Everything you need to know about employee empowerment. Empowerment is the process of giving employees in the organisation the power, authority, responsibility, resources, freedom to take decisions and solve work related problems.
In order to take such initiatives and decisions, they are given adequate authority and resources.
The empowered employee becomes “self-directed” and “self-controlled”. Empowerment focuses on employees to make use of their full potential.
On the other hand, empowerment means giving up control on employees and letting every employee make decisions, set goals, accomplish results and receive rewards. It means making a person able to manage by himself. It is a process for helping right person at the right levels to makes the right decision for the right reasons.
1. Meaning of Employee Empowerment 2. Concept of Employee Empowerment 3. Need 4. Characteristics 5. Objectives 6. Types
7. Dimensions and Approaches 8. Elements 9. Importance 10. Process 11. Benefits 12. Barriers 13. Making Empowerment Effective.
Employee Empowerment: Meaning, Concept, Need, Objectives, Benefits and Barriers
- Meaning of Employee Empowerment
- Concept of Employee Empowerment
- Need for Employee Empowerment
- Characteristics of Empowered Employees in an Organization
- Objectives of Employee Empowerment
- Types of Employee Empowerment
- Dimensions and Approaches of Employee Empowerment
- Elements of Employee Empowerment
- Importance of Employee Empowerment
- Employee Empowerment Process
- Benefits of Employee Empowerment
- Barriers to Employee Empowerment
- Making Employee Empowerment Effective
Employee Empowerment – Meaning
Empowerment is the process of giving employees in the organisation the power, authority, responsibility, resources, freedom to take decisions and solve work related problems. In order to take such initiatives and decisions, they are given adequate authority and resources.
This allocation of authority is not based on the concept of “delegation” based relationship. In empowerment it is a “trust based relationship”, which is established between management and employees. It is a continuous process.
The empowered employee becomes “self-directed” and “self-controlled”. Empowerment focuses on employees to make use of their full potential. On the other hand, empowerment means giving up control on employees and letting every employee make decisions, set goals, accomplish results and receive rewards. It means making a person able to manage by himself. It is a process for helping right person at the right levels to makes the right decision for the right reasons.
Empowerment is the process of shifting authority and responsibility to other in the organizational setting. Empowerment takes place when higher management transfers the power, authority, and responsibility to lower level employees. Shifting of authority and responsibility to the workers is made to take over the charge of the work they do.
The concept of shifting of power, authority is very simple in the sense that the person who has been doing some job for years together develops thorough idea, knowledge, competence over the job and keeps everything under his grip. Now, if such person is given overall charge of the work he does, with adequate authority and responsibility he can take decision on his own for accomplishment of the job.
He performs quality work and at the same time he gets motivated and develops a sense of commitment and a ‘feeling to reciprocate in consideration of the power shifted.’ It generally occurs that most human beings desire recognition, power, status, authority, and responsibility and when they achieve they exert drives to utilize their full energy, abilities, and competencies to excel their performance.
Such people prepare their mind set to achieve, to perform, to win, to succeed and to strive their best to go ahead in that direction as projected. Empowerment is such a mechanism that helps to achieve individual goals, team goals and organizational goals through handing over the charge of the job to the jobbers to perform the job with authority to take decision on their own.
So empowerment relates to individual development and the development of organization as well. Empowerment as a process of passing authority and responsibility to lower level employees is introduced in organizations like GE. Medical Systems, Tata Information System, Asea Brown Broveri and others.
Employee Empowerment – Concept
Employee Empowerment in work setting means giving employees the means, ability, and authority to do something. It involves efforts to take full advantage of organisation’s human resources by giving everyone more information and control over how they perform their jobs. Various techniques of empowerment range from participation in decision-making to the use of self-managed or empowered teams.
Employees’ empowerment is the process of sharing power with employees, thereby enhancing their confidence in their ability to perform their jobs, and their belief that they are influential contributors to the organization.
