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Resource Guide: Employee Empowerment, Participation and Involvement

Resource Guide in:

Employee Empowerment, Participation and Involvement


In the complex area of people management paradigms, the terms Empowerment, Participation
and Involvement are frequently used within the literature but often interpreted quite differently
depending on the perspective of the reader and / or writer. This guide aims to offer an insight
into these terms and to posit them respectively within the context of unitary and pluralist people
management perspectives. Firstly it is necessary to distinguish between Participation and
Involvement, and then to examine where Empowerment fits within these perspectives.

Employee Participation, Employee Involvement and Empowerment

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD):

Employee involvement is ‘a range of processes designed to engage the support, understanding

and optimum contribution of all employees in an organisation and their commitment to its

Employee participation is defined as ‘a process of employee involvement designed to provide

employees with the opportunity to influence and where appropriate, take part in decision
making on matters which affect them’.

According to Farnham (1997) Employee Participation is one of four policy choices for managing
the employment relationship. Cited in Rose (2001, p380) Farnham states:
‘…an employee has the right to question and influence organization decision making’ and ‘….
this may involve representative workplace democracy.’

The other policy choices Farnham identifies are worker subordination via managerial
prerogative, union incorporation via collective bargaining and finally employee commitment via
employee involvement.

It is clear then that there are differences between employee participation and employee
involvement. The literature suggests that employee participation is a pluralist/collective
approach with a continuum from ‘no involvement’ to ‘employee control’ (Blyton & Turnbull,
1998). As such it may involve processes and mechanisms such as:

Collective bargaining Employee share schemes

Works councils Worker directors
Joint Consultative Committees European Works Councils

Employee involvement, in contrast, is more individualistic and unitarist. It aims to harness

commitment to organisational objectives and relies on the maintenance of management control.

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Resource Guide: Employee Empowerment, Participation and Involvement

This is often found as part of a ‘soft’ HRM approach (Rose 2000) and usually involves upwards
and downwards communications flows :-

Downward communication flows (top management down to line staff) may involve written
information (e.g. staff newsletters notice-boards, staff handbooks, house journals) and
other formal channels such as team/cascade briefings and staff forums.

Upward communication flows (formal and informal) may involve such tools as employee
suggestion schemes (paid/unpaid), surveys of staff (general/attitudinal), appraisal schemes
(traditional/upward (boss) appraisal, and is sometimes linked to quality management TQM
tools such as quality circles, quality improvement teams etc.

Having identified that there are significant differences between employee participation and
employee involvement, where empowerment sits within these approaches is perhaps more
complex and hinges on interpretations of ‘power’ and how ‘empowered’ workers actually are
where such schemes are implemented.

The literature suggests a range of opinions from the more cynical one, that sees empowerment
as a management control/manipulation tool, to the soft HRM view that it is essential for
achievement of maximum organizational potential. For example Goldsmith et al (1997:145)
suggest ‘it is predominantly about encouraging front-line staff to solve customer problems on
the spot, without constant recourse to management approval’. Whereas Bowen and Lawler,
(1992) cited in Lashley (1996:334) take the view that it is about ‘management strategies for
sharing decision-making power’.

Perhaps the most widely shared view amongst employee relations writers is that there is very
little true ‘power’ in the hands of ‘empowered’ workers as currently practised. Using Rose’s
(2001:5) definition of power as: ‘..the extent to which one party to a relationship can compel the
other to do something he otherwise would not do voluntarily’, it is hard to see that any real
‘power’ is afforded to employees, outside the narrow scope of task-related decisions aimed at
satisfying external customer needs quickly, without having to refer to management. Wilkinson
(1998: 49) for example asserts that ‘management have defined the redistribution of Power in
very narrow terms…strictly within an agenda set by management…

Another sceptical viewpoint is that such schemes, usually resulting from some delayering of the
organization’s management structure, add a further burden of responsibility on workers without
increasing pay levels or status of the workers. Hyman & Mason (1995:387) state for example:
‘empowerment becomes a euphemism for work intensification’.

This is supported further by Hollinshead et al (1999:324) who state: ‘developments in the 1980s
and 1990s suggest that the process (empowerment) only appears to give employees greater
control and, in reality remains dominated and restricted by management’ and (Argyris 1998)
who says ‘Empowerment is still mostly an illusion ‘.

