Employee empowerment in organisations
- 10 Min Read
HRD Connect examines the importance of employee empowerment, and reveals some top tips for empowering employees in your organisation
In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, psychologist Daniel H. Pink writes that people are driven by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. What this essentially means for organisations is that employees pine for work that allows them to put a unique impression on a product or service offering, or even an adverse situation they resolved, which lead to the retention of a critical customer.
Southwest Airlines focuses heavily on employee empowerment in its management training, letting the aeroplane crew make all the decisions they need to run safely, on time, and on budget.
A certain degree of autonomy leads to content employees
Content employees make things better for the customer. Organisations giving their employees the required tools to support customers makes things better for the customer.
Research shows that when employees feel empowered at work, they exhibit stronger job performance, report higher job satisfaction, and display greater commitment to the organisation.
Employee empowerment has a dual positive impact. From an organisation’s perspective, employee empowerment improves performance, innovation, and quality of work. From the employee perspective, employee empowerment increases self-efficacy, work motivation, and organisational identification.
As a result of employee empowerment, employees show the desire to embrace changes and become more proactive. Employee empowerment creates employees who are more invested in the organisation and its success.
According to Deloitte’s Millennial Survey, more than 2/3 millennials believe it is an organisation’s job to provide them with accelerated development opportunities in order for them to stay with that organisation. A supportive management that guides employees and knows how to empower them, by setting clear goals, coaching for high performance, developing future leaders, and providing continuous feedback, automatically makes a workplace irresistible to potential employees.
Organisations have started realizing the importance of allowing employees to make independent decisions and act on them. They are realising that employee empowerment leads to a high-impact learning culture, and that organisations with a strong learning culture are 92% more likely to develop novel products and processes. Such organisations are 52% more productive, 56% more likely to be the first to market with their products and services, and 17% more profitable than their peers. Their engagement and retention rates are also 30–50% higher.
Employees today are placing a higher premium on flexibility, creativity, and purpose at work.
For organisations, employee empowerment means allowing employees to contribute more to the running of their businesses. Employee empowerment increases the employees’ sense of responsibility, enhances their morale and improves the quality of the work product.
According to a survey by SHRM entitled, Respect at Work Boosts Job Satisfaction, 70% of employees ranked being empowered to take action at work when a problem or opportunity arose as an important element of their engagement.
Let us enhance our understanding of the concept of employee empowerment by knowing its definition, and how we can empower employees.
Definition of employee empowerment
Bowen and Lawler define employee empowerment as referring to “the management strategies for sharing decision-making power”. According to Richard Kathnelson, empowerment is the process of employees coming to feel and behave as if they are in a position of power, as if they own their organisation.
Hammer and Champy suggest that the empowerment of front-line workers is crucial if organisations want to understand core business processes, because front-line workers are closest to these processes and are the only ones who truly understand how they work.
Employee empowerment creates a working environment in which the employee assumes or shares ownership of specific tasks and projects.
From the organisation’s perspective, employee empowerment is a management strategy that aims to give employees the tools and resources necessary to make confident decisions in the workplace without supervision. Empowerment is a long-term, resource-intensive strategy that involves significant backing in terms of time and financial investment from the organisation’s leaders. Also, employee empowerment can also be seen as delegation of responsibilities. By delegating certain responsibilities to employees could mean supervisors can take out more time in focusing on other areas of the business.
Similarly, from the employee’s perspective, employee empowerment is employees getting a certain degree of autonomy and responsibility for decision-making regarding their specific organisational tasks. It allows the employees to make decisions at their level, where they have a unique view of the issues and problems facing the organisation.
Employee empowerment also entails employees having a say in process improvement and helping to create and manage new systems and tactics. Employees get to run activities with less oversight from higher-level management. Employees get to set their own objectives and make decisions about tasks, priorities and deadlines.
Employee empowerment is, for all intents and purposes, the opposite of micro-management.
However, organisations must keep in mind that if employee empowerment is not implemented with the appropriate approach, it could have serious repercussions.
Power and responsibility
Employee empowerment doesn’t mean that management relinquishes all authority, delegates all decision-making, and allows operations to run without accountability.
Employees could start taking advantage and influencing policy for selfish reasons, or they could become lax in their duties and responsibilities. Organisations must prepare their employees for the responsibilities that would fall upon them in the organisation’s quest to achieve employee empowerment. For employees to feel like their decisions matter, they need to feel accountable for the decisions they make on an on-going basis.
Employee empowerment, if executed well, and with the right employees, can have more than a few advantages.
