Exploring the Context Dependency of the PSM–Performance Relationship

AuthorMogens Jin Pedersen,Lotte Bøgh Andersen,Mikkel Lynggaard
Published date01 September 2018
Date01 September 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2018, Vol. 38(3) 332 –354
© The Author(s) 2016
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DOI: 10.1177/0734371X16671371
Exploring the Context
Dependency of the
Mikkel Lynggaard1, Mogens Jin Pedersen2,3,
and Lotte Bøgh Andersen3
The public service motivation (PSM) of public employees matters to their performance
at work. Yet research on how context factors moderate the PSM–performance
relationship is sparse. This article shows how the PSM–performance relationship
may depend on two context factors: (a) the extent of work autonomy that a public
organization provides its employees and (b) the service users’ capacity to affect
the organization’s service provision. We test a set of moderation hypotheses using
school data (teacher survey data with administrative data on schools and student).
Using within-student between-teachers fixed effects regression, we find a stronger
PSM–performance relationship in organizational contexts involving greater regulation
of employee work autonomy for users with low to moderate user capacity.
public service motivation, performance, work autonomy, user capacity, fixed effects
Since the early 1990s, scholars have increasingly examined the causes and effects of
public service motivation (PSM; Perry & Hondeghem, 2008; Perry & Wise, 1990),
which can be seen as individuals’ “orientation to deliver services to people with the
purpose of doing good for others and society” (Hondeghem & Perry, 2009, p. 6). Much
1The Danish Ministry for Children, Education and Gender Equality, Copenhagen, Denmark
2SFI—The Danish National Centre for Social Research, Copenhagen, Denmark
3Aarhus University, Denmark
Corresponding Author:
Mikkel Lynggaard, The Danish Ministry for Children, Education and Gender Equality, Frederiksholms
Kanal 26, Copenhagen K 1220, Denmark.
Email: mikkel.lynggaard@uvm.dk
671371ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X16671371Review of Public Personnel AdministrationLynggaard et al.
Lynggaard et al. 333
research shows that employee PSM is a determinant of performance in public organi-
zations (Alonso & Lewis, 2001; Bellé, 2013; Brewer & Selden, 2000; Kim, 2005; Naff
& Crum, 1999; Vandenabeele, 2009; Warren & Chen, 2013). However, more research
that expands our understanding of the PSM–performance relationship is needed. In
particular, scholars call for research attention to the context dependency of the PSM–
performance relationship (Bellé, 2013; Pedersen, 2015; Wright & Grant, 2010). How
do organizational settings influence the association between PSM and performance in
public organizations? What workplace context factors moderate the PSM–performance
This article contributes by examining how two contextual factors affect the
PSM–performance relationship: (a) the extent of work autonomy that public organi-
zations provide employees and (b) the “user capacity” of the citizens who receive
the organization’s services, defined as their “competence to understand and affect
the provision of the public services” (Kristensen, Andersen, & Pedersen, 2012, p.
947). The work of Le Grand (2003, 2010) and self-determination theory (SDT; Deci
& Ryan, 2004; Gagné & Deci, 2005) guide our focus. As we discuss later, both per-
spectives imply that work autonomy and service user capacity may influence the
association between PSM and performance. Yet, the two perspectives provide differ-
ent expectations about the direction in which work autonomy and the service user
capacity affect the association.
PSM has been shown to be highly relevant in public schools (Andersen, Heinesen,
& Pedersen, 2014; Van Loon, 2016). We therefore investigate the context dependency
of the association between teacher PSM and student grades. The teachers’ work efforts
matter for the development of the individual students and thus for future societal
growth and welfare. Because student education serves both the interest of the indi-
vidual students and the public interest, we focus on the PSM dimensions of
“Compassion” and “Commitment to the Public Interest” (CPI). Combining survey
data from teachers with administrative data on students and schools and using student
fixed effects (SFEs) regression, we test how work autonomy and user capacity moder-
ate the PSM–performance relationship in the area of schooling. Do these two contex-
tual factors strengthen or weaken the effect of PSM on performance?
Theory: The Conditional Relationship Between PSM and
PSM theory argues that public sector jobs are intrinsically motivating for people with
high PSM, in turn making them work harder and perform better (Perry & Wise, 1990).
Empirically, PSM tends to be positively associated with performance in public organi-
zations (Alonso & Lewis, 2001; Bellé, 2013; Brewer & Selden, 2000; Kim, 2005; Naff
& Crum, 1999; Vandenabeele, 2009). A meta-analysis by Warren and Chen (2013)
confirms the existence of a significant and positive PSM–performance relationship,
but they find that association is somewhat weak and stronger in other countries than in
the United States. Based on a systematic literature review, Ritz, Brewer, and Neumann
(2016) suggest that the findings on the PSM–performance relationship are mixed and

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