It has been observed that imparting power to employees enhances their feeling of self-efficiency and a sense of ‘owning’ a job. Empowered employees exude increased confidence while performing their jobs. It is the feeling of ‘ownership and control’ over their jobs which motivates employees to maximize their contribution in making the organization successful. In an age of increasing individualism, empowerment is what young job aspirants look for in organizations.
Many organisations follow team structures which have paved the way for empowerment of employees. Empowerment would be all the more necessary to speed up the process of decision-making, make use of environmental opportunities and to serve the customers and society better.
The purpose of empowerment is to free the employees from rigorous control and give them freedom to take responsibility for their own ideas and actions, to release hidden talents which would otherwise remain inaccessible. Empowerment offers a way of treating people with respect and dignity. It is a must for organisations that want to be successful in the competitive world.
Empowerment should not be confused with delegation of authority. Delegation is granting of authority by a superior to a subordinate for a specific purpose such as buying specific materials from a specified vendor. But empowerment has a wider scope because the subordinate is given adequate autonomy or freedom to select the type of materials from the vendor he thinks is the best.
Employee Empowerment – Need
The need for employees empowerment arises because of the following factors:
(i) Increasing pace of change, turbulence of environment and the changing expectations of customers requires a speedy and flexible response which is incompatible with the old-style command and control model of organisational functioning.
(ii) Organisations are using new types of structures to achieve their objectives. The impact of downsizing, delayering and decentralising means that the old methods of achieving co-ordination and control are no longer appropriate. Achieving performance under these circumstances require the employees to accept greater responsibility and authority.
(iii) Organisations require cross-functional working and greater integration in their processes if they are to meet the customers’ needs. Such cooperation can be achieved through empowerment.
(iv) Employees now have greater awareness and are more concerned with the satisfaction of higher level needs. Empowerment can be used to satisfy such needs of employees and thus motivate them.
(v) Empowerment can provide opportunities to the employees at lower levels to develop their competencies. Thus, it can be used as a source of managerial talent for the organisation.
Employee Empowerment – Characteristics of Empowered Employees in an Organization
Most of the work organizations have a number of employees who believe that they are dependent on others and their own efforts have little impact on the performance. Sense of this powerlessness creates frustration in employees and they start developing a feeling that they cannot perform successfully or make meaningful contributions.
In order to overcome this feeling of employees and involving them in their jobs, the idea of empowerment has been introduced. In general, empowerment means “to give the means, ability, or authority.” Thus, in a work organization, empowerment is the process of enabling employees to set their own work goals, make decisions, and solve problems within their sphere of responsibility and authority.
Newstrom and Davis have defined empowerment as follows:
“Empowerment is any process that provides greater autonomy through the sharing of relevant information and the provision of control over factors affecting job performance.”
Organizations with high level of empowerment usually have the following characteristics:
1. Empowered organizations put emphasis on delegation, decentralization, and diffusion of power and information.
2. Their organizational hierarchy is flat instead of series of levels which command and control the one immediately beneath them.
3. They appoint fewer managers with wider responsibilities. The span of management is well above twenty in which a manager’s role shifts from controller to coach and mentor.
4. They set unstructured guidelines so that the employees know their decision-making parameters.
5. Their employee-related core value is employee satisfaction.
6. They invest lot of time and effort to ensure that newly recruited employees are able to handle workplace freedom.
Employee Empowerment – Objectives
The prime objective of empowerment is allocation of power between management and employees in such a way that employees’ commitment can be enhanced. Managers in contemporary organisations advocate performance improvement through employee empowerment and decentralization.
Individuals feel empowered when they perceive and possess power to adequately cope with events, situations, or people they confront. According to Thomas and Velthouse (1990), an employee feels empowered due to a meaningful job, gaining confidence to perform the task, degree of autonomy in decision-making, and perceives that the job and individual performance have a positive and vital impact on the organisation.
Job autonomy is said to have significant and positive relation to organisational commitment and performance. Employee empowerment is reflected in job satisfaction, enhanced morale and improved performance which is ultimately in long-run interest of the organizations. The firms’ objectives can be achieved easily.
