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The Legitimacy of Performance-Related Pay in Swedish Public Sector Organisations

Bengt Larsson, Ylva Ulfsdotter Eriksson & Petra Adolfsson (2022)

Scandinavian Journal of Public Administration, 26(1), pp. 45-65. Open access

Abstract. This study analyses the legitimacy of different pay determination principles in Swedish public sector organisations. The aim is to explore what dimensions of worth exist in pay determination and to analyse the extent to which differences in legitimacy can be explained by organisational position, professional identity and organisational context. Theoretically, the article is influenced by “valuation studies” and the “institutional logics” and “orders of worth” approaches in analysing the existence of multiple dimensions of pay determination. Empirically, the study is based on surveys to employees and managers. The main results are that individual performance is the most legitimate dimension of worth, although job requirements and employee behaviour also have a high level of legitimacy. Formal individual competence and market value have a somewhat lower level of legitimacy, while organisational results is the dimension that has least legitimacy. In addition, the perceptions of legitimacy are shown to vary somewhat with position, profession and organisational context.

Extract: “A plurality of legitimate pay principles?
From the above, one might assume that in terms of pay there is one legitimate way to determine the worth of work. However, what norms and values are institutionalised and applicable may vary between institutional contexts and situations. To elaborate on this, we turn to the theories of institutional logics (Thornton et al. 2012) and the orders of worth approach (Boltanski and Thévenot 2006). Even though these approaches differ slightly in ontology and epistemology, they both make it possible to discuss a plurality of legitimate (pay) principles (Cloutier and Langley 2013). Thereby, such an approach differs from studies that ask only about the PRP principle (Hellgren et al. 2017; Sverke et al. 2004, Wallenberg 2012), or studies that examine different pay principles without trying to find out the plural dimensionality of them (Karlsson Håål and Hedin 2015; Stenberg 2011). However, it should be noted that “institutional logics” and “orders of worth” are used here as “sensitizing” rather than as fixed classifications (cf. Blumer 1954). The reason is that the empirically existing dimensions of legitimate pay principles may vary from the theoretical classifications (cf. Stamer 2018).” (p. 47)

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