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Structural and Psychological Empowerment: The Moderating Role of Developmental Networks

Polina Lutsevitsh ·

Structural and Psychological Empowerment: The Moderating Role of Developmental Networks
Photo by Kerth Aun

This study has been produced for a master’s thesis in Work and Organizational Psychology speciality supervised by Tallinn University of Technology.

Have You ever wondered how your relationships affect Your perceived feeling of empowerment?

Organisations are requiring more from their employees than ever before. Increased globalisation, teleworking, technology-enabled workplaces, and rapid structural changes are just a few of the conditions at work, which must be taken into account and adapted to accordingly.

Employees in the organisations must learn to take initiative, be creative and innovative, take responsibility, make quick decisions for their actions, and control their own work environment. In order to perform these tasks, employees require organisational endorsement and support. Therefore individuals need to be “empowered” to perform effectively for their organisation.

The concept of empowerment is closely related with an obligation to gain organisational effectiveness through the wise use of human resources, where each employee is doing everything they know how to do and doing it well. Empowerment is becoming essential for both individual and team performance (Siegall & Gardner, 2000). Meanwhile, psychological empowerment is an important approach to individual and team motivation in the workplace (Seibert, Wang, & Courtright, 2011). Empowered individuals and teams are highly motivated to perform well because they believe they have the autonomy and capability capacity to perform meaningful work that can have a positive outcome in their organisation (Chen, Kirkman, Kanfer, & Rosen, 2007).

But what are the veritable definitions of the following concepts: psychological empowerment, structural empowerment and developmental networks?

We can define psychological empowerment as the psychological state of perceiving and presence of empowering behaviour where employees have strong perceived competence, control, and goal internalisation of the organisation; thus it is an essential component of workplace empowerment. Psychological empowerment is the individual's belief in his or her self-efficacy, this is the ability to complete tasks and reach goals. It is visible in enhanced autonomy and independence, as well as having control over one's work environment and feeling that their actions make a difference in the organisation.

A relatively new term, the interest in the concept of developmental networks is persistent because relationships with mentors may be essential in the constantly changing career environment of the twenty-first century (Murphy & Kram, 2010). Developmental networks is the inclusion of people and relationships named by the protégé who take an active interest in advancing the protégé’s career at a certain point in time; outlining the importance to the protégé’s career development. Developmental relationships are likely to exist both within and outside work organisations (Higgins and Kram, 2001). Developmental networks consists of peers, subordinates, friends, family, and superiors- in brief, from more than a single person.

Structural empowerment is the employee’s ability to access social structures within their work setting to enable them to accomplish their work in meaningful ways. Another definition is the perception of presence or absence of empowering conditions in the workplace (Laschinger, Finegan, Shamian, & Wilk, 2004). Structural empowerment leads to psychological empowerment that culminates in positive workplace outcomes such as increased job satisfaction and increased motivation. Examples of structural empowerment are the opportunity to learn and grow, and the ability to mobilize resources by accessing information, resources and support.

The sample of our study consisted of 135 individuals whose answers were gathered from two different Estonian companies in the IT field and governmental institution.

So how are developmental networks crucial in the emergence of perceived psychological empowerment in the workplace?

First of all, current study demonstrate that structural empowerment has an effect on psychological empowerment. This means that organisations, which have structural determinants to empower workers, influence workers’ perception of psychological empowerment. Those findings support several previous studies where it was found that access to empowering work environment structures will encourage inner perception of psychological empowerment and that that psychological empowerment is the individual’s response to structural empowerment (Spreitzer, 1995; Laschinger et al., 2004).

Several studies have found that good family relationships are considered more advantageous than working relationships, as the nature of the personal relationship is far closer than the working one (Gabarro, 1990). Meanwhile non-work related relationships provide more overall support than work-related relationships (Murphy & Kram, 2010). These findings also support the current study.

Whereas family is important by supporting individual’s development and career growth, then organisations should pay more attention on work-family balance. In addition, organisations should create more career and development supportive activities, because family supports individual’s development with emotional involvement and time resource; meaning a combination of both should benefit more. Developing such supportive relationships as developmental networks might be beneficial at different stages of an individual’s career development and growth.

Finding support, help and a leader inside an organisation strengthens the feeling of striving toward common goals. Aligning organisational goals with individual values can create a sense of empowerment. Similarly individuals whose personal goals can only be reachable with the cooperation of others in the organisation, have higher perception of psychological empowerment (Ergeneli, Arı, & Metin, 2007).

Findings revealed that developmental networks are an important factor in the process of formation of psychological empowerment in the workplace. Individuals who tend to have closer relationships with different developers, contribute to have higher levels of psychological empowerment. Developers who provide better assistance are crucial in personal and professional development of an individual, therefore increasing one’s cognitive state of empowerment.

In conclusion, people do not only feel empowered only when they have personal control over conditions and resources, they also feel empowered when they find support from work-related and non-work-related developmental networks. Developmental networks are beneficial and support empowering structures in the emergence of psychological empowerment in the workplace. At the same time, it can be assumed that low levels of empowerment might be caused by an absence of supportive relationships in the work environment, as they are essential for a positive structural change within an organisation. Consequently this offers the prospect that people might feel more empowered by changing their developmental networks.

So if you want your employees to be “empowered” let them build strong and well-functioning developmental networks and also be a part of them — empowered individuals perform better as they have the autonomy and capability capacity to do their work in the most effective way.

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