Understanding and measuring public service motivation among social workers in contemporary South Africa
Public service motivation refers to individuals’ with a predisposition to perform public service for largely altruistic motives in public institutions. The purpose of this study was to investigate what public service motivation (PSM) meant to state-employed social workers in the South African context. In gaining insight into PSM amongst social workers in the public sector, my objectives were to explore the value social workers place on intrinsic rewards, the reasons why participants entered the profession, and what social workers’ self-perceptions of their role was as public servants and what public service meant for their own identities. This qualitative study was conducted in the Western Cape with state-employed social workers. The social workers were selected using snowball sampling. Participants varied in age, years of experience as social workers, gender, and race. Data for this study was based on in-depth, semi-structured interviews. With public service motivation being an under-researched subject in the South African context, an open-ended inquiry into the important variables that influence PSM in the local context was followed. This approach will inform ways in which PSM could be measured in the future in the South African context. The results of my study indicate that social workers were attracted to public sector employment because it offered the greatest extrinsic incentives – higher salaries, medical aid benefits, and a housing subsidy, compared to NGO’s in the private sector. This finding challenges the widely accepted notion in PSM literature that social workers place more value on intrinsic reward than extrinsic rewards. Extrinsic reward refers to financial or other tangible incentives. The data further revealed that participants were willing to leave the social work profession and exit public service for employment opportunities that offered them greater support from superiors, and remuneration that acknowledged their academic qualifications. Poor remuneration adversely affected participants’ feeling of job satisfaction and motivation to perform their duties. Politics has played a seminal role in shaping the quality, and the denying of public service to certain categories of citizens.