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The Pros and Cons of Employee Empowerment

The Pros and Cons of Employee Empowerment

Is a culture of employee empowerment right for your organization?

Research published in the 2011 Journal of Applied Psychology (Antecedents and consequences of psychological and team empowerment: a meta-analytical review – Siebert, S.E; Wang, G; Courtright, S.H) provided a number of pressing reasons for organizations to encourage employee empowerment. However, as with any organizational strategy there are both pros and cons of employee empowerment. By understanding that there are two sides of the coin when instigating an employee empowerment strategy, an organization will be better positioned to maximize the advantages and minimize any disadvantages.

What is employee empowerment?

For an organization operating in the fast-paced, modern business environment, passing some responsibilities to employees enables quicker decision-making at a lower level. At lower levels, people generally have a closer and deeper understanding of many of the basic processes and procedures that ‘get the job done’ and help the strategic vision of the organization to be achieved. It would appear to make sense, therefore, to give people more autonomy in their decision-making: in a word, empowerment.

The advantages of employee empowerment

There are several definite advantages of embedding a strategy and culture of employee empowerment:

·       Faster problem solving

First, because empowered employees are so close to issues and problems that require resolution, response times should decrease. Faced with a problem, people who are close to it have a natural affinity for it, and a definitive reason to find solutions rapidly – it aids their work, making their time easier and more productive.

Executives are often detached from the shop floor, and lack the depth of knowledge required in the solution-finding process.

·       Increased morale and productivity

People who are given the autonomy to make their own decisions feel trusted and that their contributions are a direct factor in their company’s success. This is a direct determinant of employee morale. For example, 91% of Google’s employees say that they carry meaningful responsibilities within the organization: for six years running Google has been ranked by Fortune as the best company to work for.

Empowered employees working without continual oversight from a manager or supervisor tend to feel more respected. Artificial obstacles to progress of tasks are removed when employees no longer need their supervisor’s approval to move from one stage to the next. This helps productivity, and profitability per employee improves accordingly.

Additionally, people own the responsibility given to them, and the manager/employee relationship benefits accordingly.

·       Greater involvement leads to greater commitment

With the greater involvement engendered by their increased responsibility, employees become more involved in organizational strategy. They begin to look at colleagues and customers differently, and their commitment to the company and its future grows. Satisfied employees lead to satisfied customers. Such commitment also leads to decreased staff turnover and reduced costs of hiring and training.

·       Lower levels of management stress

When employees are empowered with responsibility, managers become freed to concentrate on strategy and the bigger picture. Instead of becoming enmeshed with day-to-day decision-making, managers can concentrate on strategic objectives, project planning, professional development, and customer-centric activities.

Empowering employees invigorates leadership by removing the stress of day-to-day management responsibilities.

The disadvantages of employee empowerment

·       Lack of experience increases risk

While the handing down of responsibility promises to improve speed, agility and productivity, a concern is that decisions are now being made by less experienced and less expert personnel. This can increase the number of mistakes made and put reputation at risk.

The risk of work practices falling into chaos must be tackled by proper training, and by ensuring that supervisors maintain organizational standards. These standards must incorporate an organization’s values and beliefs: care must be taken that employees do not work in accordance with individual values that may be divergent to the corporate mission and vision.

·       Potential for decreased efficiency

When people are given the autonomy to make their own decisions, those decisions cease to be uniform. This lack of coordination can lead to problems down the line.

It is also the case that autonomous employees may decide to work slower on days when they feel distracted or lack the energy to forge ahead. Where some workers are performing more productively than others, without being rewarded for doing so, internal friction can increase. If not dealt with, this can cause confrontation or a spiral to the bottom as all workers decide to work at the pace of the slowest and least productive team member.

·       Blurred relationships

Empowerment inevitably leads to a flatter, more streamlined management structure. The risk here is that professional relationships become blurred, and boundaries of authority become broken. This might require greater control over employees, not less.

Accountability issues may arise, leading to a blame culture that, if left unchecked, will lead to further discontent and an environment of mistrust. In such a situation, it is likely that employees will decide to take less responsibility for fear of repercussions should things go wrong.

·       Poor decision-making

If a team lacks the individuals with skills commensurate to the project, tasks, and work required, decision-making will be poorer. This will be to the detriment of the organization, as poor solutions lead to decreasing productivity and internal conflict.

The bottom line

Weighing up the pros and cons of employee empowerment, the potential benefits to individuals, teams and the organization are clear and tangible. The potential drawbacks can be controlled by good management techniques, including:

  • Positive leadership
  • Coaching, training, recognition, and rewards schemes
  • An open and transparent communicative environment

Emotional intelligence among leaders is also associated with the ability to embed a more empowered workforce, helping people to take the initiative and evaluate their own performance.

If an empowerment strategy is well managed, your people will become partners in your success. They will become a transformative force that will jumpstart change and ensure the goals of your strategic vision are accomplished.

In our next article, we’ll examine five ways in which to encourage employee empowerment.

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