Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Impact of Empowerment on Service Employees *

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Impact of Empowerment on Service Employees *

Article excerpt

Employee empowerment programs are rapidly being implemented in organizations across the spectrum of industries. Within the hospitality industry, Guest Quarters Suite Hotels, Westin Hotels and Resorts, and Omni Hotels have each adopted empowerment philosophies. In addition, Hampton Inns and Homewood Suites have recently unveiled "service guarantee programs" which include a component on the empowerment of employees who are in direct contact with guests.

Many service organizations believe that empowering their employees will ultimately lead to increased profitability, while directly enhancing customer satisfaction (Brymer, 1991; Sternberg, 1992). In the service sector, what satisfies the customer is not only the product, but also the delivery of quality service. And it is the employees who have a tremendous impact on the customers' perceptions of the quality of both the product and the service. So, in essence, the employee is the key ingredient to increased service delivery and subsequent profitability. Organizations desiring increased profitability through implementation of an employee empowerment program are trying to influence the attitudes and behaviors (e.g., job satisfaction and performance) of these employees.

The purpose of this article is to assess the effects of perceived empowerment on the attitudes of employees in several service based organizations. Empowerment has been touted as having beneficial effects on employee satisfaction, employee turnover, and customer service (Bower and Lawler, 1992). However, no empirical evidence currently exists to support these claims. In this article, results from an empirical study of thirty independent private clubs will be presented.

EMPOWERMENT DEFINED

All too often, empowerment is conceived as the delegation of some of management's responsibilities to subordinates. This usually manifests itself with the employee having additional tasks to perform on the job as a result of the organization removing some layers of management. Where this conceptualization falls short is that it stresses organizational redesign and doesn't consider the psychological needs of employees. Several authors (e.g., Ashforth, 1989, Block, 1993; Greenberger and Strasser, 1986; Mainiero, 1986; Pfeffer, 1994) have stressed that individuals seek control over their environments, including the work setting. In fact, Greenberger and Strasser (1986) indicate that workers so strongly desire control in the workplace that they will continually attempt to increase their level of perceived influence--even when the organization places barriers in their way. Conger and Kanungo (1988), relying on the work of Deci (1975) and Bandura (198u), describe empowerment as an "enabling" process, whereby individuals feel that their behavior is self-determined and they believe they can adequately perform a given task. Thomas and Velthouse (1990) go one step further. In addition to the aforementioned, they also include the belief that individuals need to feet as if they are performing meaningful tasks. Combining these components, our conceptualization of empowerment stresses the individual's perceptions of meaning, influence, and mastery. Employees express empowerment when they view their jobs as having meaning, see opportunities to influence the way work is done, and feel competent in the job itself.

Recently, Spreitzer (1992) attempted to develop an operational definition of empowerment and validate the construct. She reviewed the interdisciplinary literature on empowerment and identified 150 themes. Then, she asked two independent caters to sort the themes into content categories. This resulted in four categories or dimensions of empowerment: meaning, self-efficacy, self-determination, and personal control. The Spreitzer scale has been evaluated for its psychometric properties in a manufacturing context, the results of which support the four dimensions of empowerment as follows.

Meaning refers to the congruence between one's value system and the goals or objectives of the activity in which one is engaged at work. …

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