Job satisfaction among senior managers and employees: A comparative analysis of the public and private sectors in Spain

Jose Manuel Lasierra (Department of Applied Economics, Universidad de Zaragoza, Zaragoza, Spain)

Academia Revista Latinoamericana de Administración

ISSN: 1012-8255

Publication date: 4 June 2018



Using selected personal and job-related variables, the purpose of this paper is to analyse job satisfaction among public sector senior managers and employees and then compare both cohorts with private-sector managers and employees.


The authors apply a General Linear Univariate Model with interactions that allows us to detect the influence of the independent variables based on the baseline reference value.


Results indicate that public employees differ considerably from employees in the private sector, while public sector managers’ behaviour and preferences are very similar to those of private-sector managers.

Research limitations/implications

One main conclusion is that the management function of senior managers is basically the same, whether they are in the public or private sectors, and, thus, private management techniques, such as new public management (NPM), can be applied to the public sector. The main shortcoming of the study is that a qualitative analysis does not allow us to observe the impact of ethical aspects that could guide value-oriented management.

Practical implications

Difficulties in management by public-sector managers may arise from public employees’ perceptions regarding the application of private management practices.

Social implications

High job-satisfaction ratings by public managers may indicate that, in spite of their lower wages compared to the private sector, there is no reason to conclude that a suboptimal staffing of public managers might occur that would jeopardise public services.


The authors are unaware of precedents that analyse differences between the public and private sectors in comparing employees and senior managers. Uniquely, the authors use a very large sample to draw conclusions. This paper can guide public senior managers who work in public administration.


Se analiza la satisfacción laboral de los directivos y de los empleados públicos en contraposición a los directivos y empleados privados a partir de determinadas variables de tipo personal y laboral.


Aplicación de un Modelo Lineal General Univariante con Interacciones que nos permiten ver la influencia de las variables independientes a partir del valor base de referencia.


Los resultados señalan que los empleados públicos difieren notablemente de los empleados del sector privado mientras que los directivos públicos expresan comportamientos y preferencias muy similares a los directivos del sector privado.


La implicación general es que la gestión pública de los directivos no se diferencia mucho de la gestión privada por lo cual es susceptible de aplicar las técnicas de gestión privada como el New Public Management. La limitación fundamental es que el análisis cuantitativo no permite observar la incidencia de aspectos éticos susceptibles de orientar la gestión con valores.

Implicaciones prácticas

Las dificultades en la gestión de los directivos públicos pueden venir de la propia percepción que tienen los empleados públicos de la aplicación de prácticas de gestión privada.

Implicaciones Sociales

La elevada Satisfacción laboral de los directivos públicos señalaría que a pesar de que sus remuneraciones son inferiores a las del sector privado no tiene por qué producirse una dotación subóptima de gestores públicos que pudiera perjudicar los servicios públicos.

Originalidad y valor

No conocemos precedentes de analizar la diferencia entre los sectores público y privado al comparar empleados y directivos. Utilizamos una muestra elevada. El trabajo permite orientar la gestión pública de los directivos públicos.



Lasierra, J. (2018), "Job satisfaction among senior managers and employees", Academia Revista Latinoamericana de Administración, Vol. 31 No. 2, pp. 410-425.

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

1. Introduction, objectives and justification of the investigation

In this paper, we endeavour to analyse job satisfaction (JS, hereinafter) of public and private employees and senior managers in Spain.

The reasons for studying this double classification are: senior managers and employees are two clearly differentiated cohorts in companies; and a priori , the public sector has many aspects that differentiate it from the private sector. In terms of the former reason, traditionally, the relationship between senior management and employees is characterised rather more by conflict than cooperation. Further, the psychology, attitudes and roles of both cohorts are also different. In traditional organisational schemes, managers design, plan, and give orders, and others carry them out. In terms of sectorial characteristics, in Spain and more generally in Europe, a clear difference exists in how regulations for organising work are applied. Normally, labour regulations in the private sector are applied to protect the weaker component in the employment relationship, i.e., the worker. In the public sector, however, rules are implemented to ensure that the interface of public administrations with their employees follows established guidelines in terms of equity and transparency.

Traditionally, the public and private spheres in countries with a Weberian public administration, such as continental Europe, have presented significant differences. Yet, since the last third of the twentieth century, there have been, first, a series of changes in the structure and function of economic organisation, both at a micro- and macro-economic level. Second, important transformations have occurred in the management of human resources and the rise and design of high-performance organisations, based on principles and practices that differ from traditional methods, both in the public and private sectors. Third, there have also been important changes in how, in content and practice, the public sector interfaces with civil society.

This leads us to posit a principal objective of this paper: examine the differences and similarities of both cohorts, i.e., senior managers and employees, in both sectors, public and private. In other words, public employees vis-à-vis private employees and public senior managers in relation to private senior managers. In a future paper, we shall analyse relations between managers and employees in their respective sectors (i.e. public managers-public employees and private managers-private employees.) We shall analyse JS and some of its determinants and aspects related to how work is organised, from which some insights for management may be tapped.

