Public Value at Cross Points: A Comparative Study on Employer Attractiveness of Public, Private, and Nonprofit Organizations

Published date01 September 2023
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/0734371X221098153
AuthorAdrian Ritz,Kristina S. Weißmüller,Timo Meynhardt
Date01 September 2023
Subject MatterArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/0734371X221098153
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2023, Vol. 43(3) 528 –556
© The Author(s) 2022
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DOI: 10.1177/0734371X221098153
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Article
Public Value at Cross Points:
A Comparative Study on
Employer Attractiveness of
Public, Private, and Nonprofit
Organizations
Adrian Ritz1, Kristina S. Weißmüller1,
and Timo Meynhardt2,3
Abstract
A commonly held assumption is that public service motivation (PSM) positively
affects individuals’ attraction to government, but there are also private and nonprofit
organizations that are beneficial to the common good. Therefore, the goal of this study
is to shed light on an understudied topic in Public Administration, namely, how the
public value of public, private, and nonprofit organizations affects their attractiveness
to citizens and how PSM moderates this relationship. We find that employer
attractiveness is strongly influenced by organizations’ public value regardless sectoral
affiliation. This attribution of public value interacts with citizens’ PSM. For high-PSM
individuals, the relationship between public value and attractiveness is stronger than
for low-PSM individuals. Furthermore, high PSM exercises an asymmetric effect,
punishing organizations with low public value more strongly in the private sector.
These results highlight important implications for HR practitioners in all three sectors
seeking to attract and retain highly motivated employees.
Keywords
employer attractiveness, public value, public service motivation, employee retention,
public human resource management
1KPM Center for Public Management, University of Bern, Switzerland
2HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management, Germany
3Center for Leadership and Values in Society, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland
Corresponding Author:
Adrian Ritz, KPM Center for Public Management, University of Bern, Schanzeneckstrasse 1,
Bern CH-3001, Switzerland.
Email: adrian.ritz@kpm.unibe.ch
1098153ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X221098153Review of Public Personnel AdministrationRitz et al.
research-article2022
Ritz et al. 529
Introduction
With a workforce aging faster than the labor force as a whole, the challenge facing
public organizations is how to attract and retain talent in public service careers (Äijälä,
2001; Leisink & Steijn, 2008). As a result, increasing employer attractiveness—the
interest of individuals in being employed by a certain organization—is of key impor-
tance for public organizations. One perennial proposition within the PA literature is
that sector matters in job choice decisions. Another widely held assumption is that
public service motivation (PSM)—that is, the willingness to contribute to society at
large and to serve the public interest (Perry & Hondeghem, 2008)—affects individu-
als’ attraction to public sector employment based on the argument of value congruence
(see e.g., Asseburg & Homberg, 2020; Brewer et al., 2012; Carpenter et al., 2012;
Christensen & Wright, 2011; Vandenabeele, 2008).
However, there is only limited evidence that the positive effects of public value on
employee attraction and selection differ fundamentally between public and private orga-
nizations (Boyne, 2002). Research on employer attractiveness has largely ignored the
fact that sectorial affiliation and related factors such as, for instance, the relationship
between an organization and its environment, or its contributions to society—including
creating public value, for example—may affect talents’ employer choice (Winter &
Thaler, 2016). Employment conditions and incentives also vary substantially between
sectors and influence sector preferences (Bullock et al., 2015; Rainey & Chun, 2005).
To date, most research on PSM in general but also research on PSM’s role for
employer attractiveness, focuses solely on public sector organizations and neglects non-
profit and private sector organizations (Lyons et al., 2006; Taylor, 2010; Winter & Thaler,
2016). This omission is important given the evidence that nonprofit and even private
sector organizations are in fact attractive for public service-oriented individuals (Kjeldsen
& Jacobsen, 2013) and may, therefore, compete for high-PSM talent (Boxall et al., 2007;
Christensen & Wright, 2011; Houston, 2006; LeRoux & Feeney, 2013). Empirical evi-
dence shows organizations’ sector plays a role in both public and private sector employ-
ees’ attraction to and selection of their employer, although empirical evidence on the link
between PSM and sector attraction for the general population is less conclusive (Asseburg
& Homberg, 2020; Christensen & Wright, 2011; Hinna et al., 2021; Kjeldsen & Jacobsen,
2013; Pedersen, 2013; Ritz & Waldner, 2011; Rose, 2013; Vandenabeele, 2008).
Therefore, we need more cross-sectoral research into the relevance of public value in
employee attraction and on the role of PSM in this relationship.
One issue is that most of the studies mentioned above focus on data from public
employees or students (Asseburg & Homberg, 2020). Thus, the current body of research
has only limited explanatory power when it comes to explaining organizations’ attrac-
tiveness to talent in the general population and regarding employer selection decisions
beyond the choice of a first job (Lee & Choi, 2016; Wright & Christensen, 2010). A
second issue is that public organizations compete for future employees on the general
labor market. In this setting of cross-sectoral competition, PSM is argued to be a specific
attribute that affects individuals’ behavior in a variety of settings, and not only in public
organizations (Jin, 2013; Perry et al., 2008; Ripoll & Schott, 2020). Consequently, we

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