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Psychological empowerment: definition,

measurement, and validation


Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, Jul 1999 by Menon, Sanjay T
Abstract
Psychological empowerment was defined from the perspective of the individual
employee, and a measure was developed using three different samples. The
psychologically empowered state was considered to be a cognitive state characterized by
a sense of perceived control, perceptions of competence, and internalization of the goals
and objectives of the organization. Using an initial sample of 311 employed individuals
(41% women, 45% Francophone), a 9-item, 3-factor scale of psychological
empowerment was developed with subscale reliabilities as follows: perceived control
(.83), perceived competence (.80), and goal internalization (.88). In the validation sample
of 66 employees from a single organization, empowerment as measured by the scale was
negatively related to organizational centralization while being positively related to
delegation.
Although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence regarding the success or failure of
empowerment attempts, it is only recently that researchers have begun to study the
empowerment phenomenon in a systematic manner. Examples of recent empirical studies
include the work of Spreitzer (1996) and Thorlakson and Murray (1996). It is quite
possible that this relative paucity of empirical work reflects the dearth of widely available
measures of empowerment. At the time of this study, the only measure in circulation was
that recently used by Spreitzer (1996). The objectives of the article are: (a) to present an
integrative definition to psychological empowerment from the perspective of the
employee, and (b) to report results from a two-part study undertaken to develop a
psychometrically sound measure of psychological empowerment based on this integrative
definition.
Theoretical approaches to empowerment have dealt with three major psychological facets
of power. Perceived control over one's environment and others is considered one of the
primary psychological states underlying the experience of empowerment (e.g., see
Thomas & Velthouse, 1990). A related aspect of power is the ability to meet situational
demands. Correspondingly, enhanced feelings of self-efficacy or perceived competence is
also considered an integral part of the empowerment experience (e.g., see Conger &
Kanungo, 1988). Power can also signify energy. History is replete with instances of the
energizing power of valued goals in connection with wars, freedom struggles, and
missionary work. In the organizational context predominantly characterized by
contractual relationships between the organization and the employee, creation of such
goals requires the transformation of the attitudes and beliefs of the employees in line with
the organization's mission and objectives. Such a transformation is typically thought to be
provided by leadership practices variously known as visionary, charismatic, and

inspirational leadership. The effect of the transformational influence is to energize


subordinates to participate in the process of transforming the organization.
Based on the above three major psychological facets of power, a working definition of
psychological empowerment can be proposed as follows: the psychologically empowered
state is a cognitive state characterized by a sense of perceived control, competence, and
goal internalization. Empowerment is thus considered a multi-faceted construct reflecting
the different dimensions of being psychologically enabled, and is conceived of as a
positive additive function of the three dimensions. The first dimension of perceived
control includes beliefs about authority, decision-making latitude, availability of
resources, autonomy in the scheduling and performance of work, etc. The second
dimension of perceived competence reflects role-mastery, which besides requiring the
skillful accomplishment of one or more assigned tasks, also requires successful coping
with non-routine role-related situations. The goal internalization dimension captures the
energizing property of a worthy cause or exciting vision provided by the organizational
leadership.
Based on this definition, a measure of psychological empowerment can be envisaged as a
set of items designed to tap the state of mind of individuals with regard to the above three
dimensions of empowerment. To develop such a measure, two separate studies were
conducted in accordance with the general procedure for scale development recommended
by DeVellis (1991).
The Principal Study: Scale Development
METHOD
Questionnaire
Expert review of an initial item pool of 60 items by a panel of two faculty members
familiar with the content area of empowerment and of three doctoral students yielded a
set of 15 items to be included in the questionnaire: 5 items for each dimension (see Table
1). A six-point (strongly disagree, moderately disagree, mildly disagree, mildly agree,
moderately agree, strongly agree) response format was chosen for these items. Because
the respondents were expected to be from Quebec, a bilingual questionnaire in English
and French was prepared.
Participants
The questionnaire was administered, in class, to a total sample of 355 employed
individuals enrolled in part-time business programs at four (two English and two French)
universities in Montreal; 311 usable responses were obtained, resulting in a response rate
of 88%. Of the total sample, 127 (41%) were women and 141 respondents (45%)
answered in French. The average age was 30 years (SD = 6.5 years), average job tenure
5.4 years (SD = 4.7 years), and 68% had at least a college degree. Subsequently, a
shortened version of the questionnaire was administered twice to a second, separate,

demographically similar sample of 94 employed respondents for calculating test-retest


