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Public service entry examinations ward off unethical behaviour

Decision makers wantíng to reduce unethical behaviour among employees in the state administrations of some of the world’s poorest countries ought to increase the focus on how employees are hired and dismissed. That is the conclusion from a researcher in HR administration in the public sector based on a new study.
Kim Sass Mikkelsen
Kim Sass Mikkelsen is an associate professor at the Department of Social Sciences and Business and a researcher in HR administration in the public sector.


Stealing office supplies for home use. Financial fraud. Corruption. Acting disloyally towards your manager. Unethical behaviour comes in many shapes and sizes, but what they all have in common is that most often, from an employer and societal perspective, they are undesired behaviours.

But what makes public officials act in an unethical manner? And conversely, how can one promote ethical behaviour among public officials across various countries and cultures?  Kim Sass Mikkelsen, associate professor at Roskilde University at the Department of Social Sciences and Business can help us find out.

Political and private networks promote unethical behaviour
New research results from him and his researcher colleagues indicate that reformers should focus on the manner in which people are hired in order to ensure hard-working employees of good moral character.

The researcher’s new study indicates that an employee who has been hired either via private or political contacts is more likely to behave unethically or immorally. In other words: If it is your uncle that got you the job, or if you were hired due to contacts in a political party that influenced the hiring process, then there is a greater risk that you will behave unethically in your workplace. That is the conclusion of the study that is based on comprehensive answers to questionnaires provided by employees from five developing nations: Nepal, Bangladesh, Malawi, Uganda and Ghana.

The part about the private contacts was surprising to the public administration expert at Roskilde University:

“I was surprised to see that private contacts have relatively consistent negative effects across the countries and contexts we look at,” says Kim Sass Mikkelsen.

According to Kim Sass Mikkelsen, the explanation for this might be that public servants identify less strongly with their job and professional role if, for example, their uncle got them the job - because they made less of an effort to get it.

Kim Sass Mikkelsen
Kim Sass Mikkelsen teaches among other things at the Bachelor programme in Social Sciences and at the master programme in International Public Administration and Politics.

This is how the study was structured:

The researchers selected ten countries from four regions around the world - Central & Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. In every country, the researchers worked together with local and/or international experts to adapt a questionnaire for each country’s central government administrative systems. Selected civil servants, in some individual cases all of the civil service employees, were invited to participate in the study either online or via individual face to face interviews with partners to the study. In total, around 23,000 civil servants responded to the study.

The countries included in the study are: Chile, Brazil, Estonia, Albania, Kosovo, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Nepal and Bangladesh.

According to Kim Sass Mikkelsen, the fact that there is such a wide selection of countries makes the odds of being able to generalise based on the results greater than most other (smaller) studies of civil service employees.

The researchers explain the results of the study in the report: 'Civil service management in developing countries: what works?'