Work by Hales and Klidas (1998: 93) carried out in a sample of five star hotels supports this
notion too when they state :
‘…the overwhelming impression to be gained from the literature is that empowerment entails
some additional employee ‘choice’ at the margins of their jobs, rather than any substantial
increase in employee ‘voice’.

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Resource Guide: Employee Empowerment, Participation and Involvement

It appears that whilst it ought to be possible to really ‘empower’ employees in the workplace
through pluralist, democratic processes i.e. an employee participation paradigm with
collectivized relations that share decision making and power; ‘empowerment’ as currently
applied within many organizations inside and outside of the hospitality and tourism industries,
appears largely to be of the unitarist / HRM variety which seeks to gain commitment through an
employee involvement paradigm.

Annotated bibliography of related books and articles

• Argyris C (1998) Empowerment: The Emperor’s New Clothes, Harvard Business

Review, May-June, pp98-105

• Marchington M (1993) ‘Fairy tales and magic wands: new employment practices in
perspective’ Employee Relations Vol. 17 No 1

• Wilkinson A (1998) Empowerment : theory and practice, Personnel Review Vol. 27 No.
1 pp40-56

These three articles are broadly sceptical in their view on how empowering ‘empowerment’
actually is (as currently applied in many organisations). The research is generic rather than
industry specific. They provide a good bibliography of empowerment related references.

• Hales, C. and Klidas, A. (1998) Empowerment in five-star hotels: choice, voice or

rhetoric? International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management Vol 10 No. 3

This article takes a similar view to Argyris, Marchington and Wilkinson however the
research is applied within the hotel sector. This also has a detailed bibliography of relevant
sources related to empowerment and employee involvement.

• Lashley, C (2001) Empowerment : HR strategies for service excellence Oxford,


• Lashley C (1997) Empowering Service Excellence: beyond the quick fix, London,

• Lashley C (2000) Empowerment through involvement : a case study of TGI Fridays

Restaurants, Personnel Review Vol. 29 No. 6 pp791-815

Probably the most prolific writer on employee involvement, empowerment and participation
in hospitality. These sources investigate in depth, the complex concept of empowerment as
it is applied across a number of hospitality organisations. Lashley recognises a broad
spectrum of interpretations of ‘empowerment’ including ‘participatory’ approaches, however
the main foci are on forms of empowerment centred on ‘employee involvement’.

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Resource Guide: Employee Empowerment, Participation and Involvement

Additional related books and articles

• Cloke, K. (2002) The end of management and the rise of organizational democracy San
Francisco, Jossey-Bass

• Hyman, J. and Mason, B. (1995) Managing employee involvement and participation

London, Sage

• Potterfield, T (1999) The business of employee empowerment : democracy and ideology

in the workplace. Westport, Quorum Books

• Sturdy, A. (ed) (2001) Customer service : empowerment and entrapment Basingstoke,


• Wynne J (1993) Power Relationships and Empowerment in Hotels, Employee

Relations, Vol. 15 No.2

Annotated guide to related journals and periodicals

ƒ The British Journal of Industrial Relations
Despite the retention of its traditionalist title, there is a deliberate policy to include work
relating to a broad range of employment relations issues reflecting the move away from
collective bargaining and pluralist relations ‘so that it can be at the centre of controversies
surrounding employment relations in the 21st century’.

ƒ Journal of Management Studies
From Blackwell, a well respected UK management journal focusing on international
management issues across a broad range of disciplines with frequent HR related studies
Edited by Karen Legge who has written extensively on HRM and industrial relations.

ƒ The Industrial Relations Journal
A highly rated journal focusing on more traditional aspects of research into industrial
relations management and employment law from a European perspective, but frequently
has articles concerning employee participation and involvement.

ƒ Work, Employment and Society
This journal, from the British Sociological Association, aims to publish research that
analyses all forms of work and its relation to wider social processes, structures and to
quality of life.

ƒ The Leadership & Organizational Development Journal (incorporating Participation &

Empowerment: An International Journal )
An MCB journal that provides many articles relating to Organizational Behaviour and HR
related topics. Full text Articles available through Emerald.

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Resource Guide: Employee Empowerment, Participation and Involvement

ƒ International Journal of Hospitality Management
This Pergammon journal covers a broad range of issues related to international hospitality,
travel and tourism including the field of HRM and employee relations. Many full text articles
are available via Ingenta on-line journals.

ƒ International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management
This MCB journal also covers a broad range of issues related to international hospitality,
travel and tourism including the field of HRM and employee relations.

