Public Service Motivation and Employee Engagement in Saudi Arabia

Public Service Motivation and Employee Engagement in Saudi Arabia


This section of the research paper will provide a critical literature review about the motivational theories, the background of the public service motivation, various ways that can be used to measure public service motivation, an analysis of public service motivation in the context of Saudi Arabia and lastly discuss employee engagement and public service motivation.

The Motivation Theories

Shift from Classical to Behavioral Approach

The topic of public administration dates back to the 19th century and has over the years been going in parallel with the very notion of the government since they go hand in hand (Kuhlmann, 2010). Moreover, in most of the 20th century, the classical approach to public administration which by great extent was being derived from theories formulated by Taylor, Wilson, and Weber took the most domination (Fry & Raadschelders, 2013). Fry and Raadschelders (2013) claim that most of the scholars are in consensus that some of the essential theoretical principles of the traditional model of public administration include Weber’s theory of bureaucracy, Fayol’s administrative management and Taylor’s scientific management (Fry & Raadschelders, 2013). However, since the traditional public administration was highly discredited both theoretically and practically overtime, this traditional model of public administration started to change in the mid-1900s to a market-based and flexible form of general management (Kuhlmann, 2010).

Introduction of modern managerial approaches such as behavioral approach towards management of the employees in the public sector and the continued adoption of new forms of public management is significant evidence of the shift from the classical approach of public administration towards behavioral approach. This change has brought about the occurrence of a new paradigm that has brought changes in the public sector (Huczynski, Buchanan & Huczynski, 2013). Although not all countries adopted the whole new public management package, most of the reforms commenced from the Anglo-American countries since they were among the first to attach and recognize the importance of the role that the modern techniques and reforms played in modernizing government practices.

Schools such as neoclassical theory which emphasized more on the human-oriented approach, importance of time, motivational drives, behaviors, and attitudes of the employees emerged as a reaction to the approaches of classical theory which focused on the mechanical and physiological aspect of management (Pasinetti, 2012). Under the neoclassical theory, two essential schools, that is, behavioral schools and human relations schools emerged during the 1920s and 1930s (Pasinetti, 2012). According to Huczynski, Buchanan and Huczynski (2013), most of the scholars in the behavioral era started emphasizing on the importance of workers within the workplace and the role that they played in enabling the public sector and the organization in which they worked to achieve the set goals and objectives (Huczynski, Buchanan & Huczynski, 2013). The behavioral era scholars started to extensively explore core public administration topics such as employee motivation and civic leadership.

Background of the Motivational Theories

Moreover, the behavioral viewpoint which later brought about a human relations movement which was composed of Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Y was introduced by Hawthorne experiments that were conducted by Elton Mayo (Miner, 2015). According to McGregor, Theory X and Y would significantly help in changing how people viewed organizational change, performance appraisal of the employees and leadership and assist in describing the contrasting models of workforce motivation that is mostly employed by managers while managing their human resources (Lawter, Kopelman & Prottas, 2015). Theory X managers have the general assumption that the employees are unmotivated and lazy and are inclined into avoiding work while Theory Y managers claim that employees are always willing to take additional duties without being coerced since they are still happy and motivated at the workplace (Lawter, Kopelman & Prottas, 2015).

There also exists other numerous motivational theories that also emerged during the behavioral era. For instance, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory which is one of the most influential workplace motivation theory suggests that employees are always motivated to continue working in the attempt of meeting their needs which are in the form of a hierarchy thus achievement of one level of needs aspires them to keep working towards achieving the next level (Jerome, 2013). Jerome (2013), argues that the esteem needs are fulfilled through motivation and appreciating individuals for their contribution to the workplace (Jerome, 2013). Secondly, in his “Motivation-Hygiene Theory,” Frederick Herzberg, argues that the level of job satisfaction of the workers greatly depends on the two factors that are dissatisfaction or hygiene factors and satisfaction factors or motivators (Miner, 2015). Thirdly, Adams’ “Equity Theory” suggests that most of the employees within a given workplace tend to maintain equity between the level of input they are bringing in the firm and the output in terms of benefits that they receive for the same thus the higher the benefits, the higher the input and vice versa (Tseng & Kuo, 2014). Another important motivational theory that was coined during the behavioral theory era is the “Expectancy Motivation Theory” by Victor Vroom. Vroom argues that the level of performance of an employee is always based on various factors such as abilities, knowledge, personality, experience, and skills. Thus he or she tends to choose among the existing alternative forms of voluntary activities (Miner, 2015).

