Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Understanding Motivations of Sector Switchers: Towards a Holistic Approach to Public Service Motivation Theory
by Apfel, Jeffrey C., Ph.D., Rutgers The State University of New Jersey - Newark, 2011, 217; 3460701
Abstract (Summary)

While public service motivation theory (PSM) has addressed numerous topics in the 30-plus years it has been a significant part of the public administration literature, several gaps in the literature are apparent. First, PSM has only recently begun to address the relationship between government partiality, which is at the center of PSM, with other prosocial modes of partiality, such as an interest in nonprofit work. Second, the issue of “sector switchers”—individuals who move from one employment sector to another over the course of their careers—has been significantly under-researched both as a general matter and with specific reference to motivation. Third, PSM research has been largely quantitative in character and may benefit from a rebalancing with qualitative methods.

This dissertation, an exploratory study, is a qualitative study of sector switchers. It uses phenomenologically oriented interviews with 50 such individuals, selected in a purposeful sample, to add depth to an understanding of motivation to work in government as well as other prosocial realms. In so doing, the dissertation addresses a gap identified by one leading PSM researcher searching for more holistic approaches to public service motivation.

Themes emerged from the analysis and coding of interview data. Various motivations were identified for sectoral switches, including those based in compensation, a need for variety, a desire to serve, the enhancement of one’s professional skills, and the desire to advance one’s career. Further, while the study was exploratory and the sample was purposeful and not random, various trends seemed apparent, including the fact that sector switchers tend to undergo numerous switches and employment changes over the course of their careers and that, while they often move to the nonprofit sector later in their careers, they tend not to move to, or return to, government work.

Tentative conclusions include the identification of tensions between the abstract idea of service, often enunciated in a positive way by respondents, and neutral or negative views about government service, self-sacrifice, and working in a helping profession. A tension was also discerned between government work, which participants viewed more negatively, and nonprofit work, which participants tended to view more positively.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Holzer, Marc
School: Rutgers The State University of New Jersey - Newark
Department: Graduate School - Newark
School Location: United States -- New Jersey
Source: DAI-A 72/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social psychology, Public administration, Occupational psychology
Keywords: Phenomenology, Public administration, Public administration theory, Public service, Public service motivation, Qualitative research, Sector switcher, Sector switching
Publication Number: 3460701
ISBN: 978-1-124-72893-3
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