Emotionally Engaged Civil Servants: Toward a Multilevel Theory and Multisource Analysis in Public Administration

AuthorEran Vigoda-Gadot,Zehavit Levitats
Published date01 September 2020
Date01 September 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2020, Vol. 40(3) 426 –446
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X18820938
Emotionally Engaged
Civil Servants: Toward
a Multilevel Theory and
Multisource Analysis in
Public Administration
Zehavit Levitats1 and Eran Vigoda-Gadot1
Excellent public services build on excellent civil servants who are both emotionally
intelligent and engaged in their work. This article proposes a conceptual framework
for a better understanding of the relationship between public employees and their
complex workplaces. We focus on the engagement of civil servants, the role of
managers’ and employees’ emotional intelligence, and on employees’ public service
motivation (PSM) to provide better services to citizens. We develop three major
propositions: (a) the positive effect of employees’ emotional intelligence on their
engagement, (b) the moderating effect of managers’ emotional intelligence on the
relationship between their employees’ emotional intelligence and engagement, and (c)
the moderating effect of employees’ PSM on the relationship between public servants’
emotional intelligence and their engagement. Our conceptual framework may set the
stage for future research on civil servants’ engagement and emotional intelligence and
their aggregate impact on the quality of government actions and services.
engagement, emotional intelligence, public service motivation, multilevel, theory
The last two decades have established engagement as an important construct for both
employee productivity (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008; Halbesleben, 2010; Schaufeli,
Taris, & Bakker, 2006) and positive organizational performance (Harter, Schmidt, &
1University of Haifa, Israel
Corresponding Author:
Eran Vigoda-Gadot, Division of Public Administration & Policy, University of Haifa, Aba Hushi rd., Mount
Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel.
Email: eranv@poli.haifa.ac.il
820938ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X18820938Review of Public Personnel AdministrationLevitats and Vigoda-Gadot
Levitats and Vigoda-Gadot 427
Hayes, 2002; Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti, & Schaufeli, 2009). The issue of
engagement has also been identified as of special importance to the public sector, due
to its impact on the public’s satisfaction with the services provided (Harter et al.,
2002). As Vigoda-Gadot, Eldor, and Schohat, (2013) previously noted:
The responsibility of the public sector is to promote public policy with a sense of
“mission” toward the state and its citizens. This unique sense of purpose calls for engaged
public sector employees, who serve rather than simply do the job. (p. 522-523)
The existing public administration literature on employees’ engagement is growing
in work examining the construct’s antecedents (e.g., Jin & McDonald, 2016; Lu &
Guy, 2014) and its implications for the outcomes of employees and their organizations
(e.g., Marrelli, 2011). Such studies have yielded important theoretical and practical
contributions, using a conceptualization and an operationalization of engagement as is
commonly used in the general management literature. However, the research on
engagement has been exposed to criticism for two reasons. First, numerous definitions
of employee engagement exist and there is a lack of consensus regarding the name,
meaning, and distinctiveness of employee engagement among scholars and practitio-
ners (Bakker, Albrecht, & Leiter, 2011; Cole, Walter, Bedeian, & O’Boyle, 2012). A
second related issue is that there is a proliferation of instruments developed to measure
employee engagement, and there is no consensus on how engagement should be mea-
sured nor on the validity of existing measures (Saks & Gruman, 2014). In addition to
these two ongoing concerns, a question remains whether civil servants’ engagement
has the same meaning and content as engagement in the private sector. Taking a public
administration perspective, it is our responsibility to frame theoretical constructs in the
context of the public sector, by focusing on the norms and ethos of civil servants
(Golden, 2000). Although there are situations where classic work-related constructs
and models explain and even predict behavior successfully, these classic models do
not necessarily suit the motivations, attitudes, and behavior of those in the public
A clear demonstration of this idea is the concept of public service motivation (PSM),
which was originally coined and validated by Perry and Wise (1990) as distinct from
the more general construct of work motivation. As proponents of public-service moti-
vation (e.g., Frederickson & Hart, 1985; Perry & Porter, 1982; Perry & Wise, 1990)
argue, individuals are drawn to careers in public service primarily by a unique set of
altruistic motives not found among private sector employees (Houston, 2000; Perry &
Wise, 1990). It may similarly be proposed that public sector employees exhibit a unique
form of work engagement due to the sector’s unique characteristics. It has been previ-
ously argued (e.g., DeSantis & Durst, 1996; Mohanty & Mishra, 1998; Zeffane, 1994)
that fundamental differences exist between the public and private sectors (e.g., bureau-
cratization and market forces), implicating the general orientation of the workplace in
various ways (Scott & Falcone, 1998). For example, legal and political constraints are
placed on government rather than private organizations, leading to perceptions of lower
job satisfaction and lower job control in the public sector (Scott & Falcone, 1998).

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