Self- and Collective Interests in Public Organizations: An Empirical Investigation
Public Performance & Management Review, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 54–84, 2007
31 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2013
Date Written: September 30, 2007
Organization and management scholars have long been interested in the question of how to get individual employees to contribute high levels of effort and performance to their organization’s collective interests. In addressing this issue, a primary assumption held by many scholars is that self-interests and collective interests are in conflict, such that appropriate control and incentive mechanisms must be utilized to insure that employees act in the organization’s interest. In contrast, other scholars have assumed that there is no inherent conflict between individual and collective interests, such that employees are readily inclined to contribute to the organization’s well-being. These two theoretical orientations — labeled here as the rational-economic and humanistic views — thus constitute well-established yet contradictory perspectives regarding the nature of and relation between self- and collective interests. This study empirically investigates the nature of the relation between self- and collective interests as perceived by employees themselves. Analysis of data collected from a sample of graduate students in public service-oriented programs at a major university reveals a complex and somewhat paradoxical picture of the nature of the conflicts of interest they experience at work. Findings reveal that, in most cases, the self-interests identified by respondents do not necessarily run counter to the organization’s overall interests, in that they reflect a desire to make a useful contribution to the performance of their organization. These findings suggest that the assumption of an inherent conflict between self- and collective interests is not always valid, particularly in a public sector context, and that organizational designs and managerial strategies should take into account the fact that many employees want to contribute more to their organization than they are given the opportunity to do.
Keywords: collective interest, conflicts of interest, self-interest
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