Weidenstedt, L. (2020). Employee Empowerment and Paternalism: A Conceptual Analysis of Empowerment’s Embeddedness in Communicative Contexts. Mrev management revue, 31(4), 444 – 464. DOI: 10.5771/0935-9915-2020-4-444


Empowerment as a management technique builds on the assumption that employees desire more power. Consequently, to a large extent, research on employee empowerment has focused on defining the type of power that should be contained in empowerment, identifying relevant mediating and moderating effects of and for empowerment as well as empowerment’s boundary conditions such as individual and social attributes. However, less research has dealt with communicative and relational aspects and how these may impact the outcome of employee empowerment. This paper uses an interactional perspective to conceptually analyse communicative meanings entailed in employee empowerment. Building on sociological theories of communicative interaction, it is argued that focusing on leaders’ and members’ ascriptions of meanings to each other’s communicative messages reveals paternalistic power structures that are of relevance for the failure and success of empowerment. A communicative analysis of common structural and psychological empowerment efforts suggests that members’ sensemaking of their roles and situations, as defined by formal (written) and informal (psychological) contracts, may not necessarily be in line with the communicative meanings intended by leaders’ actions, and vice versa.