Psychological Empowerment

In organizational psychology studies, psychological empowerment pertains to the personal beliefs that employees have about their role in relation to the organization.

Psychological empowerment refers to a set of positive psychological states that are necessary for individuals to feel a sense of control in relation to their work through, for example, locus of control, Opens in new window self-efficacy Opens in new window and self-esteem Opens in new window.

Some Definitions of Psychological Empowerment

  1. Psychological empowerment is the belief that one has the necessary knowledge and skills to perform the job well and can make a difference in the organization (Spreitzer 1995a).
  2. Psychological empowerment is an intrinsic task motivation that involves positively valued experiences that individuals derive directly from a task (Thomas and Velthouse 1990).
  3. Psychological empowerment is the process of enhancing the feeling of self-efficacy among the members of an organization through the identification of condition that caused powerlessness and also through the reduction of the powerlessness state (Conger and Kenungo 1988).
  4. Psychological empowerment is an individual’s cognitive state characterized by a sense of perceived control, competence, and goal internalization (Menton 1999).

Psychological empowerment often accompanies and follows from certain facets of subjective well-being (SWB Opens in new window) such as positive affect (pleasant moods and emotions). These emotions, when induced in laboratory experiment al studies, have been found to have certain predictable consequences, including:

  • sociability,
  • self-confidence,
  • leadership and dominance,
  • flexible thinking,
  • altruism,
  • active engagement with the environment, and
  • self-regulatory ability.

In other words, positive moods produce a state appears to be similar to psychological empowerment.

Success can lead to psychological empowerment when it heightens positive emotions, and psychological empowerment in turn can lead to further success if external conditions allow it. The theory of psychological empowerment suggests

interventions that provide genuine opportunities for individuals to participate may help them develop a sense of psychological empowerment (Zimmerman et al., 1992:724).

Thus, it is worthwhile noting Zimmerman et al.’s (1992:708) study, which highlights three components of psychological empowerment, namely, intrapersonal, interactional and behavioral components, as illustrated:

  1. The intrapersonal component refers to how people think about their capacity to influence social and political systems important to them …
  2. The interactional component refers to the transactions between persons and environments that enable one to successfully master social or political systems …
  3. The behavioral component refers to the specific actions one takes to exercise influence on the social and political environment through participation in community organizations and activities.

Developing this theme further, it is worth noting for leaders, CEOs and human resources departments that sources of employees’ feelings of empowerment—how and when people feel empowered—is important in all employee empowerment strategies in organizations.

Chiles and Zorn (1995:2) highlight that to feel empowered in an organization, an employee must

  1. feel capable of competently performing the tasks of her or his job, and
  2. believe that she or he has the authority or freedom to make the necessary decisions for performing the tasks of the job.

In a similar vein, Siegall and Gardner (2000:705) report:

if a person has the organization’s ‘permission’ to act autonomously but does not believe she or has the capability of acting effectively, then the autonomy will not result in improved outcomes for either the organization or the person.

This further strengthens the arguments in empowerement literature with regards to locus of control Opens in new window, self-esteem Opens in new window and self-efficacy Opens in new window and how these play an important role within an individual’s self-belief.

The implications of these can be positive or negative which can enable employees to believe in themselves and in their capabilities to carry out a task with confidence, vice or versa.

Benefits of Psychological Empowerment

An interesting finding from a number of studies is that psychological empowerment has been associated with a broad range of positive outcomes that are beneficial to organizations and individuals, such as,

A study by Mangundjaya (2014) revealed that psychological empowerment plays a positive role with regards to employees’ commitment to organizational change. There is strong agreement in the management and social work literatures that stress is a factor that incurs huge costs and losses for organizations.

Referring to this particular issue Boudrias et al. (2012:8) point out that psychological empowerment was found to be a “protective factor for burnout Opens in new window among workers exposed to work-related stressors Opens in new window (e.g. daily hassles, overload, job changes)”.

For front-line employees, psychological empowerment is necessary because they need the confidence to make on-the-spot decisions to keep customers happy and/or respond quickly to customer needs.

Similarly, Conger and Kanungo (1988) argue that if employees are empowered and have the authority to make decisions, it makes them more motivated to help organizations achieve their goals and objectives. By way of contrast, as Heslin (1999) warns, disempowered employees can easily become over-reliant and dependent, leading to employees feeling demoralized and not willing to use their initiative.

There is strong evidence by a number of authors that psychological empowerment increases workplace effectiveness and innovation. On an individual level, when people believe in their own ability, it gives them confidence, leading to psychological empowerment.

On an individual level, psychological empowerment gives people self-confidence. It also encourages them use their own initiative and motivates them to be innovative and creative.

When organizations encourage innovative and creative behaviors Opens in new window, it is viewed as empowering. Furthermore, empowered employees are more likely to engage in such behaviors, rather than those who are “tightly controlled”.

Indeed, there is evidence from a number of studies and several authors agree from the psychological perspective that there are benefits in empowering employees, with regards to acquiring positive locus of control Opens in new window, raised self-efficacy Opens in new window and self-esteem Opens in new window leading to self-confidence in individuals.

An important outcome of strong, positive psychological empowerment on an individual level may result in collective self-efficacy Opens in new window amongst organizational members, leading to a strong efficacious workforce in organizations, which in turn helps to maintain a respectful relationship within members (internally) and customers (externally). This particularly essential for front-line workers, social workers, and health and hospital workers.

Thus, all efforts must be carried out by organizational leaders to reduce and eradicate psychological disempowerment amongst employees, including people from management and non-management positions.

Ongoing learning becomes necessary, as people from management and non-management positions develop skills and respond to the themes of employee empowerment in the management and social work literatures, namely, power-sharing, participative decision-making, devolution of responsibility and people-oriented leadership style; and access to information, collaboration and enablement, respectively.

    The research data for this literature have been adapted from the manuals:
  1. The Psychology of Employee Empowerment: Concepts, Critical Themes and a ... By Rozana Ahmad Huq
  2. Measuring Empowerment: Cross-disciplinary Perspectives By Deepa Narayan-Parker.