When organisations stay on top of their employee’s responsibilities and allow them to make decisions in line with their situation – decisions that can create a sense of employee empowerment, the organisations make gains by the creation of a happy workplace with content employees.
Employee empowerment affects customer service too. According to, ‘The job-demands resources model: State of the art’, by Arnold Bakker and Evangelia Demerouti (Journal of Managerial Psychology), without increased empowerment and local control, complexity can lead to high levels of error and stress.
A key principle of employee empowerment is furnishing employees with the means to make important decisions, and helping to ensure those decisions are correct. When deployed properly, this should result in heightened productivity and a better quality of employee work and work life.
How to empower employees
Here are a few useful tips for empowering employees:
Management buy-in: As with anything that is successful in business, management support for employee empowerment is critical to its success. Top management needs to be committed to supporting an employee-empowered culture. This includes coming up with an organisational definition of employee empowerment, which includes well-defined boundaries and management training on how to coach empowered employees.
Job design: The methods of employee empowerment may vary from organisation to organisation, based on culture and work environment. However, regardless of the organisation, employee empowerment is based on two common concepts: job enlargement and job enrichment.
Job enlargement is the expansion of job scope to include a greater portion of the horizontal process, whereas job enrichment is regarded as the vertical expansion of a role to include responsibilities that have traditionally been carried out at higher levels of the organisation.
Building trust: Offloading some of the power traditionally held by management to the employees results in managers taking on new roles, knowledge, and responsibilities.
Delegating decision making can be difficult, particularly for new managers. However, managers need to have confidence in their employees and trust them to make the right decision.
For the organisation to know how to empower employees requires a significant investment of time and effort, especially from management, to develop mutual trust, assess and add to individuals’ capabilities, and develop clear agreements about roles, responsibilities, risk taking, and boundaries.
The fact is employees won’t make the right call all the time. When they miss the mark, take the opportunity to coach and mentor them on a more appropriate response.
Providing employees with the right tools: Giving employees the tools and equipment they need, not to just do their job, but perform beyond it, is a good way to create employee empowerment. Fixing broken equipment as soon as possible, upgrading technology as soon as it is introduced into the market. Improving your employees’ tools will motivate them, make them feel empowered, and enable them to take up more responsibility.
A commitment to assessing changing technology and equipment should be part of an organisation’s strategy to support employee empowerment.
Changing the organisational structure: Most importantly, employee empowerment warrants for restructuring the organisation to reduce levels of the hierarchy for a more customer-oriented organisation. Organisations that know how to empower employees must invert the triangle of organisational power.
Smaller Teams: Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com, is reported to have said, “If there are more than two pizzas in the room for lunch, then the team is too big.”
Big teams usually just wind up wasting everybody’s time. Small teams feel empowered, they make decisions faster, people get to know each other, and are able to lend a hand when one of the teammates needs help.
Cross-training: Fundamentally, employee empowerment requires retraining employees in the skills necessary to carry out the additional responsibilities. Many organisations are staffed with employees who are cross trained to handle many positions. This creates a set of highly empowered teams that have the training and freedom to be both autonomous and productive, with above-average retention and engagement rates.
Gather input from the employees: The Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business survey by Salesforce says employees who feel their voice is heard at work are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.
One of the effective ways of implementing employee empowerment is to ask employees for information about what matters to them at work. There could be many factors that will make your employees feel empowered, by collecting information from them, you will discover ways to empower your employees that you may have never considered.
Access to information: Access to information on which decisions can be made can fulfil the purpose of employee empowerment from the organisation’s end. Making pertinent and critical information available to employees is an essential part of empowerment. The right information, at the right time, available to the right employee, can help organisations to influence critical success factors.
Intent to take on greater responsibility: Employees desiring to take up additional responsibilities signifies that an organisation is on the path towards employee empowerment. If the employees don’t have an appetite for such an initiative, autonomy should be brought in and considered at the highest level.
Ongoing recognition: Another key driver for employee empowerment is continuous and ongoing recognition. Recognising employees can be an extraordinary tool to empower employees. Making these recognitions known to the whole organisation naturally makes employees feel empowered in front of their peers and colleagues. Research shows that organisations that empower employees with recognition are 12 times more likely to generate strong business results.
Practising employee empowerment in the workplace has multiple benefits for the organisation. Beyond employees feeling appreciated, because of the trust and responsibility that is being bestowed on them, and having a positive impact on customer service levels, organisations can attract the right employees and expect employees to more readily embrace change.
How does your does organisation empower its employees?