Public service motivation and ethics: from theory building to theory testing.

Student thesis: Doctoral thesis


This article-based compilation thesis revisits the link between public service motivation (PSM) and ethics. PSM, or the motivation to give back to society, and ethics, or the study of what is morally right and wrong, are two crucial topics in public administration and management. Although being originally interrelated, past research mainly examined the role PSM plays in shaping the likelihood of whistle-blowing and making donations. However, very little efforts have been devoted to insert PSM in ethics philosophy theories, to explore the ethical dark-side of PSM, to insert PSM in moral psychology theories, to connect PSM with integrity violations theory, to differentiate the effects of PSM on un/ethical outcomes from those of other work-motivations, and to assess the indirect impact of PSM-antecedents on un/ethical outcomes. To fill all these gaps, this thesis puts individuals’ values and identities at the centre of the discussion about how ethical attitudes and behaviours can be encouraged. Four articles have been developed following this idea. The first article offers a theoretical framework to examine the relationship between PSM and ethics by combining ethics philosophy, identity, moral psychological and self-determination theories. The second and third articles link PSM to integrity violations literature, and provide empirical analyses showing the distinct effects of PSM and other work-motivations on the acceptance of unethical acts. Moreover, they assess the direct impact of basic psychological needs satisfaction and goal clarity on PSM, and the indirect one on the judgement of integrity violations. The fourth article provides initial empirical support to the conceptualization of PSM offered in the first article by examining the distinct effects of transactional and transformational leadership, and the basic psychological need of relatedness on PSM. In sum, by theoretically developing and empirically testing the importance of how individuals ‘are,’ this thesis orders previous research in the PSM-ethics field, and encourages new avenues.
Date of Award28 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorXavier Ballart Hernandez (Tutor) & Vandenabeele Wouter Victor (Director)


  • Motivació pel servei públic; Motivación para el servicio público; Public service motivation; Ètica; Ética; Ethics; Identitat; Identidad; Identity

Cite this