This study examines the impact an empowerment strategy may have when applied to public sector employees delivering Environmental Services. The study employs a case study method as its central research strategy with ten sample local authorities chosen as strategic informants. The key issues considered were the relevance of the appropriate structure within the organisation, the importance of employee engagement, the impact of the management or leadership style, and the opportunity for implementation of an empowerment strategy. Primary data collection was through twenty eight semi-structured interviews including Heads of Service, Service Managers, Supervisors and Front Line Operational Employees. Secondary data included Best Value Reviews, Comprehensive Performance Assessments, as well as Annual Audit Inspection Letters specific to the chosen sample. The research findings support the assumption that an empowered and empowering workforce can contribute to service improvement and also support the assumptions that other key drivers must also be in place to enable and facilitate that improvement. The research recognises those additional key drivers as engagement, corporate ambition, leadership style, training, resources, external constraints, task complexity, rewards and levels of and opportunities for innovation that contribute to the performance level of the organisation. Some or all of these drivers are evident in the sample authorities both from assessment reports as well as interview data. The research findings also suggest that there are many interpretations of empowerment with the most common understanding being simply the opportunity to change the way things are done but only after prior consultation with line managers. Line managers in the study group wanted to voice support for empowerment but in reality their actions fell short of an explicit strategy with a clear definition. Involvement in decision making by the front line employees was evident but fell short of a declaration of empowerment. The golden thread of empowerment appears to be dangled just out of reach of this group. The study contributes to existing empowerment literature but also to the specific impact of empowerment in a public service environment. It is important because it focuses on a service area that is experienced and used by the vast majority of citizens. The impact of poor or declining environmental services as well as high quality and improving environmental services is immediately noticeable by all that experience it. It is a service where a strategy of empowerment should bring about a noticeable change in quality.
|Publication status||Accepted/In press - 23 Mar 2010|