The subject of the proposed study is the employee empowerment (EE) and its techniques; the specific topic of the study can be formulated as the reasons for the effectiveness of EE techniques as viewed through the lens of humanistic psychology (HP). This kind of topic was chosen for a number of reasons. First of all, EE is a rapidly developing field of study in HR management that is also very practically applicable (Maynard, Luciano, D’Innocenzo, Mathieu, & Dean, 2014).
Secondly, from the literature review conducted for the study, it follows that the recent research in the area appears to neglect the theoretical component of EE. Apart from that, while the effectiveness and outcomes of a specific method are a common topic of investigation, the reasons for this effectiveness are most often overlooked. In other words, there are gaps in the EE research that can be filled by the proposed study. Finally, the application of psychology to human resource management (HR) is also a relatively underresearched area. As a result, the topic appears in the area where the currently important, developing and practically applicable subject of EE and underresearched subjects of both psychological and HR research overlap. As for the choice of HP, this school of thought in psychology is in line with EE and has the methods, tools, and terminology to interpret the results of the study from the perspective of interest: the people involved in EE experiences.
The study will primarily target the EE experiences as perceived and interpreted by the employees, which should provide the insight into the psychological reactions that EE methods provoke. These reactions will be used to explain the effectiveness of varied EE methods and techniques. The research of the perceptions of the “empowering” party is not the focus, but it will be conducted if it is considered feasible for the sake of a complete picture. The correlation between the managers’ reasoning and the employees’ expectations and perceptions will provide additional explanation to the reasons for the EE effectiveness.
The primary question that the study intends to answer can be phrased as follows: what are the psychological reasons for the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of various EE methods and approaches? This general question can be broken up into a number of smaller ones.
- What is EE and what methods and techniques does it employ? While this subject is at least partially explained by the literature review, there is a chance that the study will contribute to this knowledge.
- How effective are different methods? Again, there is theoretical evidence that can provide answers to this question, but the study may offer additional information.
- Why are various methods effective or ineffective from the psychological point of view (explained through the HP perspective). The answers to this question are extremely underrepresented in the recent literature on EE. Apart from that, additional questions can be added to ensure theoretical and practical application of the results of the study.
- Can the results of the study be the ground for a theory that can explain the psychological reasons for EE effectiveness?
- Can the results be used to create guidelines for HR managers who intend to employ EE techniques?
The materials for the answers will be gained principally with the help of phenomenological approach: it is specifically suited to explore a phenomenon-related experiences and interpretation of these experiences through the eyes of the people involved, which makes it fit for the proposed study (Hergenhahn, & Henley, 2014, p. 536). The results will be analyzed and interpreted through the lens of HP. During the creation of the research design, it was also determined that HR managers are going to be interviewed to define the EE approaches they employ. Given this fact, it is proposed to apply the phenomenological approach to describing the experiences and perceptions of EE from the managerial point of view as well. For this part of the study, the key questions can be phrased as follows.
- What are the EE experiences and interpretations of the “empowering” party? What is the logic behind their EE-related decision-making?
- Do the perceptions of managers and employees correspond to each other?
This part of the study, should it be carried out, will provide case study materials for the EE decision-making, and there is also a chance that the results will be generalizable. In this case, they can be included in the eventual HR EE guidelines.
EE Research: Achievements, Patterns, Gaps
EE is a relatively modern approach to HR management which has been gaining popularity due to the various performance and job satisfaction parameters that it appears to affect (Maynard et al., 2014). The simplified logic behind this idea consists in the suggestion that empowering the workforce means developing it, enhancing its “quality,” which results in better performance (Pande, & Dhar, 2014). In general, EE demands to provide employees with power, with the opportunity to make choices and take responsibility, together with the ability to use this power, which typically includes overcoming the feeling of helplessness and dependence, enhancing the confidence, motivating to learn and improve one’s skills and so on. The specific techniques used for EE are rather numerous (Sherafati, & Mohammadi, 2014; Fock, Hui, Au, & Bond, 2012). The models of empowerment are similarly diverse (Appelbaum, Karasek, Lapointe, & Quelch, 2014). In this study, the techniques are the specific activities aimed at EE, and the models or methods are the systems of EE techniques that are suited to be implemented in a particular environment or situation or to result in a particular outcome.