ƒ Personnel Review
Provides guidance based on research for those who practice, teach, research or study in
the field of human resource management. Part of the MCB portfolio and therefore full text
articles are available through Emerald

ƒ Employee Relations
A highly respected UK based international journal from MCB which covers a broad range of
HR related issues including employee participation, involvement and empowerment.
Regularly features research into service sector HR issues including hospitality leisure and
tourism fields. Articles are usually available via Emerald Full text service.

ƒ Caterer and Hotelkeeper
Weekly hospitality related magazine aimed at practitioners but often reports on latest
initiatives within hospitality organizations, including HR related issues. Doesn’t tend to have
detailed academic style articles.

Annotated guide to related internet resources

European Industrial Relations Observatory on-line web site
Primarily an EU focused site reporting on current issues in Industrial Relations.

Trades Union Congress (TUC)
Presents trade union views on a wider range of employment and political issues

Department of Trade and Industry (dti)
Provides employers and workers with information on UK and EU employment legislation and
good practice in Industrial Relations

UK Government statistics –
Includes labour market information and statistics

CBI (Confederation of British Industry )

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Resource Guide: Employee Empowerment, Participation and Involvement

Association representing large employers – looks at HR issues from employer perspective.

Reports on trends often available, some at a cost.

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
An association for HR professionals with latest news on research reports in HR practice

People Management
The official ‘webzine’ of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. It provides online
HR news, legal updates, resources and reviews, top HR jobs , comment and analysis.

HR Gopher
A search engine and links to a wide range of HR related topics

A multilingual site for trade unionists giving global news on industrial relations and disputes

Industrial Relations Research Unit (IRRU)
Useful site that has links to papers and reports on matters relating to Industrial relations.
Produces an annual briefing paper on current IR / HR issues

The Involvement and Partnership Association (IPA)
The IPA is a UK not-for-profit organisation with charitable status which helps private and public
organisations to develop effective working practices that recognise the vital contribution of
employees and release the full potential of the workforce

The Institute for Employment Studies
An independent, apolitical, international centre of research and consultancy in human resource
issues. Access to research areas requires membership, but there are some free resources on
the site

Library of Congress
A useful US based site for searching by key words, for book publications in any topic area
including HR practices and procedures

Employee Involvement Association (EIA)
US based International organization serving professional managers and administrators.
Promotes the role of Employee Involvement as a keystone of organizational development
through the empowerment of people

Work-place Democracy, Employee Ownership, Co-operatives or Workers Self-

An international site with links to many organizations involved with employee participation and

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Resource Guide: Employee Empowerment, Participation and Involvement

Workers on-line (Australian site)
Australian journal site hosted by the Labour Council of New South Wales, reporting on global
industrial relations and labour disputes

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Resource Guide: Employee Empowerment, Participation and Involvement

Example of Topic Delivery, Teaching and Learning

This topic has been delivered by means of a one hour lecture using animated power-point
slides ( It is supported through a
reading list and selected articles provided in a reading pack.

One week later there is a student led debate whereby two teams construct opposing arguments
based on the title:
Empowerment, Participation and Involvement – workplace democracy or management
Following this debate there is a class discussion where the tutor ensures that no key issues are
omitted from consideration for the essay

Students could be asked to reflect on some or all of the following key questions within their
preparation for the debate
¾ What is power and how would you define ‘empowerment’?
¾ Do empowerment schemes really give 'power' to employees?
¾ To what extent have empowerment schemes been adopted by hospitality
¾ What are the motives for introducing empowerment schemes?
¾ Does the use of ‘empowerment’ schemes signify a loss of control by employers
in the employment relationship?
¾ What are the sceptics’ views on employee participation and empowerment

Example of Topic Assessment

Currently this topic is assessed by means of a 2000 word essay. This is submitted one week
after the debate and two weeks after the lecture. The essay title is:
Evaluate the proposal that employee participation involvement and empowerment
represent the ‘new industrial democracy’.

About the Author

Peter McGunnigle is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at
Oxford Brookes University. He teaches in the area of Human Resource Management and
currently leads the undergraduate module Employee Relations in the Hospitality Industry. Peter
is research active and has published in the area of HRM and employee commitment. He is
particularly interested in the impact of specific HRM interventions (such as empowerment) on
employee motivation and commitment. Peter would welcome suggestions for further materials
for this resource guide from others teaching and researching in this field.

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