Psychological empowerment is defined as “intrinsic task motivation reflecting a sense of self-control in relation to one’s work and an active involvement with one’s work role” (in “Antecedents and Consequences of Psychological and Team Empowerment in Organizations: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Seibert, et al. 2011, p. 981, cited under Theoretical Overview). Since the 1980s, an increased interest in empowerment has been seen in diverse subject areas within psychology and management, including motivation, task performance, leadership, group processes, decision-making, and organizational design, because empowerment can enhance employee performance, well-being, and positive attitudes of individuals, teams, and organizations. Psychological empowerment is composed of four cognitions: meaning, self-determination, competence, and impact. Specifically, “meaning refers to the alignment between one’s work role and one’s own beliefs, values, and standards. Self-determination is an individual’s sense of autonomy or control concerning the initiation or regulation of one’s actions. Competence refers to the belief in one’s capability to successfully perform work activities. Impact is the belief that one can make a difference in the managerial process; that one could influence operational outcomes in the work unit” (Seibert, et al. 2011, p. 981). The four dimensions are described as independent and distinct yet related and mutually reinforcing, qualities that capture a dynamic state or active orientation toward work. Psychological empowerment may vary with organizational structure, individual and team characteristics, work design, leadership, and organizational support. To date, empowerment has been discussed from motivational and structural perspectives, and the construct has been operationalized by investigating the factors that lead to employee feelings of empowerment. Studies have also explored the consequences associated with an empowered workforce. Still, a number of important questions remain unanswered; therefore, it is important to develop a fuller understanding of the nature of empowerment, the factors that lead to employee feelings of empowerment, and the consequences associated with an empowered workforce.
The study of empowerment was developed out of the motivational frameworks of the job characteristics model from Hackman and Oldham’s “Motivation Through the Design of Work: Test of a Theory” (Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 16.2 , pp. 250–279) and concept of self-efficacy from Bandura’s “Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change” (Psychological Review 84.2 , pp. 191–215), and “Self-efficacy Mechanism in Human Agency” (American Psychologist 37.2 , pp. 122–147). From the Kanter’s original work Men and Women of the Corporation (New York: Basic Books, 1977), early studies explained empowerment by organizational structure and practices. Referring to the empowerment review of Maynard, et al. 2012, the concept of empowerment has arisen from two major perspectives: socio-structural and psychological. Socio-structural perspectives view empowerment through a focus on the set of formal controls of an organization, such as facets of the job, team design, or organizational arrangements that instill situations, policies, and procedures (Maynard, et al. 2012). These controls decentralize power and transfer responsibility to employees in such decision-making processes (Men and Women of the Corporation). In contrast, the psychological perspective, first introduced by Conger and Kanungo 1988 and connected with Bandura’s 1977 and 1982 works on self-efficacy, focuses on employees’ perceptions or cognitive states regarding empowerment. On the basis of Thomas and Velthouse 1990, Spreitzer 1995 (cited under Measurement) developed multidimensional cognitive factors of meaning, choice, competence, and impact as the set of intrinsic task motivation enablers. Together, these four dimensions reflect a proactive, rather than passive, orientation to one’s work roles. Seibert, et al. 2011 shows meta-analytic support for an integrated model specifying the antecedents and consequences of psychological and team empowerment, as well as testing the validity of psychological empowerment as a unitary second-order construct. Maynard, et al. 2012 reviews studies that considered the multilevel empowerment nomological network; the review examines how empowerment has been conceptualized and operationalized within the literature. Menon 2001 outlines the theory of an integrative psychological approach to employee empowerment, and Honold 1997 reviews the root of employee empowerment, focusing mainly on various theoretical perspectives of empowerment.
Bartunek, J. M., and G. M. Spreitzer. “The Interdisciplinary Career of a Popular Construct Used in Management: Empowerment in the Late 20th Century.” Journal of Management Inquiry 15.3 (2006): 255–273.
The article traces how meanings of the empowerment construct evolved between 1966 and 2000 across six disciplines: religion, psychology, sociology, education, social work, and management. Results indicate that the different uses of a construct in multiple disciplines may lead to radical shifts in understanding the construct over time. Moreover, the usage of empowerment in management studies will be incorporated into new literature; it may regain and expand its meaning in conjunction with other disciplines. Available online for purchase.
Conger, J. A., and R. N. Kanungo. “The Empowerment Process: Integrating Theory and Practice.” Academy of Management Review 13.3 (1988): 471–482.
The first research to introduce a psychological perspective on empowerment. Specifically, the empowerment construct is reviewed as a relational and motivational construct, while focusing on the empowerment process and the positive effects of empowerment.
Honold, L. “A Review of the Literature on Employee Empowerment.” Empowerment in Organizations 5.4 (1997): 202–212.
This article looks over the roots, meanings, and theoretical approaches of previous studies. It suggests that employee empowerment is multidimensional and involves how leaders lead, how individuals react, how peers interact, and how work-related processes are structured.
Maynard, M. T., L. L. Gilson, and J. E. Mathieu. “Empowerment—Fad or Fab? A Multilevel Review of the Past Two Decades of Research.” Journal of Management 38.4 (2012): 1231–1281.
This review paper looks over both antecedents and outcomes of empowerment on different levels. The authors also include a discussion of how psychological empowerment has been operationalized within the literature, as well as various methodological considerations of psychological empowerment research. Avenues for future research, including methodological and theoretical considerations, are suggested.
Menon, S. T. “Employee Empowerment: An Integrative Psychological Approach.” Applied Psychology: An International Review 50.1 (2001): 153–180.
The study explicitly defines empowerment as a cognitive state and develops an integrative psychological perspective on employee empowerment. The results of a measure development study based on this integrative approach are then presented. A unique feature of the present conceptualization of empowerment is that it includes a goal internalization dimension.
Seibert, S. E., G. Wang, and S. H. Courtright. “Antecedents and Consequences of Psychological and Team Empowerment in Organizations: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Journal of Applied Psychology 96.5 (2011): 981–1003.
The research provides a meta-analytic review of the antecedents, correlates, and consequences of psychological empowerment in work organizations by integrating a broad range of theoretical perspectives—socio-structural, psychological, and team-based approaches. The authors examine several potential boundary conditions on the effectiveness of psychological empowerment, and then test the validity of psychological empowerment as a unitary construct.
Thomas, K. W., and B. A. Velthouse. “Cognitive Elements of Empowerment: An ‘Interpretive’ Model of Intrinsic Task Motivation.” Academy of Management Review 15.4 (1990): 666–681.
This article explicates a relatively comprehensive, cognitive model of intrinsic task motivation to describe the empowerment process in individuals.
Yukl, G. A., and W. S. Becker. “Effective Empowerment in Organizations.” Organization Management Journal 3.3 (2012): 210–231.
The research surveys empowerment studies from different perspectives, including various antecedents and outcomes. The authors also outline facilitating conditions for effective empowerment, including characteristics of organizations, leaders, employees, and the work itself.
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