Despite this diversity, there are three general types of EE or approaches to its implementation: Fock et al. (2012) define them as discretion, leadership, and psychological empowerment. The two latter terms seem to be quite common, but what Fock et al. describe as discretion approach appears to be also called “structural empowerment” (Orgambídez-Ramos & Borrego-Alés, 2014; Appelbaum et al., 2014). The three approaches differ in the foci of their attention: discretion approach is aimed at the organization and the methods it can use (for example, increasing the participation of employees in decision-making). Leadership approach focuses on the leaders and their actions (for example, motivational empowering speeches). As for psychological empowerment, it targets the activities of employees, for instance, the acquisition of new skills. In practice, the techniques belonging to different approaches are often mixed. All the approaches can be both effective and ineffective, which indicates that appropriate usage is required (Fock et al., 2012).
Unfortunately, the attempts at defining why various methods work or do not work are underrepresented in EE research. The most popular kind of EE-related research is devoted to the testing of an approach, model or specific technique. For example, Orgambídez-Ramos and Borrego-Alés (2014) describe the use of structural empowerment in a particular setting (university) and focus on the outcomes that are positive for a number of parameters including job satisfaction. Such a research design appears to be predominant in the field. Naturally, some attempts at explaining the reasons behind the success of EE are being made. For example, Sherafati and Mohammadi (2014) endeavored to define how skills, personality, and attitude of employees affect their empowerment, but they did not specify the techniques used for this EE or the correlation between EE and success. Appelbaum et al. (2014) work to find the reasons for varied EE techniques’ success and failures and focused primarily on the environmental factors (team, the culture of the organization). Neither of them attempts to look into the psychological reasons that have the potential of affecting EE results, and in general, the psychological approach to EE appears to be underrepresented, which is the gap that the proposed research intends to fill.
General Psychology, Humanistic Psychology, and the Topic
The proposed research has been aligned with the specialization of General Psychology (GP). In fact, GP can be described as a most inclusive field that is aimed at the general and primarily theoretical study of the mental processes and behavioral patterns of a human being (Mangal, 2013, pp. 3-5). The broadness of GP allows it to incorporate an extremely wide range of topics, but the presented one appears to have the potential for contributing to the bulk of GP knowledge due to being underrepresented in the area of study. Indeed, the exploration of the topic from the psychological perspective has the potential to advance the understanding understand human behavior in the environment of the workplace and with respect to specific stimuli (EE techniques, methods, approaches). On the other hand, such a perspective has the chance of discovering the reasons for the different responses, which, as it has been pointed out above, is an aspect of EE that is relatively underresearched. In other words, both GP and EE (as well as HR) study can benefit from such an approach to the topic.
Indeed, the psychological approach to HR is represented in the recent scholarly literature quite scarcely. An example is a paper by Wilson and Madsen (2008), and it applies the theoretical framework of HP to HR. The choice appears to be most suitable: indeed, it is obvious that the HR method can be described as humanistic and may benefit from being viewed and interpreted from the perspective of HP with its focus on individuals and their potential. HP and EE ideas correspond to each other from the point of view of various aspects, including similar topics of interest (such as motivation and learning theories and practice) and concepts of importance (primarily the concept of self) (Appelbaum et al., 2014; Mruk, 2008; DeRobertis, 2013).
