhile, training
satisfaction is associated with the growth of public service–related knowledge, while
perceived training usefulness relates to a positive attitude toward public service work
and PSM. Overall, these findings advance our understanding of the effectiveness of
public service training, its determinants, and the implications for public employees’
public service orientations.
public service training, pretest–posttest design, training, Taiwan, public service
1Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
2City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR
3National Chengchi University, Taipei
Corresponding Author:
Chung-An Chen, Nanyang Technological University, 48 Nanyang Avenue, HSS-05-15, Singapore 639818.

Chen et al.
Public service motivation (PSM), as indicated by Bozeman and Su (2015), is a con-
cept of great importance but with little agreement on its definition because there are
more than 20 different definitions of PSM within the literature. Despite this, it is
generally agreed upon that PSM is both prosocial and altruistic in nature and that it
is a cluster of motivations and values (Taylor, 2008; Vandenabeele, 2007). In addi-
tion, PSM positively predicts public employees’ job satisfaction, performance, and
ethical behavior (Christensen & Wright, 2018; Ritz, Brewer, & Neumann, 2016).
Therefore, whether public service jobs can attract high-PSM individuals has raised
genuine research interest among scholars. Although early evidence supports that
PSM is correlated with choosing a public service career (e.g., Vandenabeele, 2008),
recent studies have found mixed results in terms of the relationship between PSM
and sector selection (Asseburg & Homberg, 2018; Kjeldsen & Jacobsen, 2013; Lee
& Choi, 2016).
Organizations in Taiwan, where the present study is based, have recently discov-
ered adverse selection (selecting low-PSM individuals) within the civil service system
(C.-A. Chen, Chen, Liao, & Kuo, 2019). The cause of this adverse selection may be
rooted in the unique culture of East Asian countries. In East Asia, including Taiwan, a
civil service position signifies prestige, power, and privilege. Many young people thus
long for a government job even if they are not interested in public service, and parents
often urge their children to take civil service exams (Su, 2010). This makes civil ser-
vice exams extremely competitive and difficult. Evidence shows severe competition,
along with participant’s desires for power and privilege, may drive them to study hard
for better exam results; however, it can crowd out their PSM at the same time (C.-A.
Chen et al., 2019), as suggested in motivation crowding theory (Frey & Jegen, 2001).
Consequently, public managers are left with a selection of high scoring applicants who
may be pursuing public service employment more for the extrinsic benefits rather than
the intrinsic and public service orientated motivations. This tension leaves public man-
agers in Taiwan facing tough questions: “What should they do to improve new recruits’
PSM? Does onboard training matter?”
Thus far, little evidence is available. In fact, with limited exceptions (Owens,
2006; Seidle, Fernandez, & Perry, 2016), research on training is scant in public
administration literature. Public service training is rarely studied probably due to
its individualized nature (i.e., training is often used to address personal perfor-
mance gaps) so that the collection and assessment of large-scale data is practically
difficult. The negligence may also be related to public managers’ conservative atti-
tudes toward training, with them thinking that things learned in training may not
catch up with constantly changing circumstances (Huque & Vyas, 2008). Training
budgets are often the first to suffer under fiscal stress (Paddock, 1997). However,
training is a compulsory practice for organizations that crave to improve employ-
ees’ work morale and performance (Landy, 1989; Landy & Conte, 2016). A recent
survey by the Association for Talent Development (2017) indicates that business
organizations invested $1,273 per employee on training expenditure in 2016, where

Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(1)
the average number of training hours per employee was 34.1 hr. It is unfortunate
that public administration scholars fail to pay enough attention to the impact of
To address the gap, this study explores whether new employees’ PSM increases
after they receive onboard training. Although PSM as an individual value is rather
deep-rooted, the increase of PSM is still possible (C.-A. Chen, Hsieh, & Chen, 2014).
According to the theory of training (Warr, Allan, & Birdi, 1999), the change of train-
ees’ values after training is grounded in their change of knowledge and attitudes.
Fostering PSM as a public service–related value thus first requires the change of basic
public service knowledge and a positive attitude toward public service. Therefore, we
state the first and second research questions as follows:
Research Question 1: Does PSM improve after employees receive onboard public
training? If it does,
Research Question 2: Is improved PSM grounded in improved basic public ser-
vice knowledge and improved positive attitude toward public service work?
To further understand training dynamics, we probe into employee reactions to train-
ing. According to Kraiger, Ford, and Salas (1993), training may not generate an actual
impact until employees react to it. Employee reactions to training are twofold: satis-
faction with training (affective reaction) and perceived effectiveness of training (util-
ity reaction) (Kirkpatrick, 1994; Warr et al., 1999). If we find a change in PSM, basic
public service knowledge, and a positive attitude toward public service after training,
is it because employees are satisfied with the training, or because they think that the
training is useful to their future career, or both?
Answers to this question first contribute to theory building for public service train-
ing. Practically, as public employees are entrusted with power and authority to deliver
services to the public, employers are keen to find fertile ground where essential
employee knowledge, attitudes, and values can be developed. Our understanding of
employee reactions to training will offer guidance for training designers to collect
important information pertaining to training effectiveness and to make modifications
to better meet the objectives of the training program. Therefore, the third research
question is stated as follows:
Research Question 3: If PSM, public service knowledge, and a positive attitude
toward public service work improve after employees receive onboard training, is it
a result of employees’ satisfaction with training, perceived effectiveness of train-
ing, or both?
This article begins with the literature review on training, followed by hypothesis
development. Methodologically, both a pretest–posttest design and structural equation
modeling (SEM) are employed to test hypotheses. Finally, we discuss implications and

Chen et al.
Literature Review
Expected Training Outcomes: A Focus on Employee Learning
Humans learn a variety of skills, abilities, and attitudes from the day they are born.
Although this learning may happen in different ways and at different paces, the acqui-
sition of needed knowledge enables one to overcome challenges in vastly different
situations in life. Thus, the capacity to learn is connected to a person’s likelihood of
survival and success in a new environment. In the workplace, learning often takes
place in the form of training. Training has long been regarded as an integral strategy of
human resource development. It can be understood as a managerial effort that seeks to
facilitate the learning of specific job competencies on the part of employees (Wexley
& Latham, 1991).
Undeniably, training may incur high costs; resources poured into training must be
justified. Learning attainment, both long-term and short-term, is highly anticipated
and should be one of the goals of effective training....

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