Again, it is essential that employees are allowed to participate both at the shop floor and at higher levels. Participation improves communication and cooperation among members which contributes towards team-building. This results in self-directed work teams who work independently to solve problems or perform an assignment. These self-directed work teams make decisions and then act on those decisions.
Empowerment opportunities are more important in case of challenging work, rather than routine, repetitive production and service jobs because they create intrinsic motivation. Re-engineering of jobs is a major intervention of employee empowerment. Both work redesign and empowerment generate positive and direct influence on employees’ commitment.
For an organisation to be effectively empowered, management must adopt high involvement practices where power, knowledge, information and rewards are shared with employees in the lower levels of the organisational hierarchy.
Yukl and Becker (2006) have outlined a few facilitators for effective empowerment: informal organisational structure; flexible, participative and learning culture; reward and recognition system; non-routine and challenging jobs; access to resources and funds; degree of autonomy and selection of leader; leader as a role model; and mutual trust. If managed effectively, leadership can act as an important driver of the empowerment process.
Bogler and Somech (2004) identified six dimensions of empowerment such as- decision-making, professional growth, status, self-efficacy, autonomy and impact. They found professional growth, status add self-efficacy to be significant predictors of organisational and professional commitment.
According to Bramham (1994), a sense of commitment can be developed in employees through the process of de-layering and empowerment. Arnold, Arad, Rhoades and Drasgow (2000) have found that empowering team leaders are giving emphasis to coach, inform, led by example, show concern, and encourage participative decision-making. Hence, empowered employees report higher job satisfaction, higher level of commitment and fosters innovation and creativity.
Commitment has been examined as a determinant of job performance and organisational citizenship behaviour. In fact, the rationale for introducing HR policies is to increase the level of employee commitment so that positive outcomes can ensue.
Thus it can be concluded that work itself, supervision, co-workers as well as pay are found to be important elements that influence the level of employees’ commitment. In the same way better career prospects and opportunities for training and education are found to be positively related to commitment. The management should try to focus more on these attributes to enhance commitment of employees.
Employee Empowerment – 3 Important Types: Suggestion Involvement, Job Involvement and High Involvement
According to Bower, and Lawler, three types of employee empowerment are possible.
These are as follows:
Type # 1. Suggestion Involvement:
It represents a small shift away from the traditional control model. Employees are encouraged to contribute ideas through formal suggestion programs or quality circles. They can only offer suggestions, the power to accept suggestions and implement those rests with the management.
Type # 2. Job Involvement:
In this type of empowerment, the jobs are redesigned so that employees use a variety of skills. Employees believe their tasks are significant, they have considerable freedom in deciding how to do the work, they get enough feedback about their performance and each handles a whole identified piece of work.
However, despite the heightened level of empowerment that it brings, the job involvement approach does not cover strategic decisions concerning organisational structure, distribution of authority and allocation of rewards. These remain the prerogative of the top management.
Type # 3. High Involvement:
High involvement organisations give their lowest level employees a sense of involvement not just in how they do their jobs or how effectively their group performs, but in the total organisation’s performance. Information on all aspects of business performance is shared horizontally across the organisation as well as up and down the structure.
Employees develop extensive skills in team-work, problem-solving and participate in management decisions. High involvement organisations often use profit-sharing and employee stock option plans (ESOP) to motivate their workforce.
Employee Empowerment – Dimensions and Approaches
Employees’ empowerment is represented by the following four dimensions:
(i) Self-determination – Empowered employees have a sense of self-determination in that they feel they have freedom, independence, and discretion over their work activities. They have choice in regard to the tasks, methods, and pace of their work.
(ii) Meaningfulness – Empowered employees perceive meaning in their work. They care about their work and believe that whatever they do is important. Their job fits their values.
(iii) Competence – Empowered employees are confident about their abilities to skilfully perform their jobs. They show tremendous capacity to grow in the face of emerging challenges.