Apart from that, HP was probably the first psychology approach that shifted the focus of the field from pathologies to the “good” in humans, to their potential (DeRobertis, 2013). The current study is also aimed at the individual (experiences, perceptions, and responses to EE techniques) and targets non-pathological behavior and mental processes. Finally, HP has been promoting and using the methods that the current study is likely to benefit from: the qualitative ones and especially the phenomenological approach that provides the opportunity of viewing a phenomenon from the perspective of the person involved (Ellis, Abrams, & Abrams, 2009, p. 313-316; Hergenhahn, & Henley, 2014, p. 536). In other words, HP has the terminology and methods to describe the topic of the study from the perspective that the investigation is interested in (that of individual), which is why the proposed study is going to be aligned with this school of thought and employ its theoretical framework to interpret the results.
As for the applicability of the school of thought, the example of Wilson and Madsen (2008) demonstrates that HP theory can be connected to HR, even though the guidelines that the authors have produced by integrating HP and HR were not tested in practice. Apart from that, an approach to HR that is termed as Humanistic HR has been developed, and it appears to be in line with HP (Arnaud, & Wasieleski, 2013). In general, the affinity of HP with the topic seems to be evident, and it is going to be employed in the study.
General Research Approach
The general approach to the suggested research presupposes qualitative methods. It is noteworthy that such a choice is in line with the preferred school of thought: HP has been promoting and developing qualitative research methods throughout its history (DeRobertis, 2013). What is more, the qualitative approach will allow the study to explore the phenomenon of EE from the HP point of view. Given this aim, the primary type of the research (along with the method of inquiry) that is going to be employed in the study is phenomenology approach. In this case, the study describes the phenomenon from the perspective of its participants; this approach was promoted by humanistic psychologists and especially Carl Rogers (Ellis et al., 2009, p. 313-316). Phenomenology is especially suitable for the proposed study due to the fact that it provides an insight into the way employees and employers experience, perceive, and interpret EE. For the latter, it can explain the logic they use, which is a secondary focus of the study. As for the former, such an approach can offer a glimpse of the psychology behind the effectiveness of EE methods, which is the key focus of the proposed study.
Apart from that, a grounded theory may be the outcome of the study (since there is no cohesive theory for the EE in HP perspective). In this case, the collected evidence will be inductively composed to ground a theory that can be later used for the guidelines concerning the implementation of varied EE techniques (Riazi, 2016). Such an outcome is desirable since it can be regarded as a direct contribution to the GP theoretical knowledge (Mangal, 2013). In case it turns out to be impossible, the study will limit itself to exploring the phenomenon with the help of the highly suitable phenomenology approach and contributing with the help of the gathered evidence.
The ethical considerations that should be taken into account include the necessity of the consent of all the participants and the maintenance of the confidentiality of the data gathered. The study is associated with very low risks: there is a small chance that employees and managers will be uncomfortable with the questions. It will be made clear that they are free to skip the questions they are having problems with or leave the study without any negative consequences. Also, the data gathered from the employees needs to be handled with caution. The participants will be informed of the intent to use materials (quotes and transcripts from their questionnaires and interviews) without disclosing their personality, and they will be offered the option of prohibiting the quotation of their personal results. The focus group activities are likely to be audio- or videotaped; the participants will be informed of this fact and given the opportunity to refuse to participate. The use of audio- and videotapes will be negotiated. No personal information will be disclosed.
Data Collection, Sampling, Staffing
The key data collection method will include surveys and focus groups with employees and managers as well as semi-structured interviews with managers and employers, which is suitable for a qualitative and especially phenomenological study. The instruments will include mainly open-question questionnaires. The sampling will employ mixed methods. First of all, the companies that are interested in participation will be found, which can be regarded as convenience sampling. The key eligibility criterion will consist in the endeavor to use EE techniques. The eligible companies can be found through web research; they can be contacted through e-mailing. The nature of the study and its potential outcomes can be regarded as an incentive for the companies to pay attention to the research. After an organization’s representative informs the team that they are willing to participate, its EE methods will be explored and classified.
