Employee empowerment is “the process of enabling or authorizing an individual to think, behave, take action, and control work and decision making in autonomous ways. It is the state of feeling self-empowered to take control of one’s own destiny” (Heathfield, n.d., 1). In other words, giving the employees the power and ability to make decisions that affect not only their department but the company as a whole as well. Empowerment has become an increasingly used human resources (HR) catchphrase when analyzing the corporate world of today. Empowerment of the employees can increase employee morale, improve company performance, and improve employee relations, however is not an overnight process. All levels of employees, supervisors, and executive management have to work together and be properly prepared in order to make an empowerment program successful.
Improving Employee Morale
In many corporate organizations, the lower level employees often feel unappreciated and underutilized. Often, employees can feel like just another number, destined to do the same thing day after day with all decisions being made by upper management. When companies adopt an employee empowerment approach, these feelings can be reduced or even eliminated. Allowing, and even mandating employees to have a say in company decisions makes them feel important to the success of the company. Employees want to be heard and they want their opinions to matter. The most effective morale booster is for an employee to see his or her idea become a company policy. When this happens, the employee feels more valued and being recognized as an important contributing part to the company.
Improving Company Performance
Another benefit of employee empowerment programs is usually a noticeable improvement in company performance. The simple explanation for this fact is that employees who are most familiar with the day-to-day processes have the best hands on knowledge to be able to implement educated changes and improvements to those processes. Often, many members of management and the corporate officers are hired into their jobs based on education and experience with other companies; they often never worked their way up within the current company and have therefore, never experienced the day-to-day processes. Therefore, decisions made by those officers are often solely based on hypothetical situations and projected profits; they are often so focused on the bigger picture that they overlook the details. However, when the employees performing the job are asked to make decisions, they look at from the bottom and up and take those forgotten details into consideration.
Improving Employee Relations
When employees are not involved in company decisions, often they operate within their own confined department. Often, the employees take actions without thinking about the repercussions of their actions to other departments; this is done mostly out of lack of communication of what those repercussions might be and not understanding how each process inter-relates. When employees are given the empowerment to make company decisions, it encourages open communication. Once employees know that they are going to be held responsible for their decisions and that those decisions will impact the whole company, they will take the time to work with other departments to investigate how things affect the company as a whole. This serves to not only achieve better decision making but also opens lines of communication and strengthens the company feeling of being more of a family unit.
Making Preparations For Employee Empowerment
Although employee empowerment seems like a simple concept, it cannot be implemented without preparation. All levels of employees within the company must be prepared and in agreement with the idea in order to make it work. Expectations must be communicated from the top most levels of management down to the base employees and vice versa in order for empowerment to work.
Flat OrganizationOne of the first steps in successful employee empowerment programs is the flattening of the organization structure and its organizational chart. When the organization has too many decision makers and not enough line employees, conflict is inevitable and empowerment will not be successful. This change in organization may include the restructure of elimination of jobs to eliminate the dictatorial chain of command and bring all employees closer to the result. This transference of responsibility to the employees allows management to focus on other things such as researching new ideas and processes that are presented by the employees.
Employee and Management ResistanceWhenever a company adopts an employee empowerment program, resistance from all levels is expected. Supervisor and Management level employees will often resist empowerment programs because they feel are giving up control that they worked hard to achieve. The human nature to enjoy a feeling of control and empowerment threatens that control. Supervisors and managers must be counseled in advance to make sure that they understand that their input is still crucial and important and that empowerment of their employees will be for the betterment of all parts of the company.
One would think that employees would jump at the chance to participate in employee empowerment programs. However, many employees often balk at the opportunity. They often lack the self-confidence to make decisions they know will affect the whole company. Others believe that empowerment is just another word to justify piling more responsibility on the employees. According to Abrahamson (2004) in which he discussed how organizations can go through change overload and how employees can experience change fatigue and burnout. To prevent this, employees must be convinced of the positive effects of employee empowerment. The company must strive to make the employees understand that the program is being implemented because the company values their experience and opinions and truly values their input.
EducationOften, both management and employee resistance is caused by the feeling the employees do not have the knowledge needed to make the proper decisions for the company. Education is the key answer to this fear. By educating the employees about the company as a whole and the operations of those outside of their own department, confidence in the employees’ decisions is heightened. Education about the empowerment process in general will also help to quell fears by clearly defining everyone’s role within the company following the changes so that everyone knows what is expected of them and is confident with their future within the company.
Employee empowerment is an important part of the successful operation of today’s organizations. By allowing the employees to have in an input in company decisions not only lifts their morale, but more use of their experience and knowledge with day-to-day operations to make better decisions. This allows the company to service their clients better and ensure the continued success of the company within their market. Companies looking to start empowerment programs should take the time to educate employees completely and discuss the program benefits with all employees at all levels. This will help ensure that all employees are committed to the program and to ensure its success.
Abrahamson, E. (2004), Change Without Pain. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, Retrieved April 4, 2009 from http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/management/Tr-Z/Trends-in-Organizational-Change.html.
Heathfield, S.M. (n.d.). Human resources: Employee empowerment. Retrieved April 4, 2009 from http://humanresources.about.com/od/glossarye/a/empowerment_def.htm.
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