Public Service Motivation

Moreover, a new paradigm in employee motivation relates to the public service motivation which emerged or was officially formalized in the late 1970s and early 1980s by scholars such as Buchanan and Mosher which persists even up-to-date (Perry & Annie, 2008). Perry and Annie (2008) argue that the Public Service Motivation (PSM) was formed with the intention of providing more insight about why employees desire to serve in the public sector and link their actions with the current overall public interest (Perry & Annie, 2008). Perry and Annie (2008) argue that scholars such as  Buchanan (1975) and Mosher (1982) believed that it was essential to come up with a theory that would help in examining the various reasons that tend to motivate people to choose careers within the public sector despite the private sector proving to have a high potential for more financial gains (Perry & Annie, 2008). According to Perry and Vandenabeele (2015), scholars have in the past focused on how managers can effectively manage the behaviors of their employees within government organizations through concentrating on motivational aspects. Such aspects include rewards given the fact that majority of the individuals who decide to work in the public sector are not motivated by financial gains thus the need of meeting their needs in another way that would help them maintain high performance (Perry & Vandenabeele, 2015).

In 1990, Perry officially introduced the Public Service Motivation Theory (PSMT) and claimed that the workplace environment had changed to the extent that there was the need of emphasizing on how the level of commitment of the employees to an organization could be maintained rather than focusing on providing them with more benefits such as higher wages (Perry & Wise, 1990). According to Perry, whether monetary or motivational, rewards significantly help in motivating the employees and determine how hard they are willing to work to receive such rewards(Perry & Wise, 1990). Over the decades, research has amassed supporting the importance of the construct for public administration.

Building upon earlier works that suggested the existing differences in the patterns of intrinsic work motivations between both private and public sector workers, Perry and Wise (1990) introduced alternative dimensions that related to three motives categories that are, rational, norm-based and effective (Perry & Wise, 1990). The rational motive according to both Perry and Wise emphasized on motivation based on increased participation in community public service with the goal of pursuing personal beliefs such as reputation, higher social status and political benefits (Perry & Wise, 1990). On the other hand, norm-based motivation mainly related to motivation facilitated by one’s desire to be a volunteer in the existing community workstations which is sorely driven by political propaganda or public interest while affective motivation was based on the need for achieving personal or social ethnic emotion through engaging in voluntary community services (Perry & Wise, 1990).

Measuring Public Service Motivation

Following the rapid growth in both the geographic scope and scholarly research on PSM, some of the scholars have raised their concerns regarding the equivalence of the various PSM measures and their ability to measure the level of motivation of the public employees both in the local and international contexts (Kim, et al., 2012). It is crucial to ensure that the measure of PSM to be used can effectively fit in the cross-national research and comparison thus bringing about the need of establishing more universal approaches. In 1996, Perry developed the first measure of PSM famously known as a Survey-Based Measure of PSM (Perry & Wise, 1990). This measure has over the years proven to be very reliable in creating foundations for accumulating results on employee performance and motivation, informing research in other disciplines and facilitating comparisons across disparate services and national settings (Perry & Wise, 1990). The four key subscales or dimensions of the 24-item scale of this survey-based measure include a commitment to civic duty and public interest, attraction to public policy making, self-sacrifice and compassion (Perry & Wise, 1990).

The PSM construct is being improved conceptually and operationally with the goal of facilitating research internationally. In the attempt of achieving this goal, authors such as Kim and Vandenabeele (2010) have argued that the public service motives are supposed to be based entirely on self-sacrifice. Moreover, they are supposed to fall under three categories which include value-based, instrumental and identification (Kim & Vandenabeele, 2010). According to Kim and Vandenabeele (2010), value-based motives are much concerned with increasing achievement through individual behaviors and action, instrumental motives focus on the different means that help in undertaking meaningful public service while identification motives relate to objects, groups or individuals that employees in the public sector are willing to serve (Kim and Vandenabeele, 2010). Even with the increased loss in tangible individual rewards, the higher the strength of one’s PSM, the more likely that an individual with high self-sacrifice motives will engage in behaviors that aim at serving the interest of the public (Kim and Vandenabeele, 2010). It is evident that there still lacks adequate research that examines all the existing dimensions that form PSM in the study.

