Explaining a Dark Side: Public Service Motivation, Presenteeism, and Absenteeism

Ulrich Thy Jensen*, Lotte Bøgh Andersen, Ann Louise Holten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Public service motivation (PSM) has many bright sides, but recent studies also find dark sides, connected to, for instance, higher stress and burnout. However, results on the PSM–absenteeism association are inconclusive. One reason could be that PSM increases presenteeism (going to work even when ill), which in turn increases absenteeism and counteracts—or even exceeds—PSM-based reductions of absenteeism. Based on a three-wave panel study of Danish public and private sector employees, we find a strong positive association between PSM and presenteeism and indications that the PSM–absenteeism link is mediated by presenteeism. The findings suggest that going to work even on days when employees feel ill is a potential dark side of PSM and that it may have long-term consequences for the extent to which employees are absent from their jobs due to sickness. This cautions managers not to expect that high PSM automatically guarantees high performance and low absence.
Original languageEnglish
JournalReview of Public Personnel Administration
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)487-510
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Public service motivation
  • Presenteeism
  • Sickness absenteeism
  • Panel data

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