Taking stock: A review of more than twenty years of research on empowerment at work

By: Gretchen M. Spreitzer

Spreitzer, G.M. (2008). Taking Stock: A review of more than twenty years of research on empowerment at work. In C. Cooper and J. Barling (Eds.), Handbook of organizational behavior (pp. 54-73). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


Today, more than 70 per cent of organizations have adopted some kind of empowerment initiative for at least part of their workforce (Lawler et al., 2001). To be successful in today’s global business environment, companies need the knowledge, ideas, energy, and creativity of every employee, from front line workers to the top level managers in the executive suite. The best organizations accomplish this by empowering their employees to take initiative without prodding, to serve the collective interests of the company without being micro-managed, and to act like owners of the business (O’Toole and Lawler, 2006).

So what do we know about empowerment in work organizations? In this chapter, I will conduct an in-depth review of the literature on empowerment at work. I start by framing the two classic approaches to empowerment – social-structural and psychological – before outlining the current state of the literature. I then close the chapter by discussing key debates in the field and emergent directions for future research.