However, a measurement instrument of PSM has been developed for use in the international application and can probably help in measuring public service motivation in Saudi Arabia which forms the primary scope of the context of this study (Kim et al., 2012). The degree of covariation among indicators of each dimensions, the relative homogeneity and interchangeability of signs pertaining to each dimension and the expectation that the indicators of each dimension are likely to be affected by the same antecedents  all form the three criteria for new PSM measurement instrument that can be used within the international context (Kim et al., 2012). This measure is composed of 33-items that is thirteen items for the CPV (nine being for public value and four relating to public interest), seven for SS, six items for COM and seven remaining items for the dimension of APP (Kim et al., 2012). The measurement elements in this PSM measure is efficient in the sense that they can easily be translated into the native language of the concerned country hence making this PSM measure convenient for use in the international context especially in Saudi Arabia where there still exists limited measures that can be effectively used to measure PSM in the country (Kim et al., 2012). The PSM measure proposed by Kim and Vandenabeele (2010) cannot be used to measure PSM in Saudi Arabia since it has limited dimensions that do not address the diverse culture that exists in this country (Kim and Vandenabeele, 2010).

Public Service Motivation in the Context of Saudi Arabia

PSM plays a crucial role in determining the level of success of the government of Saudi Arabia in delivering high-quality services to its employees.

Background about the Government System in Saudi Arabia

With a basic law and no political parties, unions or any other type of political association, the primary system of governance in Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy and was established in 1992 following numerous calls for political reforms (Stenslie, 2012). The Basic Law of Governance consists of about 83 articles which are all based on the Sharia, or Islamic law and they were all generated by a special committee that had been organized by both the Minister of Interior and the King at that time (Stenslie, 2012). The below image illustrates the line of succession of governance in Saudi Arabia since the monarchy system was initiated.


Source: (Stenslie, 2012).

In Saudi Arabia, the king who combines the legislative, judicial and executive functions is the head of state, prime minister and supreme commander. As required by the basic law of governance in the country, the King in Saudi Arabia is considered as the ultimate arbiter for the three authorities in the country (Stenslie, 2012). The official executive branch of government in Saudi Arabia is composed of the Council of Ministers who are appointed and dismissed by the royal decree. They help the king run the government for four years before the new council of minister is established (Stenslie, 2012). Moreover, a unicameral legislature which also known as the Majlis al-Shura or consultative council whose founder was King Ibn Saud is composed of five members and a chairman, and they are appointed by the monarch (Stenslie, 2012). Within this unicameral legislature, there exists twelve committees who are primarily involved in serving the public through dealing with ministries such as the security, culture, education, information, foreign affairs, health and social affairs, human rights, Islamic affairs, administration and delivery of services and management of public utilities (Stenslie, 2012).

Saudi Arabia is Different than the Western Concept of Democracy and Culture

The democracy and culture of Saudi Arabia are entirely different from those that are practiced in the West. For instance, unlike in western society where leaders are elected regularly as a way of the citizens exercising their democratic rights, in Saudi Arabia, no elections are held for national positions or bodies. That is because the monarch is the primarily appointing authority where most of the power rests in the hands of the royal family, and most of the political parties in the country are outlawed (Levins, 2012). Although women were allowed to run for seats on municipal councils at the begging of 2015, their participation in politics has traditionally been limited (Levins, 2012). Levins ((2012) states that the governance system in Saudi Arabia continues to adopt the culture of using the traditional system of tribal rule which remains an essential pillar of social control (Levins, 2012).

Political influence in Saudi Arabia is frequently determined by tribal affiliation despite the continued emergence of modern state bureaucracy across the world. The continued hegemony of the ruling party in Saudi Arabia is based on the continued Arabian Societal beliefs that leaders always owe the positions that they hold in the government to their ability to lead and manage the affairs of the people (Levins, 2012). Contrary, the western society believe that authority should not be based on a single family, but instead everyone who has the potential of leading others should be given a chance irrespective of the religious, ethnic or social background through using democratic means (Levins, 2012).