There is plenty of literature about JS among worker cohorts (Rico, 2012; Gamero, 2005), but we have found little regarding JS among senior managers in general, even less about JS of public vs private senior managers, and few studies that compare employees and managers. Therefore, we believe that one justification for this paper is its contribution of new information for academic analysis of the subject.

The substance of this paper extends beyond its topic. We believe that the methodology employed here is pertinent for discussion and knowledge of the topic. In spite of numerous papers on senior management and entrepreneurs, we have yet to find studies based on a large sample that clearly distinguish the possible differences between private and public senior managers. Nutt (2006) focusses on middle managers, Buelens and Van den Broeck (2007) compare employees and managers, and Jurkiewicz et al. (1998) differentiate between employees and supervisors. Nowell (2009) compares public and private first-line supervisors. Solomon (1986) compares 60 top public managers and 60 private managers, based on a significantly smaller sample than the one studied herein. In the specific case of Spain, an analysis by Congregado et al. (2008) focusses on the demographic and educational profiles solely of private managers. Lastly, Rainey and Bozeman (2000) have criticised empirical studies that distinguish between public and private organisations, insofar as they contain serious formal flaws stemming from the size (Solomon, 1986) and representativeness of the sample, as well as the nature of the questionnaires.

In our case, without using an ad hoc survey to analyse differences between public and private organisations, we feel that the data examined herein resolve some of the latter deficiencies in terms of sample size and the number of explanatory variables. Certainly, the newness of the topic and the procedure developed here are two further justifications for this investigation.

Subsequent to this introduction, the paper is structured as follows: in the second section, we review the literature on JS for employees and public and private managers and establish the hypotheses to be verified. In the third section, we discuss the data, variables, and methodology used for empirical analysis. In the fourth section, we set out the results that, in the fifth section, are analysed and discussed. Lastly, we summarise the investigation, discuss the main conclusions and implications for management, and finish by suggesting areas for follow-up research.

2. Review of the literature and working hypothesis

Bozeman (1987, 1994) delineates three facets of the public sphere that have clear consequences in terms of organisational and managerial aspects. The first involves property rights: if there are no proprietors, managers’ incentives diminish and overall results are less efficient. The second feature of the public sphere has to do with financing of organisations. Public choice stipulates that those organisations that receive external funding are the focus of depredatory interests of agents concerned with the functioning of a particular institution. The third facet refers to managerial control. Thus, the public sphere “belongs” to the political power and can be a potential source of conflict among the various managerial levels and affected agents, i.e., citizens who receive services, taxpayers, politicians, managers and bureaucrats-employees. Nonetheless, if the market functions as it ought, these problems cease to exist, since market mechanisms exercise discipline and control inefficient behaviour.

According to Boyne (2002), these three characteristics cannot be synthesised into a single overall factor, which leads him to view the differences between the public and private sectors as merely an empirical question. An insight derived from the previous idea states that both types of organisation are equally efficient: it merely depends on how they are managed.

Rainey and Bozeman (2000) underscore the scarce differences that exist at a practical level. For example, with respect to the clearness of objectives, Rainey et al. (1995) and Pandey and Rainey (2006) point out that public managers have a high degree of knowledge of their organisations’ objectives that is undistinguishable from private managers. In terms of whether public organisations have an important bureaucratic component, Rainey et al. (1995) do not find a major difference between the two sectors. In terms of personnel management procedures, Rainey and Bozeman (2000) indicate that they are generally stricter and more formally defined in public administrations. Further, Rainey and Bozeman (2000) review the extensive literature on work attitudes and values but fail to find results that clearly differentiate one sector from the other in terms of JS, commitment to the organisation or wages as a motivating work factor.

These factors related to how organisations work (including commitment to the organisation, intrinsic or extrinsic compensation, bureaucracy, autonomy, work-related values, stress), can be identified and quantified based on several questions posed in the Survey of Living and Working Conditions (ECVT, Spanish acronym for Encuesta de Condiciones de Vida y de Trabajo, see Table AI). JS is addressed in a subjective question that has a 0 to 10 rating in the survey: “How much satisfaction do you have at your current job?” The most accepted approximation to a definition of JS is Locke (1976) who defines it as a positive and enjoyable emotional state that arises from a person’s subjective job experiences. Judge et al. (2001) describe aspects that shape this emotional state, such as satisfaction with wages, opportunities for promotion, relationships with fellow employees and supervisors and the job itself. Tietjen and Myers (1998) indicate that motivational factors, such as the job itself, achievements, possibilities of personal and professional development, produce JS. JS is recognised in numerous studies as a variable that affects how efficiently an organisation is run. Similarly, JS is influenced by several personal variables (age, level of studies) and others related to the running of the organisation: satisfaction with the knowledge of organisational objectives, with the activity being carried out, wages, level of stress at work, social relationships at work, job stability and the workday. These variables vary in importance in each sector (public vs private) and in each cohort (managers vs employees).

