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02 February 2024

Study finds political views can affect motivation and satisfaction among public servants

Civil servants are significantly less satisfied in their jobs and less motivated to work harder if they hold different political views to those of the government they serve, a new study has found.


Public sector works such as police, social workers, judges, health workers and teachers, who interact directly with the public, are crucial to the smooth running of a state and implementation of policy but their morale and willingness to work harder can be impacted by personal political alignment.

In a wide-ranging study, Dr Barbara Piotrowska, from the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London, examined survey data from 34 countries and analysed more than 30 years of responses collected in the German Socio-Economic Panel from 880 workers.

Dr Piotrowska said: “I found that government workers who align politically with the current government show higher job satisfaction, are prouder of their work, and are more willing to work harder than those who do not support the government - relative to non-government workers.

“This result is both statistically and substantively important, as political alignment influences job satisfaction similarly to other desirable job characteristics, such as ability to help people, usefulness, and autonomy.”

The lower levels of motivation and job satisfaction have been linked in previous research to ‘mission mismatch’ between the worker and the government they serve but Dr Piotrowska’s work uncovered additional factors which might be at play; policy-spillover and person-organisation fit.

Dr Piotrowska argues that even though government policy may not affect a worker directly, the spillover effects of those policies may have a more localised impact on workers and thereby affect motivation. Likewise, person-organisation fit theorises that if a worker is politically aligned with the government in power, they report being prouder of their employer and happier to be associated with their role.

Though civil servants are expected to be politically neutral in their work, Dr Piotrowska argues that public-sector managers should recognise the role of ideology in motivating staff.

Following a change in government or a shift in the governance system, such as moving from autocracy to democracy, an effective motivation strategy could aim to de-emphasise the ideological and political aspects of work, especially among those who are most likely to be affected and can vary their level of effort.

Dr Barbara Piotrowska

The research, The effect of political alignment on street-level bureaucrat job satisfaction and motivation, was published in the journal Governance. You can read it in full here.

In this story

Barbara Piotrowska

Lecturer in Public Policy