Administrative and Civil Servant System in Saudi Arabia

A Civil Service Board that is composed of nine members is bestowed with the duty of exercising formal authority over the employees who are present across all the ministries, autonomous agencies and government organizations and it reports to the Council of Ministers (Montagu, 2010). Since the establishment of the monarchy system in Saudi Arabia, the Civil Service Board has been presiding over the Civil Service Bureau which is one of the governmental bodies that are responsible for pertaining personnel evaluation, grade classification, recruitment, and personal needs and pay rates (Montagu, 2010). As the government of Saudi Arabia continued to expand its social services at the beginning of the 1970s, the total number of civil service employees in the country dramatically increased and by the end of 1992, approximately 400,000 individuals were already working in the public sector while at the same time, the number of autonomous agencies also increased (Montagu, 2010).

Each of these agencies had its budget and operated within a considerable level of independence although the majority of them were under the administrative auspices of a particular ministry (Montagu, 2010). Agencies such as the Organization for Public Services and Discipline, the Investigation and Control Board and the Grievances Board are responsible for investigating complaints against government officials, hearing complaints from of misconduct by the civil service employees and dispensing disciplinary actions against civil servants that have already been found guilty of malfeasance in the public offices that they hold (Alshamsi, 2012). Lowery paid employees, and the government officials form the two main groups of the civil servants in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia government has throughout its history enacted various civil service regulations and other related enactments with the goal of streamlining the public service sector (Alshamsi, 2012). These regulations have played a significant role in disqualifying individuals who have in the past been found guilty of committing acts of misconducts from being appointed in any of the public office (Alshamsi, 2012). Since the past, any intentional fault by public officials was viewed as a great offense that barred an individual from being appointed in the public service. Those individuals who were found guilty were subjected to severe penalties and punishment for those misconducts (Quandt, 2010). Recently, the government of Saudi Arabia has imported foreign civil service experiments into the country with the goal of meeting the needs and social value of its citizens through transforming service delivery within the public sector (Ramady, 2013). The government has realized the best way to increase the level of performance of its employees is through introducing programs that aim at motivating the employees to keep on working and enhancing their performance (Ramady, 2013).

Lack of financial incentives for civil service employees in Saudi Arabia has proven to be a key distractor from increased performance and improvement from the side of the employees. It takes self-sacrifice for public service employees in Saudi Arabia to have high scores during performance appraisal (Ramady, 2013). Some of the motivational factors that the government of Saudi Arabia has introduced in the attempt of encouraging the employees to improve their performance include creating a conducive working environment (Ramady, 2013). Most of the public service employees both in Saudi Arabia and other countries across the world have been found to perform poorly as a result of a poor working environment that has made it difficult for them to deliver their duties in an effective manner (Ramady, 2013).

For instance, some of the working environments are relatively not safe for the employees and have even contributed to deaths of a significant number of employees due to exposure to unsafe situations and chemicals that are harmful to their health (Ramady, 2013). A dominant strategy that is being employed by the government of Saudi Arabia in eradicating this shortcoming is the provision of protective clothing that can keep civil employees primarily in the manufacturing sector from harm (Ramady, 2013). Moreover, the government of Saudi Arabia is motivating its employees by recognizing those that have done well in undertaking their duties and even regularly promoting them in their respective ministries whenever a vacant position arises.

One of the unique ways in which the government of Saudi Arabia is motivating its employees is through providing them with numerous opportunities for personal and professional growth and development. Some of the ways in which it is doing this are through giving them a chance to try out new things on their own and also implementing employee engagement programs (Ramady, 2013). This strategy is rarely practiced by most of the governments across the world and has proven to work in Saudi Arabia effectively. Through the help of the employee engagement programs, the government of Saudi Arabia is currently nurturing the skills of its public staff and advancing their technical knowledge regarding the current technological advancements in that are taking place both locally and internationally (Ramady, 2013).

Employee Engagement and Public Service Motivation

Both employee engagement and public service motivation are being considered as vital economic pillars in most countries due to their profound contribution to the growth of a nation. For instance, according to a recent report by Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), Saudi Arabia ranks in number 24 in the world and has the largest economy in the Arab and North African region (Salem, 2014). This dramatic economic growth is attributed to the presence of increased employee engagement within the public service of the country (Salem, 2014). Both the level of employee engagement and public service motivation has a close and positive linkage.

