Research on empowerment has focused more on psychological empowerment than relational empowerment or empowerment practices. One reason is that the results of empowerment practices are inconsistent and unstable. To understand the mechanisms and organizational factors affecting relational empowerment, we proposed a two-path model to explain the relationship between empowerment practices and service-oriented organizational citizenship behavior (SOCB). We hypothesized a direct effect based on self consistency theory and an indirect effect with job satisfaction as a mediator based on the social exchange theory. We also argued for a moderating effect of organization structure in this partially mediated model. These hypotheses are tested by a sample of 232 subjects, made up of groups of four subordinates and their immediate superior, from four organizations in different sectors of the Chinese economy, and they completed a mailed questionnaire containing measures of each of the variables in the study. The results showed that organicity moderated the effect of employee empowerment on job satisfaction, as hypothesized. The implications of the results for managerial practices were discussed.
In the highly competitive environment of service industries in which service providers must be fast and efficient in providing quality services, proactive service workers are essential (Bowen & Lawler, 1992, 1995; FuIf ord & Enz, 1995). Recent research has found that organizational empowerment is an important management tool used to motivate service employees to deliver service proactively to satisfy the changing needs of customers with responsiveness and flexibility (Bitner, Booms & Tetreault, 1990).
Empowerment refers to a situation in which a manager gives employees discretion to make day-to-day decisions about job-related activities (Conger & Kanungo, 1988). Empowerment has been studied and used in practice in many other industries before it was found to be especially important in service industries. However, empowerment is more intricate than we might think. When some managers try to empower their subordinates, they find it does not work well all the time (Argyris, 1998). Bowen and Lawler (1992) suggested that research on the consequences of empowerment was still limited, and findings of empowerment's effects were inconsistent. Although the literature held that the theoretical relationship between empowerment and employees' job attitude should be positive (see, e.g., Conger & Kanungo, 1988), the empirical evidence was mixed (Coote, Price & Ackfeldt, 2004). For example, some research reported a positive relationship between empowerment and job attitude (e.g., Singh, 2000), while Hartline and Ferrell (1996) reported a negative relationship between these variables. There is a need for more comprehensive understanding about how and when empowerment works (Coote, et al, 2004; Melhem, 2004).
These inconsistent results of the effect of empowerment have two implications. First, the relationships between empowerment and job attitude and job performance may be influenced by external conditions. Bowen & Lawler (1992) suggested that empowerment might be an effective practice, but other organizational conditions might prevent it from functioning well. Therefore, defining the boundary conditions within which empowerment functions is an important research question regarding employee empowerment. Second, inconsistent results may also imply that our understanding of the mechanisms of how empowerment works is not precise. The bulk of previous empowerment research has focused on the direct relationships between empowerment practices and work outcomes. But there are few studies that attempt a detailed explanation of why employee empowerment affects work outcomes.
In response to the call for studies to address these limitations, we proposed and tested in this study a model of the mechanisms through which empowerment practices affected employee's discretionary behaviors. …