As I was preparing to retire from my military career, and focus on my civilian career in Human Resources, I started the Doctorate of Public Administration program at University of Illinois Springfield. This program gave me an opportunity to broaden my knowledge and further develop my analytical skills, and prepared me to pursue a long-term goal of teaching at the college level. As I began the program and considered potential research topics, I began to focus on a way to leverage my military experience with a relevant human resource-related concept.
Public Service Motivation (PSM) is a well-established concept in the literature, with previous research identifying PSM as a predictor of employee attraction to the public sector, and increased engagement, performance, and retention in the public sector workforce. This is particularly important as the federal government, as with many employers, is facing challenges attracting and retaining talent. PSM related constructs have frequently been utilized in past surveys of federal employees. There have also been limited studies examining PSM and related concepts among military members, including efforts to use PSM to predict decisions to re-enlist, or measure the effects of combat deployments on existing PSM attitudes among military members. However, there has not been research specifically examining the relationship between PSM and prior military service among federal employees.
For my dissertation, I conducted a survey of current federal employees who are also members of the National Guard, and compared measures of PSM among the employees with aspects of their prior military service. My dissertation title was The Effect of Military Service on Public Service Motivation.
The study used an established sixteen question PSM model that measures PSM along four dimensions: Attraction to Public Participation, Commitment to Public Values, Compassion, and Self-Sacrifice. The data was collected via an online survey of federal employees of the Idaho National Guard. Getting approval and then conducting the survey was a challenge over the past year, as the response to COVID-19 impacted my work responsibilities at my current job as well as operations for my survey participants, as every state’s National Guard has been very active in responding to the pandemic.
Once the data was collected, I conducted data analysis using a between group design to compare individuals who had prior active service with those that did not, across all four PSM dimensions. Another analysis was conducted comparing those with prior combat deployments and those without. I also looked at a variety of other questions that might also impact the employee’s public service motivation, such as demographic data, education, and supervisory status. Unfortunately, the comparisons on military service did not yield any results that were statistically significant, potentially due to the limitations of the small sample size. However, I did find some significant relationships between supervisory status and two of the four PSM dimensions. Based on my research findings, I proposed some potential explanations, and identified some areas for further research to expand on my initial survey sample. Identifying the factors that may impact PSM can better equip managers who are working to attract and retain quality employees into public service organizations, and if prior military service is found to be an indication of increased PSM, it may encourage organizations that are considering veteran-friendly hiring policies.
While the DPA program was certainly challenging, it was also extremely fulfilling. The coursework expanded my knowledge base on the fundamentals of public policy and public sector management, and the research process helped me learn and apply analytical tools that I can use in my civilian position as Deputy Director of Human Resources for the Illinois National Guard. More importantly, throughout the process I developed friendships with my fellow students and professors that will endure, making the many late nights of reading or editing worthwhile! The program also gave me the opportunity to pursue my goal of teaching, as I have been serving as an Adjunct Professor for the last few years teaching Public Administration and Human Resource Management courses for the MPA program here at UIS. I look forward to continuing to use the knowledge I gained during the program, and through my research, as I continue into this new post-military chapter in my life.
Joseph J. Schweickert is a 2021 graduate of the UIS Doctor of Public Administration Program.
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