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An exploratory study of information systems in support of employee empowerment

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The notion of employee empowerment in today's organizations is becoming increasingly important with the growing degree of responsibility individual employees hold. This paper presents the findings of a longitudinal study which examined the relationship between computer-based information systems (IS) and empowerment in detail drawing heavily on empirical work carried out in the British manufacturing industry. The paper elaborates and discusses the conceptual issues which are relevant to the idea of empowerment and its relationship with IS, before determining empowerment to be in essence the decentralization of decision-making authority to lower levels of the organization. The lack of any research on this topic led us to carry out a combination of empirical research. A large-scale postal survey of 450 UK manufacturing companies followed by a series of 20 in-depth interviews in 18 top UK manufacturing organizations formed the basis for this paper. The findings confirmed that empowerment is indeed pursued by many UK manufacturing organizations within their various efforts at improving their organization of work. The research participants viewed IS as an important enabling tool for empowerment offering many opportunities, but clearly noted that the role of IS in this is supportive rather than initiating; IS do not lead to employees becoming empowered. However, the interviews revealed that manufacturing organizations are facing a wide range of problems and difficulties with their existing IS raising a number of constraints. The paper concludes with a number of practical suggestions for using IS as a supportive means for empowering employees.

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