For this purpose, the interviews with the key HR Department figures and possibly other managers can be supplemented with documentation analysis. After that, randomized sampling will be used; stratified sampling is an option if it is feasible because of the diversity specifics of the particular company (or department). The samples sizes will be defined for every specific company. As for the number of cases, the convenience sampling introduces an element of uncertainty to the study, and the specific opportunities and limitations are difficult to define at the moment (Riazi, 2016). It is optimal to find cases (possibly, within one organization) of the implementation of all the three methods of EE. Similarly, the initial team is likely to consist of the principal investigator, interviewer, and analyst, but the number of the people or, possibly, teams will be defined by the circumstances.
Other Considerations. Contribution
The qualitative approach is suitable for the proposed research since it is aimed at defining employee psychological reaction to EE methods, which is unlikely to be measured with the help of quantitative methods. Therefore, the phenomenological approach that will only provide the personal experiences and interpretations of the participants is not a limitation, but a tool that is suitable for the research. The key limitation of the study consists in the fact that it cannot be expected that all or even a significant number of cases will be captured. In particular, there is little chance of encountering different nations and cultures since the research is not going to be international, and it is not certain that an international company will agree to participate. If such an opportunity arises, it must be seized as research appears to indicate that cultural environment might affect the effectiveness of EE, which can also be explained from the point of view of GP (Fock et al., 2012). Still, despite this issue, the study is likely to demonstrate the reasons for EE effectiveness based on the experiences, opinions, and suggestions of the employees. The HP will be used to analyze and explain these reasons and possibly create a grounded theory for the effectiveness patterns of EE methods with the limitations of a particular environment taken into account if necessary. Therefore, the study has the potential to contribute to the scientific knowledge of HR and EE research along with GP.
EE research is most often geared towards describing the extent of effectiveness of specific methods: see, for example, Orgambídez-Ramos, and Borrego-Alés (2014) or Voegtlin, Boehm, and Bruch (2015). Despite being practically reasonable and useful, this approach does not attempt to explain why the methods are effective or not effective. The current study is aimed at changing the situation and can be described as a part of a different strategy: it searches for the reasons of EE effectiveness from the point of view of psychology. The use of the phenomenological approach means that the primary outcome of the research will consist of varied experiences, interpretations, opinions, and ideas concerning EE (Ellis et al., 2009). These materials are going to be analyzed to create a narrative, guidelines, and, in the best of cases, a theory concerning the patterns of EE perception and reaction to varied EE methods from the HP perspective (with limitations of the study taken into account). The previous studies on the topic do not appear to propose such guidelines, but, for example, Wilson and Madsen (2008) use HP and, in particular, Maslow’s research to theorize on the guidelines for employee training and motivation, which can be regarded as a part of EE. Still, this research is based on theory, not experimentally gained employee attitudes, which means that the proposed study can contribute unique content.
The case studies themselves are going to be of interest from the point of view of HR practice. This exploration is likely to demonstrate the logic of both parties (the empowering and the empowered), which can then be analyzed for its strong and weak points. In particular, the consistency of the actions and intentions of the empowering party (most likely HR managers) may be checked and correlated with the expectations of the empowered. Apart from that, the guidelines or theory, should they be developed, would be most practically applicable. Organizational environment is one of the many circumstances, in which the theory of psychology can find a practical application. In this case, even though the research is ultimately aimed at a theory development, its topic guarantees that it can be potentially used to guide managerial practice. The insights into the reasons for EE effectiveness have the potential of enhancing HR managers’ understanding of the relevant techniques.
Therefore, the key population that is likely to be interested in the results of the study are the empowering managers who intend to use EE approach to HR management. Apart from that, the proposed study may be of interest to the researchers in the fields of HR and psychology (including but not limited to GP), both from the point of view of the unusual HP perspective and the possibility of developing the grounded theory. As shown above, the research has the potential of filling the gaps in the investigations carried out within the two fields.
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