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Prosocial Motivation

In 2015, a national policy reform was implemented in the youth care sector in The Netherlands. The reform has multiple objectives, including a reduction of ‘bureaucracy’, bringing youth care professionals closer to clients by organizing them in neighborhood teams, making clients and their social network active partakers in care-giving rather than merely recipients, and (naturally) a substantive budget cut.

Youth care workers are characterized by a high degree of prosocial motivation: the desire to benefit others through one’s job. Anticipating the reform in 2014, Bram Steijn (Erasmus University Rotterdam) and I were therefore curious to see how youth care professionals would react to the reform, how the reform would affect their work experiences, and ultimately how the reform would impact their prosocial motivation.

With these questions in mind, we launched a longitudinal research project involving 5 major youth care organizations. Online surveys of professionals were conducted in December 2014, January 2016 and January 2017, resulting in a panel data set. Next to communicating our results to the participating organizations, three academic articles have been written based on the project.

The first article (Public Management Review) examines the role of prosocial motivation in shaping professionals’ reactions to change. The article indicates that for prosocially motivated employees, the anticipated meaningfulness of the reform determines their reactions to change: What’s in it for others?

The second article (Public Administration) examines the effect of red tape (bureaucratic rules and procedures) on the job satisfaction of youth care professionals. The analysis shows that red tape may reduce job satisfaction because it limits the contact that professionals have with their clients, as well as the impact they can have on improving the life of their clients. The study also shows that the negative impact of red tape is stronger in highly prosocially motivated employees: they are more vulnerable to factors that limit their ability to contribute to others.

The third article (currently work in progress) takes a longitudinal perspective on how changes in relational job characteristics (contact with clients and impact on clients) shape the prosocial motivation of professionals over time. Our analysis provides evidence that policy reforms may feed back to motivation by altering work characteristics. In the case of our youth care professionals, the study indicates that the reform has reduced the opportunities for contact with and impact on clients, thereby indirectly reducing the prosocial motivation of professionals.