Furnham (1992) classifies factors that produce JS into three groups: organisational policies (remuneration, supervision, workday, job stability), responsibilities or characteristics of the job itself (workload, training required, autonomy, professional level, relationship environment), and diverse personal aspects (age, satisfaction in how one’s life is developing or the responsibilities being carried out, level of training). Further, we note that our study analyses characteristics of public senior managers vis-à-vis private managers, excluding proprietors from the latter group[1]. For the purposes of this study, we compare, first, attitudes of public employees compared to their private counterparts in terms of several variables that influence JS, and, second, we repeat the exercise with managers in both sectors.

Debate has arisen on whether differences between workers within a particular sector or between managers in both sectors have an influence on how an organisation is managed. For example, Boyne (2002) indicates that there are only three substantial differences: public organisations are more bureaucratic; public managers are less materialistic; and public managers are less committed to their organisation than private managers. Boyne states that there are many parameters on which these hypothetical differences can be established, but that the latter are scarce. This opinion contrasts with other authors, such as Sayre (1953), who maintain, “public and private organisations are basically the same in all non-important aspects”. This idea leads Allison (1979, 2008) to point out that, since both types of organisations are substantially different, applying private-sector management techniques to the public sector, such as, for example, new public management (NPM), is of little use and can even be counterproductive. Our first hypothesis states that managerial professionalisation ought to be similar in both sectors, public and private, regardless of the previously mentioned differences. If this hypothesis holds, management techniques that include features from private management, such as NPM, ought to be applied and scaled up. If, on the other hand, the hypothesis does not hold, we should analyse why and even what effects or consequences ensue from applying private management techniques to the public sector. The NPM is a public management paradigm characterised by professionalised management systems that emphasise performance supervision based on using standards that measure variables and results, promote competition among units and apply private management styles (Stoker, 2006; Kolthoff et al., 2007). Existing information does not allow us to analyse underlying management values in either of the two sectors, such as what is available from the public value management (PVM, hereinafter) paradigm (O’Flynn, 2007; Stoker, 2006), or other ethical approximations, or other values that have long existed in the literature of organisations, such as philosophy, politics, sociology and, more recently, management (Van der Wal et al., 2008).

The NPM recognises the specificity of the public sector but also considers that there are management factors that can be perfectly assimilated into private management, which leads to our first hypothesis:


Given that public organisations are relatively similar to private ones, according to one segment of the literature reviewed, public senior managers are not substantially different from their private counterparts.

In terms of certain aspects of work, Demoussis and Giannakopoulos (2007), referring to Greek workers, find that public employees enjoy greater JS than private-sector employees in matters such as hours at work, the workday, remunerations and job stability. Ghinetti (2007) analyses the differences in JS among Italian public and private workers in terms of six non-pecuniary matters. The author states that public employees have greater JS in terms of greater job security, admiration by work colleagues and work-related health aspects. Yet, Desmarais and Abord de Chatillon (2008) find very few differences among employees in these two sectors. In the case of Spain, public workers are better off than their private counterparts in terms of the workday and stability, as established by labour regulations and collective labour agreements. When the economy is growing, private workers enjoy greater JS than public ones in terms of wage levels. Luechinger et al. (2010) observe a similar phenomenon: employees’ JS increases as the unemployment rate drops. Thus, in countries where unemployment is very low, differences in JS among public and private employees are not substantial. Given the persistence of unemployment in Spain, our second hypothesis is:


Certain working conditions, such as the level of stress, the workday, or job stability are better in the public sector than in the private sector and so should contribute to greater JS among public employees.

In referencing remunerations, Lucifora and Meurs (2006) note that in countries with more regulations, lower-level public employees enjoy a wage “premium”, given the lesser salary difference among the different wage grades due to greater regulation at public workplaces. That difference among professional levels negatively affects managers, both with respect to lower professional grades and to private managers. Moon (2006), however, places less importance on remunerations (extrinsic aspect) in determining JS of public employees. The variable we use is Satisfaction with one’s wages. We believe that this type of subjective variable is more representative of JS than the wage level that is also given by the ECVT, due to the criteria of equity that are usually used to compare wage levels. In tandem with remunerations, we should also consider non-wage compensations (Woodbury, 1983). We located an approximate variable in the ECVT, “Satisfaction with one’s lifestyle”, which includes aspects having to do both with these matters and with social and professional status, as well as with an individual’s personal accomplishments:


Remunerations produce greater JS in public-sector employees than their private counterparts, while the opposite is true of managers.

Guinot et al. (2014) note that job demands, lack of support, or a poor relationship environment, increase stress and negatively affect motivation and JS. There is abundant literature regarding organisational commitment (Williams et al., 2012), a sense of public service (O’Flynn, 2007; Jurkiewicz et al., 1998), and the role of organisational support for achieving best results (Abdul et al., 2015; Baarspul, 2009). Our data do not allow us more in-depth analysis. We use three variables to measure aspects related to organisational commitment and the characteristics of the job itself: level of stress, adequacy of training to the tasks being performed, and satisfaction with work organisation. These three factors influence the degree of motivation and, thus, JS as well. Moon (2000) notes that the motivation level is positively correlated with the level of hierarchy. Solomon (1986) comes to a similar conclusion with respect to top managers. Bogg and Cooper (1995) observe that these factors produce less JS in public managers than in private ones. Wright and Davis (2003), in their analysis of aspects such as knowledge of the organisation’s objectives, characteristics of the organisation, compensation schemes, procedures and formalisation of how the job is executed, find that differences in JS are not conclusive:


According to the literature, commitment to the organisation and job-related characteristics are apparently not more significant in one sector than the other. Given, however, that better working conditions exist in the public sector, we believe that these factors should contribute to greater JS among public workers.

