Offended by the repetitive and relentless work of Taylorism and Fordism, employees ask for a meaningful, productive and enriching experience with discretion and variety. With the development of management and through Kaizen, QWL movements as well as many other theoretical and empirical attempts, empowerment and autonomous group working are presented as a solution. While the benefits of empowerment and autonomous group working have been evident according to some researches, the implementation is always not that easy.
Introduction Given the fact of the increasingly fierce competition and the deteriorating economic environment, theorists advocated employing and cultivating smarter, more responsive workers organized into autonomous teams (Berggren, 1992; Vallas, 1999), and call for elimination of the unnecessary bureaucratic hierarchies which used to oversee employees and to control quality (Hackman and Wageman, 1995; Berggren, 1992). Employee empowerment and autonomous group working, which have existed and explored for decades and are still central to contemporary management discourse (Bill Harley, 1999), are regarded to be an effective way to help achieve flatter, slimmer structures and smarter, more responsive employees. Contrary to the assumption that employees are basically troublesome, recalcitrant or unreliable which is legitimized by Taylor on scientific management, a significant number of social research has highlighted the independence and resilience of human beings, arguing that employees are generally willing to exert influence to control their own lives (Noon and Blyton, 1997), even in the time of great recession the limitations of company continue to be challenged by employees who fight for a certain degree of dignity, security, and power (Doughty, 2004). Empowered employees working in autonomous groups, in generally, become more motive and responsive, and reflect on three main outcomes, high involvement, high commitment and high performance (Wright and Edwards, 1998). However, it is undeniable that the implementation of empowerment and autonomous group working is not that successful, with some tensions remained. Basically, empowerment and autonomous group working are ambiguous in terms of organization, managers and employees (Collins, 1999). Companies want to restructure but jobs are designed in line with principles outlined by Taylor (Blackle and Brown, 1978); Managers want to maintain control while at the same time motivate employees to work more efficiently and generate consent (David Collins, 1999; Helen Francis, 2003; Kanter, 1989); Employees want to be authorized but
always concern about job security (Wright and Edwards, 1998). Additionally, the payment system, the deep-rooted opinion on gender and race, and political factors set barriers to the success of such new managerial practices. This article tries to examine how employee empowerment and autonomous group working could help to achieve slimmer and flatter structures and smarter, more responsive employees in theory, what obstacles and barriers are expected to meet when apply them into private and public sectors with the findings of some studies and researches, and explore corresponding suggestions in three dimensions.
Influences Empowerment involves in forming a shared value within workplace, authorizing employees, and eliminating hierarchical forms of organization (Harley, 1999) which is reflected on QWL Movement, communication, and autonomous work groups. In fact, autonomous group working, which has been associated with employee empowerment for decades, is distinguished by a combination of flattened structure, self-regulated teams, job rotation, and multi-skilling (Wright and Edwards, 1998). Regardless of their similarities and differences, empowerment and autonomous group working imply a substantial challenge to the traditional structure...