Pay-for-Performance and Other Practices: Alternative Paths for Human Resource Management Effectiveness in Public Social Care Organizations

Date01 March 2021
Published date01 March 2021
AuthorSabrina Gigli,Federica Bandini,Laura Mariani
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(1) 78 –104
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X19863841
Pay-for-Performance and
Other Practices: Alternative
Paths for Human Resource
Management Effectiveness
in Public Social Care
Laura Mariani1, Sabrina Gigli2,
and Federica Bandini2
Pay-for-performance has been widely adopted in the public sector to improve
effectiveness and efficiency in service provision, which in turn positively affects
employees’ satisfaction and commitment. Despite the presence of these initiatives in
nearly every reform effort, limited concrete evidence of success has been highlighted.
Through a fuzzy set qualitative comparative analysis on 17 social care organizations
in Italy, the aim of this work is to contribute to the debate on human resources
management practices in the public sector. Results suggest that pay-for-performance
is effective when supported by other empowering practices. Furthermore, alternative
combinations can produce the same positive effect on satisfaction and commitment.
pay-for-performance, employees’ satisfaction and commitment, qualitative comparative
analysis, configurational approach
Research on the relationship between human resource management (HRM) and
employees’ satisfaction, commitment, engagement, and motivation is gaining growing
attention in the field of public management and public administration (Gould-Williams,
1University of Bergamo, Italy
2University of Bologna, Italy
Corresponding Author:
Laura Mariani, University of Bergamo, Via Dei Caniana, 2, 24127, Bergamo, Italy.
863841ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X19863841Review of Public Personnel AdministrationMariani et al.
Mariani et al. 79
2003; Mostafa, Gould-Williams, & Bottomley, 2015). In particular, in the light of
robust evidence that relates HRM effectiveness to the improvement of organizational
outcomes (Combs, Liu, Hall, & Ketchen, 2006), the assessment of employees’ reac-
tions to human resource (HR) practices is perceived as crucial (Paauwe, Wright, &
Guest, 2013). More recently, such activities have been referred to as high-performance
HRM practices: sets of coherent and interrelated HR practices designed to promote
both organizational and employees’ performance (Huselid, 1995; Kehoe & Wright,
2013; Messersmith, Patel, Lepak, & Gould-Williams, 2011). Among these practices,
pay-for-performance (PFP) initiatives have often been included in public sector reforms
in the last 20 years, with the aim to increase productivity by reconsidering and redesign-
ing the overall compensation system of public bureaucracies (Katula & Perry, 2003). In
particular, the expectation is that, if employees are provided the chance to gain addi-
tional benefits, this would increase their perception of being part of a work environment
that is supportive. Consequently, employees would respond accordingly, behaving in
such a way that would benefit their organization in a positive way (Rhoades, Eisenberger,
& Armeli, 2001). With reference to health care organizations, specifically publicly
operated health care organizations, the limited flexibility with regard to pay issues that
previously characterized the sector has been progressively overtaken. More recently,
HRM trends seem to indicate a process of change toward models of performance-based
compensation, aimed at accelerating improvements in the quality of care. In particular,
many providers have started to offer financial incentives to caregivers based on their
performance on clinical measures (Petersen, Woodard, Urech, Daw, & Sookanan, 2006;
Rondeau & Wagar, 2001).
Despite the presence of such initiatives in nearly every reform effort, PFP initia-
tives have limited concrete confirmation of success (Ingraham, 1993a, 1993b; Perry,
1986; Pollitt & Bouckaert, 2004; Weibel, Rost, & Osterloh, 2009). In health care man-
agement research, in particular, there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of
paying for quality and some authors highlight the potential risks from introducing PFP
in health care, including the increase in dysfunctional competitive behavior among
employees (Rondeau & Wagar, 2001). Furthermore, recent literature on leadership in
the public sector tends to highlight how PFP is based on a transactional leadership
assumption of rewards and punishment, which is not particularly coherent with the
expectations of public sector employees engaged in care services provision, whose
motivations are rather intrinsic and social value-driven (Hargis, Watt, & Piotrowski,
2011; Jacobsen & Andersen, 2017). Compared to other public services, in fact, their
effectiveness is primarily affected by the interaction between the employee and the
user who co-produces the service (Normann, 1991; Parasuraman, Zeithaml, & Berry,
However, while the role of HRM within the health care sector has attracted much
research interest (i.e., Bartram & Dowling, 2013; Bartram, Stanton, Leggat, Casimir,
& Fraser, 2007), HRM issues in other sub-sectors of care—elderly and disability care
in particular—have yet to gain sufficient research attention (Cooke & Bartram, 2015)
despite their peculiarities. In particular, compared to health care processes where the
role of technology and clinical practice is prominent, the delivery of other care

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