In terms of factors related to personal and job-related relationships at the worksite, Ghinetti (2007) finds that an environment of stability, confidence, and social cohesion can improve productivity. Wright and Davis also find that as performance improves employees find greater JS. In addition, lower salary differences among employees within the public sector create a less conflictive setting that improves performance and JS. Lucifora and Meurs (2006) and Buelen et al. (2007) include factors related to a lifestyle that is compatible with the pace of work. They specifically mention balancing work and family duties. Relationships with superiors, colleagues, and subordinates are important factors when evaluating job well-being and, thus, JS and attitudes towards work. These non-monetary aspects can be very important at work:


The public sector has a work setting that is less competitive, gives workers the feeling of greater stability and confidence, and offers greater respect of labour rights, such as reconciling work and family, thus creating greater JS.

An organisational culture that includes aspects such as autonomy of its agents, clear objectives, and empowerment of its employees strengthens commitment and, thus, performance and JS (Moon, 2000). Rainey and Bozeman (2000) note that there is less possibility of climbing a career ladder in the public sector, possibly leading to feelings of less personal and professional fulfilment. In the case of Spain, this is the case of high-ranking professionals. Rainey and Bozeman also find greater bureaucracy and less autonomy among public employees, leading to diminished JS. Cambré et al. (2012) point out that a specific post should be analysed within the organisation’s entire structure. Thus, a job might be either good or bad depending on the setting in which it is discharged and the factors that frame and accompany it. Interestingly, these authors fail to find relevance in the nature of personal and work-related relationships that occur in the work setting:


The organisational culture and management procedures in the public sector restrain individuals’ autonomy thus leading to reduced JS among public employees.

Summarising these many variables, we note that: according to most of the literature, intrinsic factors exert greater influence on public employees (Moon, 2000; Karl and Sutton, 1998; Van der Wal et al., 2008); smaller salary differences in the public sector help ensure a less conflictive relationship setting; and knowledge about the organisation and its objectives is greater in the public sector than in the private sector. Therefore, these variables are the most important in generating JS. In contrast: bureaucracy; inflexibility in established procedures; and reduced autonomy of managers and employees are also factors that are of greater importance in the public sector than in the private sector but that lead to less JS among employees.

3. Data and methodology

Data used herein come from ECVT 2006–2010 and were compiled until the latter year by the Ministry of Labour and Immigration (methodology and questionnaire from the Ministry’s website)[2]. These are five series in cross-section, gathered in a single statistical file in order to obtain representative samples.

We selected both public and private managers from a National Job Classification (Clasificación Nacional de Ocupaciones (CNO-94))[3] table and from the National Statistics Institute among individuals classified from 102 to 113, i.e., corresponding to senior management. The sample size of employees was 30,925 and that of senior managers was 835, broken down as 127 public managers and 708 private managers. This study could not carry out yearly cut-offs because to do so would have created a statistically unusable subsample of public senior managers.

Given the size of the sample (total employees) and the subsample (senior management) included in the sample, as well as the content of the questionnaire, we believe that we have accessed a source of information that overcomes some of the deficiencies mentioned by Rainey and Bozeman (2000). We also note that the questionnaire consists of subjective-response questions, without objective-response variables. Yet, as previously mentioned, in Ferrer-i-Carbonell and Frijters (2004), the subjectivity of measuring JS does not invalidate results, especially when the sample is as large as the one used herein.

To verify our six hypotheses, we apply a univariate general linear model (GLM) with interactions. The interactions act on the initial base value, which in this case, is the private sector. Given the structure of the ECVT, we believe the GLM to be the most relevant because it measures the direct influence of the explanatory variables and the interactions quantify the influence of the differences between public and private. We also feel that the GLM is more appropriate than the Orderet Probit undertaken by Ghinetti (2007), given that we have a quantitative response variable, with values between 0 and 10. Given the features of the survey, we do not feel it is appropriate to apply the structural equations system in the manner of Guinot et al. (2014) or Wright and Davis (2003). Lastly, we note that the model that corresponds to the total sample of employees acts as a base model and another model is constructed for the subsample of senior management.

The model is expressed as follows:

Y = β T X + ε

With interaction factor pupri = (1= public; 0= private):

Y = β T X + β p T X I ( p u p r i = 1 ) + ε

The analysis on the effects of the factor pupri corresponds to study the effects β p. For example, if an X covariate is considered, the model would be:

Y = β 0 + β 1 I ( p u p r i = 1 ) + β 2 X + β 3 X I ( p u p r i = 1 ) + ε
With the significant effects of pupri (β1 ≠ 0) and the interaction of pupri and the independent variable X (β3 ≠ 0), the equations of the model would be:

Y=β02Χ+ε for the Private sector and Y=β0+β1+(β2+β3)X+ε for the Public Sector.

