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Working paper No. 300: It Takes Two to Empower: The Communicative Context of Empowerment Change in the Workplace

PublicationWorking paper
Empowerment, Företagandets villkor, Ledarskap, Linda Weidenstedt, Management, Osynligt kontrakt, Sociologi, Stockholms universitet
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Abstract

Empowerment efforts at the workplace are typically divided into two analytical categories: social-structural and psychological empowerment. These have been extensively researched in terms of their application and handling as well as their outcome and general usefulness in human resource management. However, less research has dealt with communicative aspects of empowerment and the communicative interactions between change agents (managers) and recipients (employees) that frame empowerment efforts. To contribute to a more nuanced empowerment discourse, this paper uses a micro-/individual-oriented perspective on empowerment communication and theorizes why empowerment change efforts sometimes end up being counterproductive – leading to disempowerment rather than empowerment. As starting point for theorizing empowerment communication, a “basic communicative structure” is identified and analyzed as comprising a contractual and a communicative context, referring to conditions as outlined in written employment contracts on the one hand, and implicitly shared and understood definitions of the social employment situation on the other. Building on sociological and social-psychological theories of communicative interaction, it is argued that focusing on change agents’ and recipients’ mutual ascriptions of meanings to each other’s communicative messages might improve empowerment outcomes: A communicative analysis of common empowerment efforts suggests that recipients’ sensemaking of their roles and situations as defined by written employment and/or psychological contracts is not necessarily in line with the communicative meanings they ascribe to the change agents’ actions, and vice versa.

Weidenstedt, L. (2017). It Takes Two to Empower: The Communicative Context of Empowerment Change in the Workplace. Ratio Working Paper No. 300. Stockholm: Ratio.

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Working paper No. 300: It Takes Two to Empower: The Communicative Context of Empowerment Change in the Workplace
Working paperPublication
Weidenstedt, L.
Publication year

2017

Published in

Ratio Working Paper

Abstract

Empowerment efforts at the workplace are typically divided into two analytical categories: social-structural and psychological empowerment. These have been extensively researched in terms of their application and handling as well as their outcome and general usefulness in human resource management. However, less research has dealt with communicative aspects of empowerment and the communicative interactions between change agents (managers) and recipients (employees) that frame empowerment efforts. To contribute to a more nuanced empowerment discourse, this paper uses a micro-/individual-oriented perspective on empowerment communication and theorizes why empowerment change efforts sometimes end up being counterproductive – leading to disempowerment rather than empowerment. As starting point for theorizing empowerment communication, a “basic communicative structure” is identified and analyzed as comprising a contractual and a communicative context, referring to conditions as outlined in written employment contracts on the one hand, and implicitly shared and understood definitions of the social employment situation on the other. Building on sociological and social-psychological theories of communicative interaction, it is argued that focusing on change agents’ and recipients’ mutual ascriptions of meanings to each other’s communicative messages might improve empowerment outcomes: A communicative analysis of common empowerment efforts suggests that recipients’ sensemaking of their roles and situations as defined by written employment and/or psychological contracts is not necessarily in line with the communicative meanings they ascribe to the change agents’ actions, and vice versa.

Working paper No. 296: Does One Size Fit All? Investigating Different Empowerment Orientations in the Heterogeneous Workforce of the Swedish Retail Sector
Working paperPublication
Weidenstedt, L.
Publication year

2017

Published in

Ratio Working Paper

Abstract

Empowerment research and practice is guided by the idea that empowered employees perform better due to a greater sense of self-efficacy and capability. Underlying this idea, there often seem to be two tacit, unexamined assumptions: first, that employees generally would prefer an empowered workplace to a less empowered one; and second, that all employees can be empowered by means of the same measures and changes as defined by empowerment research. The main research question asked in this study is whether those aspects typically associated with structural and psychological empowerment efforts at the workplace are indeed perceived as desirable and positive by all types of employees. Employees’ attitudes toward the success of empowerment efforts, and the relevance of such attitudes, are investigated by analyzing survey data from 268 employees in the Swedish retail sector. Results indicate that age and work intensity (part-time vs. full-time) as well as cohabitation have significant impacts on how empowerment efforts are viewed by employees in the sample.

Working paper No. 296: Does One Size Fit All? Investigating Different Empowerment Orientations in the Heterogeneous Workforce of the Swedish Retail Sector
Working paperPublication
Weidenstedt, L.
Publication year

2017

Published in

Ratio Working Paper

Abstract

Empowerment research and practice is guided by the idea that empowered employees perform better due to a greater sense of self-efficacy and capability. Underlying this idea, there often seem to be two tacit, unexamined assumptions: first, that employees generally would prefer an empowered workplace to a less empowered one; and second, that all employees can be empowered by means of the same measures and changes as defined by empowerment research. The main research question asked in this study is whether those aspects typically associated with structural and psychological empowerment efforts at the workplace are indeed perceived as desirable and positive by all types of employees. Employees’ attitudes toward the success of empowerment efforts, and the relevance of such attitudes, are investigated by analyzing survey data from 268 employees in the Swedish retail sector. Results indicate that age and work intensity (part-time vs. full-time) as well as cohabitation have significant impacts on how empowerment efforts are viewed by employees in the sample.

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