(iv) Feeling of impact – Empowered employees view themselves as active participants in the organization and believe that they have influence over important strategic, administrative, and operating decisions of the organization.
Bowen and Lawler have suggested the following five approaches for empowerment in practice:
(i) Helping employees achieve job mastery—giving training, coaching, and guided experience that are required for initial success,
(fi) Allowing more control—giving employees discretion over job performance and making them accountable for the performance outcomes.
(iii) Providing successful role models—allowing them to observe peers who are performing successfully on the job.
(iv) Using social reinforcement and persuasion—giving praise, encouragement, and verbal feedback to raise confidence of the employees.
(v) Giving emotional support-reduction of stress and anxiety through better role prescription, task assistance, and personal care.
Employee Empowerment – Elements: Control over Work Situation, Self-Sufficiency or Competence, Purposefulness and Belief System and Trust
Elements of empowerment include control over work situation, self-sufficiency or competence, purposefulness, belief system and trust.
1. Control over Work Situation:
The employees of the organisations must have a sense of parental control over one’s immediate work situation. This is very much essential to understand the situation in which an employee is expected to discharge his duties.
2. Self-Sufficiency or Competence:
The employee must be capable of successfully performing the assigned task. The employee must have confidence in his performance. He should not accept responsibility for making decisions until they are confident of their abilities.
The empowered employee must feel the significance and importance of the task assigned to him. He should not only know the value of the work for himself but also to the organisations . Every employee must know how his/her task fits into the larger scheme of things.
4. Belief System and Trust:
The employee must clearly understand the impact of the decision taken on the performance and effectiveness of the organisations . The impact is felt when employees perceive that their behavior has caused important outcomes.
Employee Empowerment – Importance
Importance of employee empowerment can be ascertained from the following:
(i) Employee empowerment improves quality of goods produced by employees.
(ii) In changing scenario, workers need acceptance of changes in Operation, methods, techniques, quality of products and this is possible if organizations practice employee empowerment.
(iii) It brings congenial and conducive atmosphere in the organization to achieve organizational goals.
(iv) A culture of openness and trust is developed which establishes healthy relations between supervisors and employees.
(v) It helps to create motivated and committed work force in organization.
(vi) It satiates the need of workers for recognition, status, challenging work, responsibility (that means workers’ esteem need is satisfied through empowerment).
Employee Empowerment – Stages in the Process of Empowering Employees
Employee Empowerment begins by capacity building – enabling employee to shoulder higher responsibility and challenges at work and involving them in creative pursuits. Suggestion schemes, formal and informal training, team building exercises, and rewards and incentives enable people to take initiative.
At the grass-root level, employees need to be involved in operative decisions and encouraged to suggest better methods of work and techniques. Their ideas should be implemented if found useful and suitably rewarded. Supervision is also crucial at this stage. The role of supervisor should be helping and problem solving rather than instructing.
At the middle management level, opportunities should be created to show excellence as at this level there may be uncertainties about future in the minds of some employees. Opportunities at higher level may be limited. Those with potential should be trained and encouraged to shoulder higher responsibilities and rewarded suitably. Job enrichment may be a potential tool to empower employees at this level.
At higher level management, decision-making process should aim at autonomy. There are organisations where manager’s participation in management is low. Most decisions are made by a few people at the top where power is concentrated. Accountability of managers can be improved by empowering them with authority to decide and show results.
Employee Empowerment at all levels need information sharing, exchange of ideas, involvement in the change process, creating confidence, delegating and trusting, sharing the value system, effective supervision and leadership change in power structures whenever necessary.
Conger, Howell, J.M. and Avolio, B.J. indicate that employee empowerment is a process. Leaders empower followers through a number of processes and means, by providing direction through ideals, vision and superordinate goals, by stimulating with ideas and proposals, by rewarding formally through incentive system and informally through personal and peer recognition, by using inspiration, involvement and feedback sessions to further a follower’s development and by appealing to the needs for autonomy and independence of followers.