The analysis of differences in differences is included in this model, given that the hypothesis test for H0: β3=0 refers to the question regarding mid-level differences between the public and private sectors.

With respect to the application of the statistical model: first, given the high number of data, the statistical techniques are robust and results show no problems of heteroscedasticity; second, there are no problems of collinearity. If we apply the variance inflation factor, the result is 2.37 for employees and 2.08 for senior managers, which only becomes a problem when the value reaches 10, Lin et al. (2011); and third, with respect to the possible problem of endogeneity, it is our understanding that the database itself, the ECVT, is prepared in such a way so as to emphasise the value of the JS dependent variable, which we seek to explain with a high number of specific questions acting as covariables.

4. Results

We recall that the reference base is the private sector. A first approximation to results indicates the following (see Tables I and II).

Focussing on the base model, of the model’s 12 independent variables, including the one that interacts, i.e., public-private, only four appear as non-significant in the subsample of senior managers and only two in the subsample of employees.

Yet the interaction points to mixed results: only four variables indicate differences between public and private senior managers, while seven variables point to differences between public and private employees. According to this data, public senior managers are very similar to private senior managers, while public employees bear little resemblance to private employees. There is, therefore, a clear labour duality in terms of employees in Spain.

The values of the most important covariables in terms of their contribution to JS among employees are satisfaction with the lifestyle pursued, good labour and social relationships at the workplace, satisfaction with the workday and the wage. Neither age nor the level of studies is significant.

In the case of senior management, the most relevant variables are satisfaction with the work organisation, stability, satisfaction with the salary and the workday.

When variables interact, results indicate that public employees differ from their private counterparts in seven aspects, mainly in the assessment of stability, the workday, job-related and social relationships and the wage. The four variables that do not differentiate have a rather small β.

With respect to senior management, there are 4 differentiating variables, two of which change signs but with a small β and the two that do not change sign have a very large β. These variables are good job-related and social relationships and individuals’ satisfaction with their lifestyles.

We also see that public top management and employees especially value good job-related and social relationships, as opposed to their private counterparts.

Lastly, the variable that interacts between public and private indicates that public employees are more satisfied than their private counterparts are, while the opposite occurs with senior management, but with a non-significant value.

5. Interpretation of results

In interpreting results, we should clarify that: first, all variables, except three (Table AI), vary from 0 to 10. Thus, our interpretation of the coefficients takes into account this scale, i.e., the coefficient associated with a covariable indicates the change in the dependent variable due to a one-point increase in the respective covariable. The β coefficients should therefore be interpreted as marginal variations. Second, in this study, we used certain statistical techniques that we reasoned were more appropriate compared to other studies, which makes statistical comparison of numerical results difficult. Nonetheless, in formulating the hypotheses to be tested, we referred to the results from studies on which this paper is based, and our results either confirm or reject those previous results, as we shall see below.

First, our results confirm this paper’s first hypothesis (H1), i.e., senior managers in the public and private sectors are very similar. In Table I, the variable that interacts between public and private in top management is not significant, while it is very significant for employees. In other words, this variable does not indicate differences among senior management but it does for employees.

We are aware that a measurement such as JS cannot be directly transposed to management models of organisations and companies while differentiating the public and private spheres. Yet some of the literature reviewed above indicates that the differences in management between public and private organisations are more an empirical matter than a theoretical one, which allows us to cautiously posit that the JS levels of senior management have to do with certain similarities in their management duties.

The second hypothesis (H2) indicates that, in different job-related aspects, public employees are better off than their private counterparts. Yet we find that those variables contribute more to private employees’ JS than to that of public employees, with the exception of the workday. We base our interpretation on the theories of Herzberg et al. (1959) regarding the relation among the so-called hygiene factors and the motivational factors. If hygiene factors are absent, they are missed, but if they are present, they are not valued. In our opinion, the favourable working conditions of public employees, in contrast to private employees, are hygiene factors: They are known and are assumed implicitly. They are not motivational factors and thus exercise no stimulating effect on JS. In terms of variables that embody these aspects, Table II summarises a variable in which public senior managers are different from their private counterparts, while there are three in the case of employees and with larger βs.

In terms of remunerations (H3), although there are differences between public- and private-sector wages, the coefficients for private wages are larger, confirming this hypothesis regarding the greater importance given to extrinsic factors in the private sector. We explain the non-significance of this variable in the cohort of public top managers by alluding to their greater feeling of public service as compared to the private sector. We believe that the greater weight given to the job’s intrinsic aspects, as noted by most of the literature reviewed, can also be explained by the contribution to JS of the “satisfaction with one’s lifestyle” variable, which we shall discuss again below.

In terms of the fourth hypothesis (H4), regarding commitment to the organisation, neither level of stress nor adequacy of training for the post indicates differences among senior managers in both sectors. Yet, in public employees, knowledge of the objectives of their organisation is valued, which, according to advanced managerial theories, is a good indicator of the worker’s positive predisposition towards the company, which should lead to better results. To put it differently, if it were only a matter of this factor, public administration would be a more modern organisation than its private equivalent. Nonetheless, we are unable to interpret this variable’s negative coefficient in the case of public senior managers.

