Does Pay for Performance Undermine Satisfaction from Public Service Work? Collecting Survey and Experimental Evidence Through “Full-Circle” Research

Project: Research

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The main impetus behind the proposed project is to investigate whether pay for performance (PFP) undermines job satisfaction (JS) derived from public service. Studies of public service workers’ satisfaction have recently gained momentum due to growing scholarly inquiry into public service motivation (PSM)—the desire to serve the public. Clear empirical evidence has been found for a positive PSM-JS relationship, yet questions have also been raised about whether the strength and direction of this relationship can withstand different employment conditions. This issue is of particular concern in the wake of recent administrative reforms, which have sought to improve employee motivation and performance through PFP. Unfortunately, there is no scholarly consensus to date on the effect of PFP on the PSM-JS relationship. Thus, our primary research question will be whether and how PFP modifies the JS of public service–motivated workers. The context of public service work serves as an ideal backdrop for our inquiries, because it is easier to observe the effect of PFP in workplaces where PSM is most required. Based on the relevant literature, we posit the following hypotheses:1. PSM will lead to JS directly and indirectly through public service delivery.2. PFP will undermine the PSM-JS relationship if perceived job control is diminished. We will address our research question using a “full-circle” multimethod design to circumvent the limitations of any single method and to allow us to investigate our theoretical conjectures thoroughly. The “full-circle” approach begins with observational research of natural phenomena and proceeds by alternating manipulation- and observation-based inquiries. Following this principle, we will perform three studies: (1) a survey study of public service workers across occupations in Hong Kong, (2) an experimental public service simulation with Hong Kong college students, and (3) an “empirical generalization” type of replication study using a sample of Taiwanese police officers. These studies will serve as a strong basis for developing and validating insights derived from different methodologies and samples. In conclusion, the proposed project will advance scholarly knowledge concerning the effect of PFP on the morale of public service workers and develop interventions to balance motivating service performance and maintaining employee satisfaction. The research team will be led by two public administration scholars with extensive experience collaborating with each other on PSM studies. Two additional researchers, specialists in experimental and police studies, will assist with research design and data collection. The synergy of the research team's complementary strengths will help bring this project to fruition. 


Project number9043097
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/2111/04/24