reliabilities. Only 85 individuals (45% female, 43% French, mean age = 28 years)
responded twice, corresponding to a response rate of 90%.
ANALYSIS AND RESULTS
Box's M test of equality of covariance matrices revealed no significant difference
between the two language groups, justifying the treatment of all 311 respondents as a
single sample. The average within- subscale correlation was .51 while the average
between-subscale correlation was .26. This pattern of correlations is in line with prior
expectations of three distinct subscales.
Factor Analysis
The 15 items were subjected to a principal component analysis with varimax rotation, the
results of which are shown in Table 1. In line with expectations, the factor analysis
yielded three components corresponding to the three subscales (eigen values 5.67, 2.25,
1.44; 62% variance explained). As can be seen from Table 1, the last two items in each
scale had relatively lower factor loadings on their respective factors and in some
instances had relatively high loadings on other factors. Therefore, the 15-item scale was
refined by dropping the last two items in each subscale, resulting in a 9-item scale with 3
items in each subscale.
This final set of nine items was subjected to a confirmatory factor analysis. The three
factor model yielded a X[Symbol Not Transcribed]2[Symbol Not Transcribed](df=24) of
50.67 (p =.001), with an Adjusted Goodness of Fit Index (AGFI) of .933, and root mean
square residual (rmsr) of .051. In contrast, a single factor model, which stipulates that all
nine indicators have only one underlying factor, yielded a X[Symbol Not
Transcribed]2[Symbol Not Transcribed](df=27) of 613.55, with an AGFI of .470 and
rmsr of .171. With the single factor model as the baseline model, the Normed Fit Index
(NFI)(f.1) was .92 and the Tucker- Lewis index (TL)(f.2) was .95. These results support
the contention that there are three latent factors underlying the psychological
empowerment scale as stipulated.
The alpha reliabilities of the subscales in the reduced scale were as follows: perceived
control (.83), perceived competence (.80), and goal internalization (.88). Using the
second sample of 85 respondents, the test-retest reliabilities of the three subscales were
calculated as follows: .87 (perceived control), .77 (perceived competence), and .86 (goal
internalization).
The Supplementary Study: Assessing Construct Validity
METHOD
Sample and Procedure

A questionnaire containing the 9-item psychological empowerment scale, measures of


select organizational variables (see Table 2), and demographic variables was administered
to employees of a financial services company headquartered in Western Ontario. All 162
employees received the questionnaire through internal mail; response was voluntary. A
total of 66 questionnaires were returned directly to the researcher yielding a response rate
of 41%. The sample was made up mostly of female employees (92%) and had an average
age of 27.3 years. The average organizational tenure was 4.2 years, and 42% of the
sample had college degrees.
Measures
Centralization was measured by the Dewar, Whetten, and Boje (1980) scale. Delegating
and consulting behaviours of the immediate supervisor were measured by items taken
from Yukl's (1988) Managerial Practices Survey. Global self-esteem was measured by
Rosenberg's (1965) self- esteem scale. Job involvement was measured by Kanungo's
(1982) Job Involvement Questionnaire, and organizational commitment was measured by
the Affective Commitment Scale developed by Allen and Meyer (1990). Citizenship
behaviour was measured using five items patterned on the original measure used by
Smith, Organ, and Near (1983).
ANALYSIS AND RESULTS
Principal component analysis, with varimax rotation, of the 9-item psychological
empowerment scale yielded three factors corresponding to the three subscales (eigen
values 3.63, 1.75, 1.54; 77% variance explained). An overall empowerment score was
calculated by summing up the three subscales. As can be seen from Table 2, in line with
intuitive expectations, empowerment was significantly and negatively correlated with
centralization while being significantly and positively correlated with delegating and
consulting behaviours on the part of the immediate supervisor, the individual's global
self-esteem, and three outcome variables (organizational commitment, job involvement,
and organizational citizenship behaviour). The correlations in Table 2 also provide strong
evidence of discriminant validity at the subscale level. Perceived control has a strong
negative correlation with centralization while perceived competence is strongly related to
self-esteem. As can be expected, goal internalization is highly correlated with affective
organizational commitment and job involvement.
General Discussion
Researchers have used the word "empowerment" both to refer to the act of empowering
(e.g., Thorlakson & Murray, 1996) and to describe the internal mental process of the
individual being empowered (e.g., Thomas & Velthouse, 1990). In the interest of clarity,
the definition used in the present research describes the psychologically empowered state
rather than "empowerment" per se. The construct of goal internalization is unique to the
present conceptualization of empowerment in two respects. Firstly, recent research has
equated psychological empowerment with intrinsic task motivation (e.g., Sprietzer, 1996;
Thomas & Velthouse, 1990). Doing so would seem to preclude extrinsic, non-task facets

of empowerment resulting, for example, from leadership influence -- a facet captured by


