EMPOWERMENT in the workplace was first developed in the 1950s but has recently become much talked about as a promising solution to some of the challenges imposed on the business community today.
Faced with competitive demands for lower costs, higher performance, increased flexibility coupled with skilled staff shortages, it’s no surprise that organisations have increasingly turned to employee empowerment as a way to survive.
But is empowering our employees really a help or can it end up creating a big headache for all those involved?
Employee empowerment is about creating a working environment where an employee is allowed to make his or her own decisions in specific work-related situations. Increasing the employee’s responsibility is thought to build morale and to improve the quality of work – ideally when an employee feels vested in an organisation they will break out of any stagnant mind sets and be more productive, loyal and confident.
Conversely, while contemporary business theory argues that the empowerment style of leadership is more productive, like all leadership styles, it can have its drawbacks.
Employees may abuse the increased power given to them and perhaps focus on their own success rather than the company objectives; due to reduced supervision any adverse decisions may go unnoticed by management for a period of time.
Furthermore, giving employees greater power can lead to possible personality conflicts, especially when working as part of a group.
If one or more employees are unwilling or unable to view the situation from another’s point of view, it can cause lost time and energy of the entire team, perhaps leading to unmet deadlines and harsh feelings in the workplace.
Without proper training and a well thought out set of guidelines, empowerment can lead to chaos.
Employees need guidance in the vision and values of the organisation to ensure they are not operating under their own set of values and goals and potentially causing more harm than good.
For many companies however, empowering their employees is becoming more intrinsic in their corporate culture than ever before, reflecting their values, vision and leadership style.
Companies that encourage their employees to make decisions and provide an environment of open communication and acceptance of new ideas can benefit in a variety of ways ranging from a stable workforce to a healthy bottom line.
Creating an empowered workplace can be expensive as it often requires education, coaching, training and consequence management.
It does, however, result in more viable solutions when the market is uncertain whilst increasing commitment to decisions by involving employees across all levels and functions.
Empowering our employees sets the stage for cooperative teamwork, increasing horizontal and vertical communications throughout an organisation and creating a climate where conflict can be dealt with openly.
Ultimately, when properly trained employees are empowered to solve problems, take risks or be creative in their approach to work, they are more likely to assume ownership of the tasks, striving to consistently produce quality results.
There is no one size fits all approach to empowering our employees but there are a number of tried and tested ways that managers and business owners have used for years.
Communication is key.
Taking the time to listen to your employees and giving them the chance to bring up any concerns is a good starting point. Using their own suggestions as solutions to problems will empower them to take charge of situations and see them succeed.
Using meetings, company blogs, suggestion boxes, employee newsletters or quarterly reviews – or all of the above – employees will feel empowered when they believe their employer is listening.
Beyond general feedback, encouraging your employees to get creative and come up with ideas, generates a feeling that their ideas can contribute to the overall good of the business, enabling them to gain a sense of power and pride in the company they work for.
Communicating in a straightforward and clear manner is vital as employees won’t have the chance to feel empowered if they don’t understand what they are supposed to be doing, or why they are supposed to be doing it.
Responsibility is another key factor in employee empowerment. Without demonstrating clear trust in your employees to do the jobs you hired them for, you will end up taking on all the responsibility yourself.
In these circumstances, with all decisions and projects being directed or overseen by a manager, you may need to question whether employee empowerment is the right choice for your organisation – unless you plan to do some major restructuring.
Perhaps most importantly, empowerment needs to be viewed as critical in the process of organisational change.
Rather than forcing or pushing people to change, empowerment provides a way of attracting them to want to change because they have ownership in the change process. Empowerment works best in an environment that is stable, where the goals are already established and employees can explore options and try new and innovative solutions.
Many confuse empowerment with a quick fix and give up before it has been successfully implemented.
Clearly, there is a great deal more to be learned about how to successfully empower our employees.
Posted by Granite PR, on behalf of John Bell Pipeline.
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Contact: Natalie Kane