Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Role of Subordinates' Trust in a Social Exchange-Driven Psychological Empowerment Process

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

The Role of Subordinates' Trust in a Social Exchange-Driven Psychological Empowerment Process

Article excerpt

The intensely competitive global environment demands creative management and utilization of employees' capabilities and potentials in the organization through the use of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivational techniques (Randolph, 1995; Wischnevsky and Damanpour, 2006). Employees are expected to go that extra mile to adopt "extra role behaviors" (Organ, 1988), which are the foundation for spawning creativity and innovation. To engender such outcomes, modern managers have manipulated and changed traditional organizational context to reduce formal control and cultivate employees' self-discipline (Randolph, 1995). Key words that describe these interventions include decentralization, re-engineering, job involvement, autonomous teams and, most recently, empowerment.

Generally, managers empower through interventions to eliminate social structural constraints in organizations to reduce feelings of helplessness in employees (Conger and Kanungo, 1988). Empowered employees are intrinsically motivated to take personal ownership of their jobs, to exercise self-determination, to satisfy their need for power and to reinforce their personal self-efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 1986).

Most empirical studies examine empowerment from the perspective of managers undertaking diverse social structural interventions to empower their subordinates (Bonnie and Bishop, 2003; Forrester, 2000; Johnson and Paper, 1998; Mills and Ungson, 2003). Spreitzer's (1995) validation of a four-factor psychological empowerment construct, however, provided the instrument for researchers to redirect their examination of empowerment to those who are being empowered (Fulford and Enz, 1995; Koberg et al., 1999; Martin and Bush, 2006; Kirkman and Rosen, 1999; Thomas and Velthouse, 1990). Although practitioners and researchers have often acknowledged that trust is a critical psychological state that determines the success of any empowerment process (Argyris, 1998; Harari, 2002; Mayer et al., 1995), little is known of the impact that empowerment interventions have on building subordinates' trust directed towards their supervisors (subordinates' trust), and the impact of subordinates' trust on the extent of psychological empowerment experienced. To address these issues, we develop a holistic nomological network model (Cronbach and Meehl, 1955) for psychological empowerment based upon the assertion that empowerment is a social exchange-driven process which requires managers to relinquish dependence on power and control and instead use cooperation and facilitation in relating with their subordinates. Further, we predict that empowered employees, within the context of social exchange, will chose to reciprocate the organization with Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (OCB).


Relational and Psychological Empowerment Empowerment research is dominated by two different approaches. The relational approach (Burke, 1986; Champy, 1995; Karsten, 1994) examines changing power relationships by the manipulation of "power tools" (Kanter, 1983). Such tools include information (technical knowledge, political intelligence, expertise), resources (funds, materials, space, time), and support (endorsement, backing, approval legitimacy). This approach assumes such empowerment interventions directly affect work-related outcomes.

This conceptualization of relational empowerment has been criticized for neglecting the individuals' experiences in the empowerment process (Spreitzer, 1995; Thomas and Velthouse, 1990). Recent research has shifted focus to an individual-level construct called psychological empowerment, fueled by Spreitzer's (1995) seminal groundwork which operationalized and validated the construct. Psychological empowerment is conceptualized as the result of employees' positive cognitive assessment of their work context for meaning, self-determination, competency and impact (Spreitzer, 1995). Employees perceive meaning in an activity when the objectives of the organization are assessed to be compatible with their own value systems (Brief and Nord, 1990). …

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