Turning to the fifth hypothesis (H5), the public sector has a less competitive environment and is a better guarantor of rights, which significantly contributes to JS in both employees and top management. The coefficient of the good job-related and social relationships variable is particularly high for public employees and senior management. Seen from the private sector, we might ponder that these matters, i.e., relations among top managers and employees, could be a source of tension and conflict that lowers JS for both senior managers and employees. Good work-related and social relationships contribute to JS among the four cohorts, but, in the case of senior management, the change is quantitatively very important and significant. For private senior managers, β=0.15 and is significant. Yet for their public counterparts, it rises to 0.70, meaning that it more than quadruples its contribution to JS (see Table II).

The sixth hypothesis (H6) indicates that a bureaucratic organisation restricts its agents’ initiative, thus generating some professional and personal dissatisfaction. This, however, is not what we observe with public senior management. Quite the opposite: the “satisfaction with one’s lifestyle” variable turns out to be very relevant and differentiates both top-management cohorts. For private senior management, its β=−0.20 negative, i.e., the variable reduces JS but is not significant, while for public senior management, β=0.13, i.e., it not only substantially increases its value but also contributes positively to JS, in other words, the greater the satisfaction with one’s lifestyle, the greater the JS. This is the second most important variable contributing to JS among public senior management and differs in its sign to the JS of private top management. In counterposition to the latter, we believe that private top managers, in keeping with popular beliefs and even backed by some data, receive higher material compensation but also have more intense work schedules and devotion to duty than their public-sector counterparts. The data herein seem to be pointing to that difference in top management in both sectors. In any event, this difference in no way hinders the adoption of private management techniques, such as NPM. Although this is a significant variable, it is less important among employees.

Spain’s public administration pursues personnel management along the lines of the administrative and legal characteristics of the Weberian-style public function of continental Europe. Some researchers have dealt with the limited material recognition of good management, particularly at the higher end of the public sector (López Casanovas and Garcia Cestona, 1995), which would suggest a need to find better ways of economically and professionally compensating outstanding service. Our results do not indicate dissatisfaction among public senior managers. uite the contrary, as discussed previously. In this regard, PVM appeals to a notion of public service that inspires many public employees. Our data hinders us from investigating the influence of matters that have ethical, philosophical, and even economic considerations for public senior management and employees. Yet in keeping with the results of this study, we believe that generally public employees and, particularly, public senior managers must have some sense of service to the community.

In this regard, to posit an excessively “mercantilist” view of public management, by widening the salary range, could produce undesirable outcomes. A decision might be made in the public sector, under the guise of good administration, to hire away private-sector managers, or encourage the flow of senior managers from one sector to the other (depicted by the “revolving-door syndrome” whereby managers come and go from the public sector mostly for material reasons). Yet, a possible ensuing result could be, in keeping with PVM theories, that the previously discussed values within the public sector, especially in terms of public senior managers’ attitudes and predisposition, would be eroded. One outcome could be a suboptimal level of public managers, who are unable to aspire to the material compensation currently available in the private sector. Nonetheless, results here do not allow us to venture that the public sector in Spain might be suffering from a suboptimal supply of senior managers, given the high value they place on their current lifestyle and the similar degree of JS that both public and private managers enjoy.

Summarising, we posit that, in carrying out their duties, senior managers, working either in the private or public sector, address matters of resource allocation that reflect an overall economic problem: the efficient allocation of resources. Therefore, public senior managers might easily accept to adapt the NPM model to the public sector, but could face serious challenges in translating it to the daily tasks of public employees. An example to illustrate: a prison warden might view his administrative division as an economic unit, like a company, not much different from a hotel. Yet a prison official might not view an inmate as a client, while a hotel employee certainly would. In other words, public managers in many areas will have problems extending NPM principles and practices to lower management levels.

6. Summary, policy implications, further research

In this paper, we have analysed the JS of employees and senior managers based on the idea that greater JS improves output performance. We examined JS among public employees, compared it to private employees, and then compared the same factor among public and private senior managers. In keeping with the variables chosen, results indicate that public employees are noticeably different from their private counterparts, but both cohorts of senior managers are quite similar.

Further, we have indicated that, as per the literature, public organisations are not so different from private ones. Merging both analyses, we come to the (perhaps rather bold) conclusion that it is perfectly feasible for a public administration to use private criteria, as NPM recommends. Addressing the link between JS and the management function in terms of tasks, responsibilities, results, and rewards, researchers could complement an empirical approximation that uses classical variables, such as personal and work-related ones, to measure JS. We are unable to directly relate such variables with the type of organisation or with corresponding management tasks, given the limitations of the ECVT data we have used.

According to the results obtained in this study, the adoption of private management practices by public senior managers, given the assimilation we have undertaken, may bring some problems in terms of the perceptions of other public employees. For example, tasks might be carried out poorly or conflicts could erupt between management and subordinates. This may be a consequence of deficient implementation arising from an incompatibility of management, whose education and criteria are rooted in economics, trying to mesh with a bureaucratic administration[4].

