Employee Empowerment

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Employee empowerment in services: a framework for analysis
Conrad Lashley
The School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK Keywords Employees, Empowerment, Hospitality industry, Service Abstract Employee empowerment is said to benefit all organisations. The fast moving global economy requires that organisations learn and adapt to change quickly, and employees have a key role to play here. This is particularly true in modern service organisations. The empowered employee is said to respond more quickly to customer service requests, act to rectify complaints and be more engaged in service encounters. A more reflective approach suggests there are different managerial perceptions of empowerment, resulting in empowerment being introduced in different service organisations in different ways, and presenting different benefits to managers and working experiences for the empowered. This paper suggests that a framework of analysis needs to be developed which goes beyond the more simplistic claims which tend to discuss empowerment as that which is labelled empowerment. The success or failure of an initiative which claims to be empowering will be determined by the experience of being empowered.

Employee empowerment in services 169

Introduction Employee empowerment has been hailed as a management technique which can be applied universally across all organisations as a means of dealing with the needs of modern global business (Barry, 1993: Johnson, 1993; Foy, 1994), and across all industrial sectors. However, the service sector is said to involve a unique cluster of tension which managers, employees and customers have to address (Heskett et al., 1990), and the empowerment of employees is an approach which has been advocated for service sector management (Sternberg, 1992; Lockwood, 1996). Investigation of the use of empowerment in service sector organisations reveals a number of different forms of empowerment being applied in practice. These different approaches evidence a range of managerial meanings being applied which are based on different perceptions of business problems, motives for introducing empowerment and perceived benefits to be gained from empowerment. The fact that empowerment can be used as a term to describe different initiatives provides a convenient rhetoric which suggests that empowerment is ``in principle a good thing'' and produces a ``win-win'' situation for employees and managers. In part these different perceptions of the service need and the appropriate match with the management of employees, is a consequence of the different service offers being made to customers. Some service offers require employees to exercise discretion in detecting and delivering customer service needs. In other cases, the service offer is highly standardised and require employees to practise service delivery in ``the one best

Personnel Review, Vol. 28 No. 3, 1999, pp. 169-191. # MCB University Press, 0048-3486

Personnel Review 28,3 170

way''. Reflection on both the specific applications entitled ``empowerment'' and on variations in the characteristics of the service offer, question the somewhat simplistic claims for the universality of empowerment, and the supposed benefits which ensue. This paper is based on a cluster of research projects which have investigated different approaches to empowerment in similar service businesses: Harvester Restaurants, TGI Fridays and McDonald's Restaurants Limited operate branded restaurant chains. All are to some extent ``McDonaldized'' (Ritzer, 1993), they use highly standardised menus, ``one best way'' production techniques which assist in the delivery of consistency and predictability to customers. That said, these organisations differ in the service offer to customers, particularly in the extent that employees exercise discretion to meet customer service needs. The approach outlined in the paper is informed by these cases studies, though the...
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