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The Pros and Cons of Employee Empowerment

The Pros and Cons of Employee Empowerment

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 a number of 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.

  • 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. With less need for supervisorial approval, workflow speeds up and productivity increases.

  • 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: daily stress declines.

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 also put reputation at risk.

  • 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.

  • 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 actually require greater control over employees, not less.

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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