the subscale goal internalization in the present formulation. Secondly, the dimension of
meaning in Spreitzer's measure only refers to "a fit between the requirements of a work
role and a person's beliefs, values and behaviors" (Spreitzer, 1996; p. 484). The items
measuring this dimension are at the work/job level and do not tap into the "power of the
idea," the latter being the main thrust of leadership approaches to empowerment. On the
other hand, the goal internalization dimension in the present formulation explicitly
captures the empowering effect of inspiring organizational goals or an exciting
organizational vision championed by a transformational leader. It may also be noted that
in the data analysis, goal internalization items formed the first factor in the principal
component analysis (see Table 1). This is noteworthy because the concept of
empowerment has traditionally been associated with the dimension of perceived control.
On a cautionary note, it is possible that the correlations of the empowerment score
and the empowerment subscales with the various organizational measures were inflated
due to common method variance, all variables being measured in a single questionnaire.
On the other hand, the presence of a possible method bias make the tests of factorial and
discriminant validity used in this study more conservative. Overall, the validity and
generalizability of the results are enhanced by the fairly heterogeneous nature of the
respondent samples.
The studies reported in this paper are partly based on the author's doctoral research
conducted at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. A detailed report on the measure as
well as a French language version of the scale items can be obtained from the author.
All correspondence regarding this paper should be addressed to Dr. Sanjay T. Menon,
Faculty of Organizational Studies, Clarkson University, Box 5790, Postdam, NY 13699.
Electronic mail may be sent to menons@clarkson.edu.
References
Allen, N.J., & Meyer, J.P. (1990). The measurement of affective, continuance and
normative commitment to the organization. Journal of occupational psychology, 63, 1-18.
Conger, J.A., & Kanungo, R.N. (1988). The empowerment process: Integrating theory
and practice. Academy of Management Review, 13, 471- 482.
DeVellis, R.F. (1991). Scale Development: Theory and Applications. Newbury Park, CA:
Sage.
Dewar, R.D., Whetten, D.A., & Boje, D. (1980). An examination of the reliability and
validity of the Aiken and Hage scales of centralization, formalization and task
routineness. Administrative Sciences Quarterly, 25, 120-128.
Kanungo, R.N. (1982). Work Alienation. New York: Praeger.

Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press.
Smith, C.A., Organ, D.W., & Near, J.P. (1983). Organizational Citizenship Behavior: Its
nature and its antecedents. Journal of Applied Psychology, 68, 653-663.
Spreitzer, G.M. (1996). Social structural characteristics of psychological empowerment.
Academy of Management Journal, 39, 483- 504.
Thomas, K.W., & Velthouse, B.A. (1990). Cognitive elements of empowerment: An
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666-681.
Thorlakson, A.J.H., & Murray, R.P. (1996). An empirical study of empowerment in the
workplace. Group and Organization Management, 21(1), 67-83.
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Questionnaire. Technical report, State University of New York, Albany.
Received December 2, 1997
Revised August 21, 1998
Accepted November 20, 1998
Empowerment scale items Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3
Goal Internalization
I am inspired by what we are trying to achieve as an organization .85 .17 .14
I am inspired by the goals of the organization .84 .17 .06
I am enthusiastic about working toward the organization's objectives .83 .20 .09
I am keen on our doing well as an organization* .64 .25 .18
I am enthusiastic about the contribution my work makes to the organization* .63 .26 .20
Perceived Control
I can influence the way work is done in my department .10 .86 .10
I can influence decisions taken in my department .20 .83 .12
I have the authority to make decisions at work .28 .79 .08

I have the authority to work effectively* .37 .58 .27


Important responsibilities are part of my job * .42 .54 .01
Perceived Competence
I have the capabilities required to do my job well .10 .05 .86
I have the skills and abilities to do my job well -.03 .09 .78
I have the competence to work effectively .14 -.05 .76
I can do my work efficiently* .17 .17 .65
I can handle the challenges I face at work* .21 .22 .61
* These items were subsequently dropped resulting in a 9-item scale, 3 items per
subscale.
Organizational Empowerment Subscales [a]Variables [a] Perceived Control Perceived
Competence (.86) (.78)
Centralization (.78) -.69*** -.06
Delegation (.68) .42*** .08
Consulting (.82) .33** .34**
Self-esteem (.78) .37** .52***
Commitment (.84) .30* .17
Involvement (.84) .11 .21
Citizenship Behaviour (.79) .53*** .36**
Organizational Overall EmpowermentVariables [a] Score Goal Internalizational (.86)
Centralization (.78) -.37** -.64***
Delegation (.68) .27* .40***
Consulting (.82) .32** .43***
Self-esteem (.78) .33** .50***

Commitment (.84) .68*** .56***


Involvement (.84) .61*** .42***
Citizenship Behaviour (.79) .35** .59***
[a] Figures in parentheses are alpha reliabilities.
*p