Avoiding these potential problems calls for, first, a previous analysis of the extent to which public administration is applicable to a specific task and, second, what personnel management policies should be developed to reduce a potential conflict between management and employees. From the onset, we noted that some authors have not seen differences between public and private organisations, indicating that this was rather more an empirical matter. We believe the latter to be so and thus each case must be examined on its own merits.

In terms of the managerial function, our results do not support the concern regarding management-employee conflict in the public sector, which, a priori, gives public organisations an advantage over private ones. As previously noted, a less differentiated wage scale might contribute to a lower level of conflict. Yet, as mentioned previously, in Spain criticism has been voiced regarding the gap in wages earned by private-sector top posts and senior managers and those earned by their cohorts in the public sector. Our results do not indicate a significant influence of this situation on JS among senior managers. Thus, to apply a wage policy similar to that of the private sector, besides the legal and/or political considerations thereof, would sidestep the matter that the literature values: the mollifying role on labour relations of an equitable wage scale. Appealing to ethical values of public service, accompanied by measures that value public service, such as limiting or more severely curtailing the “revolving-door syndrome” (moving between one sector and the other and taking advantage of privileged information and contacts), may help reduce the hypothetical disincentive that the current wage scale might entail, sometimes mentioned but not emphasised in this study.

Currently, the ECVT fails to provide sufficient information to undertake this analysis. As a continuation of this study, we are considering implementing microeconomic analyses and even case studies once the NPM is implemented, complemented perhaps by a qualitative study.

The second difference between public and private senior managers refers to their respective lifestyles. Unravelling the motives of well-being in public senior managers and potential malaise in private-sector managers (perhaps due to the greater pressure faced by the latter), would also be an interesting research project that could guide the managerial function in both sectors.

It would also be worthwhile to provide an in-depth description of the objectives of the organisations and the tasks carried out, their progress, assignment to employees and their implementation. Our data generate coefficients with certain signs that we are unable to interpret.

Finally, two potential subjects that we suggest for further research are the organisational and administrative relationships established among senior managers, high and mid-level personnel, and employees in general, and potential conflicts; and, second, performance and productivity benchmarks and their relation to possible innovative incentive mechanisms for public employees in general.

Dependent variable: job satisfaction

Senior managers Employees
Parameter β β
Interceptation 2.429*** (−0.448) 2.898*** (−0.067)
Public-private −0.057 (−1.21) 0.967*** (−0.148)
Age 0.009** (−0.004) 0 (−0.001)
Level of studies −0.056* (−0.027) −0.001 (−0.004)
Level of stress −0.007 (−0.015) 0.022*** (−0.003)
Knowledge of the organisation’s objectives 0.088*** (−0.026) 0.012*** (−0.003)
Satisfaction with the workday 0.096*** (−0.019) 0.140*** (−0.004)
Satisfaction with stability 0.162*** (−0.023) 0.114*** (−0.004)
Satisfaction with the work organisation 0.275*** (−0.027) 0.194*** (−0.004)
Good labour and social relationships at the workplace 0.151** (−0.06) 0.315*** (−0.01)
Adequacy of training for the post −0.104 (−0.058) 0.148*** (−0.014)
Satisfaction with the lifestyle pursued −0.02 (−0.025) 0.058*** (−0.005)
Satisfaction with the wage 0.138*** (−0.023) 0.169*** (−0.004)
Int × Age 0.003 (−0.011) 0.011*** (−0.002)
Int × Level of studies 0.140* (−0.07) 0.023*** (−0.008)
Int × Level of stress 0.005 (−0.04) 0.001 (−0.006)
Int × Knowledge of the organisation’s objectives −0.142** (−0.065) 0.017* (−0.007)
Int × Satisfaction with the workday −0.009 (−0.058) 0.021** (−0.009)
Int × Satisfaction with stability −0.087 (−0.051) 0.054*** (−0.007)
Int × Adequacy of training for the post 0.015 (−0.144) −0.017 (−0.029)
Int × Satisfaction with the lifestyle pursued 0.152** (−0.07) 0.002 (−0.01)
Int × Satisfaction with the wage 0.016 (−0.052) 0.024*** (−0.008)
Int × Satisfaction with the work organisation −0.10 (−0.07) 0.01 (−0.009)
Int × Good labour and social relationships at the workplace 0.550*** (−0.125) 0.039* (−0.02)
N 835 3.0864
R2 0.56 0.52