The need to empower subordinates becomes critical when they are powerless. Thus it is important to identify conditions within organisations that foster a sense of powerlessness among subordinates. Once these conditions are identified, empowerment strategies and tactics can be used to remove them.
However, removing external conditions is not always possible, and it may not be sufficient for subordinates to become empowered unless the strategies and tactics directly provide personal efficacy information to them. The five stages of employee empowerment.
The first stage is the diagnosis of conditions within the organisation that are responsible for feelings of powerlessness among subordinates. Thus leads to the use of empowerment strategies by managers in stage 2. The employment of these strategies is aimed not only at removing some of the external conditions responsible for powerlessness, but also at providing subordinates with self-efficacy information in stage 3. As a result of receiving such information, subordinates feel empowered in stage 4, and the behavioural effects of empowerment are noticed in stage 5.
Stages of Team Empowerment:
Certain organisations empower the teams in addition to empowering individual employees. Frequently cited criteria of work team effectiveness include productivity, low cost, safety, job satisfaction and organisational commitment. As illustrated in Fig. 19.3, productivity, proactively and customer service as performance outcomes and job satisfaction, organisational commitment, and team commitment as attitudinal outcomes.
A distinction is made between performance and attitudinal outcomes. The consequences of team empowerment can be shown in three models. In this, the organisational leaders take action in stage one (inputs), those actions affect employee experiences in stage two (process) and important outcomes result from positive employee orientations toward work in stage three (outputs).
Organisations are no longer a one way sheet. Independent entrepreneurship and initiative are needed at every level of the organisation. Hierarchal structure is giving way to flat organisations, specially in knowledge-based industries. Employees need to be provided with resources and technical know-how in an environment which permits them to take decisions quickly and act in time. Boon and Kurtz (1998) define employee empowerment as ‘enlargement of employee jobs to make decisions about their work without supervisory approval while still creating value for customers’ Delery and Doty (19%) consider it ‘a process of multiplying power or greater autonomy in an organization.
Empowerment involves encouraging employees to take active role in organisational work, involve themselves by taking responsibility and enable and empower them with authority to take decisions.
Empowerment plans should include sharing of information on company’s goals and objectives, trust building through team work, providing support system to enable employees to take challenges at job, performance evaluation and feedback system, skill building and developing leadership qualities. All members need to be empowered in an organisation. Power should not be looked as a zero-sum game – one person’s gain as loss of another – but as empowering all to achieve organisational goals.
Employee Empowerment – Top 5 Benefits: Increased Productivity, Reduced Costs, Improved Quality, Competitive Edge & Better Job Satisfaction and Retention
1. Increased Productivity:
A lot of time is saved when employees can take their own decisions and do not have to wait for approval from senior levels. Workflow is not disturbed due to unnecessary hassles, and delays are avoided. The increased sense of responsibility motivates employees to try out innovative methods of doing work.
Employees derive more satisfaction from their work as their contribution towards the organizational goals is increased. Higher job satisfaction coupled with saving of precious time results in higher productivity.
2. Reduced Costs:
By taking their own decisions, employees save the time and efforts of top management. Since there is a high level of decentralization in an organization where employees are empowered, the need for middle level managers is considerably lower. Properly trained employees are also less likely to waste resources or have an accident. All these benefits collectively reduce the unnecessary expenditures of the organization.
3. Improved Quality:
Employee empowerment requires that the employees are properly trained in order to take good managerial decisions. Adequate resources are also provided to them to enable them to tackle day-to- day affairs in an efficient manner.
The senior managers delegate much of their work to other employees so that they can concentrate on more important tasks. Better efficiency in operations is achieved as a result of employee empowerment which leads to improved quality.
4. Competitive Edge:
Empowering employees can help a firm to gain a competitive edge over its competitors. Competitive, motivated and loyal employees can be created as a result of empowerment. It helps to utilize manpower in the best possible way. Employees get a chance to exercise their managerial and decision-making abilities while performing their job duties. A dedicated, loyal and empowered workforce helps to place the company ahead of its competitors.
