What is Empowerment and Why is it a Good Thing?
Empowerment means giving employees lower down in the organization more responsibilities and decision-making power. Empowered employees feel they have the ability to make decisions and put them into action.
Why is employee empowerment beneficial? Numerous studies over the years have shown that empowered employees and teams are more likely to be motivated, satisfied, productive and less likely to think about quitting.
Employees With Owner Mentality
Empowered personnel are expected to act, at least in some small way, like owners of the company rather than just employees. Ownership doesn't have to be in the financial sense. Rather, it is in terms of identifying with and adopting the company's goals and mission. University of Toronto management professor Dan Rotman lists four conditions that have to me met for employees to be empowered and have an ownership mentality. These conditions give us some insight about how we can go about empowering employees.
- There must be a clear definition of the values and mission of the company.
- The company must help employees acquire the relevant skills.
- Employees must be supported in their decision-making, and not criticized when they try to do something extraordinary.
- Workers need to be recognized for their efforts.
Cynicism About Empowerment
All to often employees are told they are empowered but they don't feel they have the authority to act, or feel like management still micromanages and second guesses their activities. This is because managers can be afraid of sharing or relinquishing their own power. Some managers worry that employees might work on tasks and goals that aren't aligned with company objectives. Very often, managers simply don't know how to go about empowering their employees. These managerial failings have caused a lot of cynicism in many work places about the concept of empowerment.
The Needs of the Empowered
When employees are empowered, they are given decision-making authority about some aspect of their job. In order to be fully empowered, employees need:
- Access to the information required to make decisions
- Rewards for acting in appropriate and responsible ways
- Authority to make the necessary decisions
- Access to the company resources necessary to implement their decisions
Managers have to understand that empowerment is an important strategic tool. In order to reap the benefits, managers must allow for, and encourage, the above bullet points to happen. Otherwise, talk about empowerment will be perceived as “lip service” by employees, and have no positive effect.
Avoid a Backfire by Setting Boundaries
All this being said, establishing the boundaries of empowerment is important so that employees aren't handed responsibilities beyond their current job description. Empowerment efforts can alienate employees if it makes them feel overworked or taken advantage of. Management must make sure employees know which decisions should be managed higher up.