Micro-level Studies

Corruption in the Public Sector (CorPuS)

Ritz, A., Weißmüller, K.S., De Waele, L. & van Witteloostuijn, A. et al. (2019). ‘PSM and Deviant Behavior: Findings from a Comparative Multi-lab Research Project.’ Plenary Keynote, ‘Elevating Public Service Motivation’ Conference at Brigham Young University, 25.-28.09.2019, Aspen Grove, Sundance, UT, USA.

Over the last three decades, public service motivation (PSM) has become the most central theoretical construct to explain why people chose public sector employment. Although the positive effects of PSM on employee motivation, self-selection, and job-attraction are well researched, scholars recently started to challenge this “rosy view” on PSM by highlighting that the common scholarly conception of PSM might not cover the full spectrum of behavioral implications related to this type of public servants’ motivation (Schott & Ritz 2018). Although Perry and Wise (1990) already warned that high levels of PSM might produce negative outcomes, the so-called dark sides of PSM are severely understudied – especially on the micro-level of behavior. We close this research gap by conducting a multi-national research project (CorPuS) to further explore the relationship between public servants’ motivation and the likelihood of engaging in institutional deviance in the form of corruption, bending or breaking institutional rules, neglecting bureaucratic, egalitarian core-principles for pro-social as well as pro-self reasons. Specifically, we investigate whether PSM functions as a buffer variable reducing deviant behavior (bright side) or whether high levels of PSM might function as a resource to morally justify such behaviors.

Using a comparative research strategy among 15 countries in five different administrative cultures, this study employs an experimental multi-lab design using vignettes that accounts for a broad spectrum of behaviors and contexts of public sector corruption. In doing so, this study contributes to the severely under-studied dark sides of PSM-discourse by adding unique quantitative data from a novel experimental procedure. Its multi-culture, multi-lab, multi-context replication strategy will increase the external validity of its findings and of the theoretical implications derived from the data.

Weißmüller, K.S., van Witteloostuijn, A., De Waele, L., Ritz, A., Christensen, R.K., Gong, T., Hilgers, D., Homberg, F., Hung, M., Kim, S., Kolltveit, K., Kuo, M., Ma, L., Monteduro, F., Ripoll, G., Schmidthuber, L., Shim, D.C., Su, T., Walker, R., Xiao, H., Yang, S.L. (2020). 'MICRO-LEVEL FOUNDATIONS OF CORRUPTION: THE DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD OF PUBLIC SERVICE MOTIVATION. Findings from a Multi-country Multi-lab Research Project.' Under review.

This study offers a new theoretical perspective on the bright and dark sides of public service motivation (PSM) by showing that PSM is linked with micro-level public sector corruption, functioning as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, we derive theory that suggest that high-PSM individuals are less likely to use rationalization strategies to morally justify engaging in corrupt behavior, which decreases the likelihood of accepting the use of bribery. On the other hand, we argue that high PSM functions as a personal resource to morally justify deviant behavior to help needy clients, which stimulates pro-social rule-breaking. We test the effectiveness of individuals’ PSM and moral awareness on different forms of public sector corruption by conducting an original vignette quasi-experiment replicated in 12 countries with 10,503 observations, nested in 3,952 respondents in total. Our results provide initial behavioral evidence for a linear relationship between PSM and corruption, with high PSM being positively associated with a higher likelihood of pro-social rule-breaking (dark side) and with a lower likelihood of engaging in bribery (bright side). Affective client cues, the type of bribes offered, and moral awareness significantly moderate these likelihoods.

Keywords: Corruption, Public Service Motivation, Behavioral Public Administration, Rule-breaking, Bribery