Background of Employee Engagement

One of the critical challenges that have been facing the majority of the government organizations in Saudi Arabia and across the world in the continued need of improving the level of employee engagement at the workplace (Anderfuhren-Biget, Varone, Giauque & Ritz, 2010). The topic of employee engagement dates back to 1990 when it became increasingly important to discuss the various factors that led to employee engagement within an organization. It had been discovered that issues such as safety, and contextual sources of the meaningfulness of an employee within a workplace had a significant impact on the level of engagement of the employees. In-depth research about employee engagement started taking place in 2000 and was highly debated in the public domain especially in the social media (Anderfuhren-Biget, Varone, Giauque & Ritz, 2010). The debate about employee engagement has taken a new dimension with most of the organizations embracing it as one of the critical success factors. Prior its introduction, most of the managers primarily focused on employee satisfaction and never took any interest in employee engagement as one the most effective ways of increasing the performance level of the employees (Anderfuhren-Biget, Varone, Giauque & Ritz, 2010).

Extensive research has over the decades being carried in the goal of examining how employee engagement helped in facilitating customer retention and increase in sales performance especially in the service industry (Ibrahim & Al Falasi, 2014). Countries such as Saudi Arabia, United States and the United Kingdom whose economies greatly depend on the level of employee engagement and performance have acknowledged the importance of enhancing the engagement level of the employees especially in the public sector where there exist low engagement levels due to inadequate motivational factors present (Ibrahim & Al Falasi, 2014). Majority of the engaged employees have been found to exhibit a high level of commitment to the company’s mission, co-workers, their work and to the organization itself. That is because they have high beliefs that their organizations value and care about them thus prompting them to quickly find personal meaning and pride while undertaking the different responsibilities that are assigned to them (Ibrahim & Al Falasi, 2014).

Measuring Employee Engagement

There are various ways of measuring the level of employee engagement within a private or public organization. For instance, an increase in the level of team orientation amongst the employees is an excellent indicator that there exists a very high level of engagement of the existing employees (Achoui, 2009). It is only those satisfied employees within the workplace that are willing to work with their co-workers towards achieving more of the organizational goals (Vigoda-Gadot, Eldor & Schohat, 2013). Well engaged employees enjoy being wholly integrated into their respective teams and share a common purpose. Secondly, the kind feedback from the employees about the status of the working environment helps in determining the level of engagement of the employees. Those employees that are fully engaged in the workplace give positive feedback about the workplace environment, unlike their counterparts who are not engaged (Gebauer & Fleisch, 2007). Thirdly, there is increasingly continued personal and career growth amongst those employees that are integrated at the workplace since they are passionate with whatever they do at the workplace and show a high level of commitment to learning new things that aid their growth (Vigoda-Gadot, Eldor & Schohat, 2013).

The fourth metric that can be used to measure employee engagement is the presence of an excellent relationship among the employees and between the employees and their superiors. Cases of conflict amongst the workers or between subordinates and the superiors is a critical indicator that there exists low employee engagement within the concerned organization (Achoui, 2009). Fifthly, employee engagement can be measured by determining the level of willingness of the employees to act as good ambassadors of their company or organization. That is because individuals who have been found to possess a low degree of engagement decline from being publicly associated with the firm that they are working for and tend to hide their relationship with such an institution from the public limelight (Gebauer & Fleisch, 2007).

Effects of PSM on Employee Engagement

There exists a positive relationship between public service motivation and employee engagement. The existing PSM significantly determines the level of employee engagement. PSM may have either a positive or negative impact on employee engagement (Weightman, 2008). According to Yee, Yeung, and Edwin (2008), employees are considered to be engaged within the workplace when they are cognitive, emotionally and physically present in their roles in a simultaneous manner (Yee, Yeung & Edwin, 2008). Employee engagement can be considered as a motivational concept in the sense that the outcomes are influenced by the level of motivation that the employee in the public service has received which also affects his or her level of engagement at the workplace (Weightman, 2008).

Presence of low PSM within the public sector has contributed to a low level of engagement of the public employees (Ton & Huckman, 2008). Majority of the employees have portrayed a significant degree of reluctance towards undertaking their assigned roles in those government organizations that have low regard for employee motivation (Ton & Huckman, 2008). Most of the public agencies and organizations view motivation as an expense that should be avoided at all cost hence sabotaging the level of employee engagement and commitment (Ton & Huckman, 2008). Moreover, a significant number of employees are quitting their jobs from the public sector and are preferring to work for the private sector where there exist high intrinsic and extrinsic levels of motivation (Yee, Yeung & Edwin, 2008).


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