Public service motivation, clients’ deservingness, and undesirable behaviors : Evidence from an experimental study of street-level bureaucrats

Research output: Conference Papers (RGC: 31A, 31B, 32, 33)33_Other conference paperpeer-review

View graph of relations

Author(s)

Related Research Unit(s)

Detail(s)

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPresented - 25 Jun 2021

Conference

TitlePublic Management Research Conference (PMRC) 2021
LocationVirtual
PlaceUnited States
CityHonolulu, Hawai’i
Period23 - 25 June 2021

Abstract

Emerging scholars have recently begun to explore the potential dark sides, particularly the undesirable behaviors, of public service motivation (PSM). This study extends this highly promising strand of literature by employing an experimental design to analyze the adverse impacts resulted from PSM—prosocial rule-breaking and prosocial punitive behaviors— and to subsequently demonstrate the role that clients’ deservingness plays in moderating these undesirable behavioral outcomes.

Capitalizing on the participation of 340 frontline public employees from Chinese local governments in a series of vignette-based survey experiments, this study finds that PSM significantly increases the individuals’ likelihood of exhibiting prosocial rule-breaking or punitive behavior. Additionally, bureaucrats’ perceived level of deservingness of clients moderates the positive relationship between PSM and the two aforementioned undesirable behaviors in a different manner. Put differently, public servants with a strong service orientation are likely to exercise their discretionary power to impose lighter punishments on and to offer more rule-bending assistance to clients with high deservingness features.

This paper contributes to the existing literature by providing credible evidence on the negative consequences associated with PSM. That is, our experimental results overwhelmingly suggest that highly public service-oriented street-level bureaucrats may sacrifice their organizational interests to lend support to citizens and achieve the social benefits at the heavy expense of their regulatees. Besides, this study confirms that clients’ deservingness significantly moderates the interplay between PSM and undesirable behaviors. In light of our findings, street-level bureaucrats should become fully aware of their psychological tendency to employ discriminatory treatments to clients with disparate characteristics. Public organizations and managers should also acknowledge the existence of prosocial rule-breaking phenomena, thus sparing no effort to fine-tune their internal rules and norms so that a better alignment between organizational values and public interests can be attained.

Bibliographic Note

Research Unit(s) information for this publication is provided by the author(s) concerned.

Citation Format(s)

Public service motivation, clients’ deservingness, and undesirable behaviors : Evidence from an experimental study of street-level bureaucrats. / TAO, Lei; WEN, Bo.

2021. Public Management Research Conference (PMRC) 2021, Honolulu, Hawai’i, United States.

Research output: Conference Papers (RGC: 31A, 31B, 32, 33)33_Other conference paperpeer-review