Argues that the claims of empowerment to offer “win‐win” outcomes for organizations and their employees involve the elision of conflicting ethical frames of reference which in turn reflect the structured antagonism of employment relationship. Uses case study‐based research findings to explore, first, how this is reflected in the various motives and meanings underlying empowerment as it is represented in managerial discourses, and second, how the tensions and contradictions contained within the concept of empowerment render it problematic in practice. Concludes that empowerment discourse re‐expresses rather than resolves the contradictory nature of the employment relationship and that positive impact is likely to be limited, particularly in the context of the UK’s preoccupation with cost cutting and short‐term profit maximization.
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