Notes: Standard errors in parentheses. *p<0.05; **p<0.03; ***p<0.01

Summary of parameters

Senior managers Employees
β2 β3 β2+β3 β2 β3 β2+β3
Age 0.009** 0.003 0.013 −0.001 −0.011*** 0.012***
Level of studies −0.056* 0.14* 0.083* −0.001 −0.023*** −0.024***
Level of stress −0.007 0.005 0.002 −0.022*** 0.001 −0.021
Knowledge of the organisation’s objectives 0.088*** −0.14** −0.055** 0.012*** 0.017*** 0.029***
Satisfaction with the workday 0.096*** −0.009 0.087 0.140*** 0.021*** 0.161***
Satisfaction with stability 0.162*** −0.087 0.075 0.114*** −0.054*** 0.059***
Adequacy of training for the post −0.104 0.015 −0.089 −0.148*** −0.017 −0.165
Satisfaction with the work organisation 0.275*** −0.102 0.172 0.058*** 0.009 0.067
Good labour and social relationships at the workplace. Factor 0.151*** 0.55*** 0.701*** 0.169*** 0.039*** 0.208***
Satisfaction with the lifestyle pursued −0.02 0.15** 0.132** 0.194*** 0.002 0.196
Satisfaction with the wage 0.138*** 0.016 0.155 0.315*** −0.024 0.291***

Notes: *p<0.5; **p<0.03; ***p<0.01


Employees Senior managers
N Mean Std N Mean Std
Mín: 18,
Max: 70
Private 23,047 40.5551 10.6757 708 43.2740 8.97449
Public 7,927 43.9186 10.0345 127 47.7795 9.31283
Level of studies:
1: Illiterate
9: Phil Doctor
Private 23,047 5.3145 2.04902 708 7.8941 1.39663
Public 7,927 6.7097 2.14610 127 8.1102 1.40988
Job satisfaction
0: Min; 10 Max
Private 23,047 7.1833 1.82146 708 7.8037 1.40504
Public 7,927 7.5038 1.68948 127 7.7165 1.62763
Knowledge of the organisation’s objectives
0: Min; 10 Max
Private 23,047 6.8921 2.92440 708 8.6893 1.58923
Public 7,927 7.3955 2.51152 127 8.5354 1.75389
Satisfaction with the work organisation
0: Min; 10 Max
Private 23,047 6.7982 2.31360 708 7.2938 1.85274
Public 7,927 6.7636 2.18293 127 7.2992 1.68238
Level of stress
0: Min; 10 Max
Private 23,047 5.4591 3.09125 708 7.0636 2.43273
Public 7,927 5.6863 2.96780 127 6.9055 2.38525
Satisfaction with the workday 0: Min; 10 Max private 23,047 6.9602 2.29594 708 6.9407 2.18763
Public 7,927 7.6247 1.99957 127 7.5276 1.77651
Satisfaction with stability
0: Min; 10 Max
Private 23,047 7.1723 2.56281 708 8.1059 1.79306
Public 7,927 7.9801 2.47447 127 8.4331 2.06863
Adequacy of training for the post
1: Strongly agree
4: Nothing agree
Private 23,047 1.3068 0.62572 708 1.2599 0.64066
public 7,927 1.2628 0.57622 127 1.2913 0.71392
Satisfaction with the lifestyle pursued,
0: Min; 10 Max
private 23,047 7.4641 1.89700 708 7.7782 1.55893
Public 7,927 7.6613 1.68305 127 7.8583 1.48391
Satisfaction with the wage
0: Min; 10 Max
Private 22,976 5.9065 2.29562 706 7.1416 1.72911
Public 7,909 6.3115 2.16394 127 6.9055 2.10228
Good labour and social relationships at the workplace, Factor: α Cronbach=0.82
0: Min; 10 Max.
Private 23,047 −0.020394 1.02163 708 0.058515 0.77672886
Public 7,927 −0.078748 0.982545 127 0.003933 0.94766149



In previous studies, proprietary managers had a profile that was clearly differentiated from both public and private senior management. To avoid extending this paper to unwieldly lengths, we left out a differential analysis between proprietary managers and salaried managers. Proprietary managers are clearly differentiated from the other two cohorts.


The May 2012 CIS benchmark indicated that civil society had a critical opinion, though not excessively so, of Spain’s public administrations. Yet in terms of this same benchmark, when the public was asked if they had had some personal contact with government officials in the past year, 73 per cent had a very or somewhat favourable impression.


Table AI


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Further reading

Bozeman, B. and Bretschneider, S. (1994), “The publicness puzzle in organization theory: a test of alternative explanations of differences between public and private organizations”, Journal of Public Administration Theory and Research, Vol. 4, pp. 197-223.

Kuipers, B.S., Higgs, M., Kickert, W., Tummers, L., Grandia, J. and Joris van der, V. (2014), “The management of change in public organizations: a literature review”, Public Administration, Vol. 92 No. 1, pp. 1-20.

Madsen, K.B. (1974), Modern Theories of Motivation, Halsted Press, New York, NY.

Maidani, E.A. (1991), “Comparative study of Herzberg’s two-factor theory of job satisfaction among public and private sectors”, Public Personnel Management, Vol. 20 No. 4, pp. 441-448.

Young, B.S., Worchel, S. and Woehr, D.J. (1998), “Organizational commitment among public service employees”, Public Personnel Management, Vol. 27 No. 3, pp. 339-348.

Zumrah, A.R. and Boyle, S. (2015), “The effects of perceived organizational support and job satisfaction on transfer of training”, Personnel Review, Vol. 44 No. 2, pp. 236-254.

Corresponding author

Jose Manuel Lasierra can be contacted at: