A study by Nicola Bellé (Department of Policy Analysis and Public Management) shows the importance of prosocial motivation for the performance of public sector employees working in mission-driven organizations, such as hospitals, schools, and fire departments. This research is the first to provide empirical evidence of the causal relationship between Public Service Motivation (PSM) and job performance in public organizations thanks to the use of an experimental design. The study demonstrates that organizational interventions aimed at heightening employees’perception of themselves as making a difference in other people’s lives may increase public workers’ prosocial motivation, which in turn leads to a better performance.
Bellé published his article Experimental Evidence on the Relationship between Public Service Motivation and Job Performance in Public Administration Review (January/February 2013, Vol. 73 Issue 1, pages 143-153, DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-6210.2012.02621.x).
Public Service Motivation in public organizations settings has been extensively investigated since Perry and Wise in 1990 argued that individuals with a greater PMS are likely to perform better. However, evidence of this relation has always come from observational research designs, which are valuable but lack internal validity. Bellé decided to approach this issue by conducting a field experiment on a sample of 90 nurses who were invited to assemble surgical kits as part of an international cooperation project.
Bellé considered in the research two factors that can stimulate job performance for public sector workers: beneficiary contact and self-persuasion interventions. First of all, the findings support the fact that these two factors have a positive effect on job performance of public employees. Bellé found that meeting the beneficiaries of their efforts greatly enhanced the persistence, output, productivity and vigilance of the nurses. Similar results were obtained when the nurses were asked to reflect on the social impact of their work and then publicly advocate for it.
A further analysis of the results, though, reveals not only that nurses exposed to contact with beneficiaries or to self-persuasion interventions showed an higher performance level; but also that this positive effect was stronger among nurses reporting a higher motivation before the experiment. Moreover, Bellé assesses what he calls the “dynamic state” of motivation, since the nurses exposed to the treatment had also an increase in their level of motivation. Therefore, prosocial motivation is not an individual’s stable trait; on the contrary, this finding suggests that levels of motivation among employees may also be influenced by organizational processes. To conclude, the findings of this research improve our understanding on how motivation affect performance, providing useful insights for public organizations and the way they can manage their employees.