Yours emotionally: How emotional intelligence infuses public service motivation and affects the job outcomes of public personnel

AuthorEran Vigoda‐Gadot,Zehavit Levitats
Date01 September 2017
Published date01 September 2017
Yours emotionally: How emotional intelligence
infuses public service motivation and affects the
job outcomes of public personnel
Zehavit Levitats | Eran Vigoda-Gadot
School of Political Science, Division of Public
Administration & Policy, University of Haifa,
Eran Vigoda-Gadot, Department of Public
Administration & Policy, School of Political
Sciences, Mount Carmel, Haifa 31905, Israel.
We investigate the role of emotions in the public sector and their
relation with work outcomes typical of public arenas. We focus on
the emotional intelligence of public healthcare staff and its poten-
tial impact on public service motivation, job satisfaction, affective
commitment and the quality of service to citizens. Using data from
200 nurses in a large Israeli public hospital, we examine a mixed
model of direct and indirect relationships. The findings support
direct positive relationships between emotional intelligence, public
service motivation and job outcomes, and several indirect relation-
ships: (1) the mediating effect of public service motivation in the
relationship between emotional intelligence and affective commit-
ment, and (2) the moderating role of emotional intelligence in the
relationship between public service motivation and service quality.
The impact of public service motivation on self-reported service
quality is stronger for public employees with more emotional
Emotional intelligence (EI) is at the crossroads between the study of emotions and the study of human intelligence.
It plays a major role in the workplace and embodies a unique aspect of human conduct that for many years was
regarded as hard to capture and understand conceptually, theoretically, methodologically and empirically. In recent
decades EI has become of major interest to scholars from a variety of disciplines in the social sciences as well as in
the natural and health sciences (e.g., Ashkanasy and Daus 2002; Ashkanasy 2003; Barsade and Gibson 2007). Start-
ing in the late 2000s there has been growing interest in the public administration literature about the potential con-
tribution of EI to public personnel and organizations (e.g., Rosete and Ciarrochi 2005; Côté and Miners 2006; Kotzé
and Venter 2011). These studies revealed direct links between EI and public service performance measures, while
others focused on the more complicated and overt moderating role of EI in other outcome-related models
(e.g., Berman and West 2008; Vigoda-Gadot and Meisler 2010).
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12342
Public Administration. 2017;95:759775. © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd 759
Several major questions stemming from these studies concern the relevance of public personnel's EI to their
attitudes and motivations as well as the interplay between EI and other individual predispositions and organizational
constructs in influencing public servants' job outcomes. One interesting question is the role of public personnel's EI
in the development of their public service motivation (PSM). Surprisingly, however, the research on PSM has over-
looked the emotional world of public servants and specifically their EI as a factor in their level of PSM and their job
outcomes. Since one of the most important challenges facing public administrators is not only to make their work
more efficient but also more humane and caring (Stivers 2008), the relationship between EI and PSM as two factors
that relate to this caring function of public service is worth investigating.
Hence, the major goal of this study is to advance our knowledge about EI in the public sector by theoretically
suggesting and empirically testing the following issues: (1) the direct inter-relationship between EI and PSM; (2) the
effects of both EI and PSM on several aspects of job outcomes and performance (i.e., job satisfaction, organizational
affective commitment, and service quality); (3) the mediating role of PSM on the relationship between EI and job
outcomes; and (4) the moderating role of EI on the relationship between PSM and job outcomes. To do so, we cre-
ated a detailed model (see figure 1) with a series of hypotheses that we tested empirically in an original field study.
1.1 |The construct of emotional intelligence: theoretical background
Salovey and Mayer (1990) introduced emotional intelligence as part of their study of human intelligence, cognition,
and affect. The concept refers to the ability to be aware of and intelligent about emotions, use emotional informa-
tion to assist in thinking (e.g., Goleman 1995; Salovey and Sluyter 1997), perceive and understand emotions in one-
self and others, and assimilate and regulate emotions (Ciarrochi et al. 2001).
The various models suggested for the study of EI since the late 1980s fall into two categories that differ mainly
with regard to what the concept of EI should include and measure: (1) the ability models approach and (2) the mixed
models approach (Kotzé and Venter 2011). The former, closely identified with Salovey and Mayer's (1990) ability-
based model, views EI in terms of abilities, much like other types of mental performance measures such as IQ
(Mayer et al. 2000, p. 107). Its research addresses the core aptitude or ability to reason with emotions(Mayer and
Salovey, 1997, p. 15). In contrast, the mixed models approach, most identified with Bar-On (1997) and Goleman
(1995), regards EI as consisting of a broad array of non-cognitive factors such as personality and motivation (Van
Rooy et al. 2005).
Of the two, the ability approach is more prevalent among scholars (Matthews et al. 2004). Empirical studies
have shown that the ability model can be more easily separated from personality traits than mixed models of EI
(Rosete and Ciarrochi, 2007) and is therefore considered more scientifically rigorous. Hence, this study follows Salo-
vey and Mayer's (1990) ability-based four branch model (1997) in which EI is subdivided into four components:
Emotional Intelligence
Public Service Motivation
1. Job satisfaction (JS)
2. Affective commitment (AC)
Public servants’ job outcomes:
3. Service quality (SQ)
FIGURE 1 Theoretical mixed-relations model of the EI-PSM-job outcomes in the public sector.

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