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I Have To Go How Many Levels Up To Get A Decision Around Here?!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Geoffrey Rabinowitz
October 6, 2019

As the saying goes, perception is reality. This article provides a brief overview of my ongoing research into how the perception of influence on decisionmaking affects employee engagement and employee job satisfaction, as well as how this perception is moderated by employees with characteristics of public service motivation (PSM). PSM is, “An individual’s predisposition to respond to motives grounded, primarily or uniquely, in public institutions and organizations.” Within this theory, employee motivation is important as it helps to satisfy the needs and expectations of an employee and, as in the case of public sector agencies, helps to ensure that the services needed by the citizens are sufficiently delivered. Federal agencies often attract employees with PSM characteristics. This research attempts to indirectly assess PSM via specific human resource management practices that act as antecedents of PSM.

The federal government of Australia and the United States are the basis of this research because of their underlying similarities (both are democratic governments) and their differences, such as the different democratic systems in place and the associated cultural, administrative, and political differences. These include the resurgent use of New Public Management themes. The organizational structure of certain agencies may conflict with PSM employees, thus impacting employee job satisfaction, employee engagement and successful program goal obtainment. The means of how public services are provided have a direct connection to the employees that are entrusted to provide those services. Campbell et al. discuss how adversely impacting employee job satisfaction and employee engagement for employees with PSM can have negative impacts on the services provided.

This research will incorporate multiple other theories of employee motivation to help demonstrate the correlation between organizational structure and employee satisfaction and engagement. This includes a discussion about the progression of employee motivational theory that is reflective of the change in production methods of work, which are less effective today because of a far more globally connected and diverse workforce. This combination and progression of motivational theories allow a more complete way to address the value-oriented attitudes of public sector employees.

Further, the implementation of these actions may moderate the effect of the organizational structure on employee job satisfaction and employee engagement. Organizational structure is a multifaceted area of study that incorporates many different aspects, including the size of the business, the nature of the work, geographical regions, workflow, leadership style and hierarchy. This research will focus on agency size, employee position, overall fit and culture to develop a clearer framework to define the importance of the perceived distance to a decisionmaker, which, in part, can also be described as the distance from the employee to the manager.

While there is not extensive literature on the concept of decisionmaking perception, there is an argument that the perception of this variable may be more important than the actual distance. Further, the influence in affecting these decisions coupled with the organizational structure, allows individual employees to frame their perceived distance to a decisionmaker. The fewer levels of bureaucracy, the more flexibility there is for decisions and the more likely these decisions will support employee job satisfaction and employee engagement for those with PSM. Similarly, extant literature demonstrates the positive effect of making employees feel like part of the decisionmaking process. The perceived distance to decisionmaking can have both a mitigating and moderating effect on the levels of employee job satisfaction and employee engagement, in part, because of the degree of perceived influence into shaping policy and achieving program goals/outcomes.

In addition to the, “Physical,” organizational structure, Kumar discusses the types of organizations as originally described and expanded on by Mintzberg that are based upon three organizational dimensions, which are:

1) The part of the organization that plays the foundational role in determining success or failure.

2) The method the organization uses to coordinate its activities.

3) The degree that subordinates are utilized to make decisions and implement policy.

Developing, shaping and implementing policy is directly correlated to both employee job satisfaction and employee engagement for employees with PSM. For this specific research, perceived proximity to decisionmaking (perceived influence on decisionmaking) shall be evaluated by the data from the 2018 federal employee surveys of Australia and the United States, specifically for the questions on participation in the decisionmaking process. This part of the research is not singular in its focus and a broader spectrum of types of policy implementation and decision-making perceptions will be evaluated.

The data from the sample populations are aggregated (as appropriate) before they are analyzed. Agency differences will be collected and used as control variables. The outcome of this research is important as it will provide organizations with a better understanding of how their agency’s organizational structure (perceived distance to a decisionmaker), affects employee job satisfaction and employee engagement for employees that demonstrate PSM characteristics. In turn, this will allow for a more insightful design of the organizational structure, better hiring protocols with a focus on organizationally specific inclusion of employees with PSM and employee retention. A more engaged and satisfied workforce will allow for a more congruent outcome of the agency’s goals.


Author: Mr. Rabinowitz is completing his Doctorate in Public Administration from Valdosta State University. He has over 15 years of experience working for multiple federal, state and local agencies in environmental protection. He received his MS in Executive Management from the Florida State University and BSs in Marine Biology and Ecology from the Florida Institute of Technology. Please contact him at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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