Employees, Supervisors, and Empowerment in the Public Sector: The Role of Employee Trust

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Title: Employees, Supervisors, and Empowerment in the Public Sector: The Role of Employee Trust
Author: Shelton, Samuel T.
Advisors: Dr. Elizabethann O'Sullivan, Committee Chair
Abstract: The purpose of this research was to examine the relationship between employee trust in the supervisor and a sense of employee empowerment. Government services are identified with excessive rules and regulations, top-heavy bureaucracy, gross inefficiency, and unresponsive employees. Social service bureaucracies are perceived as big, inefficient, and expensive. Solutions, such as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, attempt to give the states more discretion and decision-making authority in the delivery of social services. In turn, the states are expected to increase service flexibility. This effort is part of a larger reinventing government movement that attempts to reduce bureaucratic structure, make services more responsive to the citizen-customer, and empower the street-level bureaucrats to make decisions without unnecessary interference from supervisors. Attempts at empowerment in the public sector have had mixed results, but the objectives of empowerment are sufficiently important to seek factors which might improve the success of its implementation in the public sector. It is hypothesized that trust is positively associated to the employee's perception of empowerment and that employees who perceive that they have a high level of trust in the supervisor will have a higher sense of empowerment than employees who have a low level of trust in the supervisor will have. Empowerment is operationalized using indicators developed and validated by Spreitzer in 1995 based upon a conceptual definition of empowerment by Thomas and Velthouse (1990). Empowerment has four elements: meaning (the value of the work), competence (ability to perform the task), self-determination (ability to initiate and regulate actions), and impact (ability to influence or determine organizational outcomes). In spite of an interest in the concept of trust, there is no contemporary measure for trust within the supervisor-employee relationship. Both procedural justice (the perceived fairness of procedures and decisions for compensation, evaluation, rewards, and dispute resolution) and interactional justice (the perceptions that a supervisor implements the rules fairly and treats the employee with respect and honesty) have shown that they may create higher levels of trust. The constructs of procedural justice and interactional justice are used as surrogates to operationalize trust. Indicator statements developed and validated by Niehoff and Moorman (1993) are used. It is hypothesized that both procedural justice and interactional justice are positively associated to the employee's perception of empowerment. The indices for empowerment, procedural justice, and interactional justice were modified as necessary to better fit the public sector environment. The sample included employees in four state departments of health and social services and in four North Carolina county departments of social services. The analysis of the responses in the study shows that there is a link between employee trust in supervisors and employee perceptions of empowerment and that employee trust in the supervisor has a strong relationship with a sense of employee empowerment. The results demonstrate that as an organization attempts to implement employee empowerment it needs to pay attention to the level of employee trust in the supervisor as a means to improve implementation success.
Date: 2002-10-15
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Public Administration
URI: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/5894


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