5. Better Job Satisfaction and Retention of Employees:
Employee turnover is a big problem faced by many organizations in the modern world. Employee empowerment helps in curbing this problem by improving job satisfaction of the employees. Employees get to perform a variety of jobs at different levels requiring different skills and abilities. This creates a challenging and dynamic work environment where employees actually enjoy their jobs.
Employee Empowerment – Barriers to Empowering Employees: Incongruent Organization Culture, Rigid Control Systems and Inadequate Delegation of Authority
Following are some of the factors that may act as barriers to empowering employees:
Barrier # 1. Incongruent Organization Culture:
Empowerment succeeds when the culture of the organization is open and receptive to change. An organization’s culture is largely created through the philosophies of senior managers and their leadership traits and behaviours. If the philosophy of the senior management is authoritarian in nature, it will impede empowerment of employees. In such a scenario, authority tends to centralize at the top and employees do not get involved in decision-making at lower levels. Unless this type of organizational culture is changed, empowerment will be neither possible nor effective.
Barrier # 2. Rigid Control Systems:
Many organizations design control systems on the premise that ‘people cannot be relied upon even for minor matters’. Such control systems reduce employees to nothing but cogs-in-the-wheel. This leads to creation of a monotonous work environment in which employees with initiative are forced to stifle their leadership qualities, curb emergence of creative ideas, and to conform to the diktats of the organization. Empowerment cannot be ushered in or become effective unless such rigid systems are done away with.
Barrier # 3. Inadequate Delegation of Authority:
In many organizations, superiors hesitate to delegate authority to their subordinates for a variety of reasons. They include superiors’ love for authority, lack of confidence in the abilities of subordinates, fear of exposure, criticism for the faulty working of subordinates, etc. This results in the concentration of authority in the hands of a few individuals at the top, thereby depriving lower-level employees of the much needed authority. Unless this situation is changed, employees will not feel empowered.
Employee Empowerment – How to Make Employee Empowerment Effective?
In the present-day competitive environment in which more emphasis is being put on the intrinsic motivational factors, and empowerment is one of the important factors, no progressive organization can overlook the importance of empowerment for its effectiveness.
The question is not whether to empower or not but the question is how to make empowerment more effective. There are four factors in a job which are intrinsically motivating. These are impact, competence, meaningfulness, and choice. When an employee feels that the completion of task will make a difference, such a task has impact on his performance.
When the employee has the ability, skills, and knowledge to perform a task, he feels the sense of competence. When the employee feels that the task assigned to him is worthwhile, he develops a sense of meaningfulness in the job. When the employee feels that he has freedom to make decisions and initiate actions, he experiences the sense of choice.
Empowerment can be undertaken on individual basis or on group basis. However, recent emphasis is on groups and empowered teams are created in organizations. One of the most popular empowered teams is quality circle.
Empowerment of Women:
Women constitute half of the world population, but a majority of them world over are engaged in the informal work sector. In large parts of the world, they are confined to home, looking after family, kitchen and low-paid occupations. In politics, administration and management, and professions like engineering medical, legal, etc., their participation is still limited.
This is not because women are inferior to men in terms of knowledge, initiative and energy to do higher level jobs. Cultural and social stigmas, customs and traditions have confined them to home and low level jobs. Wherever women get an opportunity, they show excellence in diverse fields. In recent years, education and constitutional guarantee of equal opportunity have helped women in many countries to come up on the front in industry and other professions where they have excelled. A Fortune 500 study (2008) found that big corporations with more women directors had significantly higher financial returns, including 53% higher return on equity, 24% higher return on sales and 67% higher return on invested capital.
Empowerment of women for higher administrative and managerial jobs require change in the attitudes of men holding senior positions, attitude of women themselves towards their capacity and ability to do jobs involving higher responsibility, and suitable working and service conditions for women which may reduce the conflicts in office. Organisations should provide training for new skills and higher managerial assignments to women, encourage them to participate in decision-marking and reward them for showing excellence without discrimination.