Most organizations recognize that a high
level of operational performance and satisfactory economic outcomes are their strategic objectives. They choose varying tools and approaches for arranging the working process to achieve the set goals. Still, all of them are based on organizing human resources, as people are the key to success because, without trained and productive staff, it is impossible to become an economically successful organization. It is proven that individual performance has a direct influence on organizational outcomes (Huselid 636).
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To organize teams and help them to boost performance and increase job satisfaction, thus motivating employees to improve productivity and carrying our job duties, organizations hire specially trained personnel – human resource managers. Their task is to select the most appropriate strategy, which would help stimulate employees’ desire to maximize benefits for the organizations they work for and reach a high level of profits and outcomes. Also, they should estimate employees’ performance and find ways to address any potential challenges, which have a negative influence on employee productivity (Miles and Snow 41; Osterman 173).
Increasing employee involvement is closely connected to and determined by human resource management strategies. Nowadays, there are numerous approaches to organizing the workforce. It should be noted that human resource strategies can be either clearly documented in organizational documents such as organizations’ statutes and government plans or not determined clearly, i.e. each human resource manager selects a model, which is appropriate in their point of view and adapts it to satisfy a current working environment in an organization and manage employees to achieve the desired goals.
In general, there are two primary types of HR strategies – general and specific. Moreover, they are divided into micro HRM, strategic HRM, and international HRM. The peculiarity of the first type of human resource management strategies is their focus on managing teams of employees and work organizations. It means that people and channels for sharing their opinions are emphasized. The second type of HR strategy addresses business units, interactions between them, and their influence on the overall performance of an organization. Finally, international strategies are those, which are adopted at a cross-boundary level, i.e. in the case of multinational enterprises. They aim at innovating organizations and boosting their performance internationally (Lengnick-Hall et al. 64). The difference between them is the field of employee relations they regulate. That said, general strategies are sets of rules, which aim at managing general problems and flows at the workplace, e.g. addressing crises, enhancing interpersonal communication skills, or creating a comfortable atmosphere in the workplace.
As for specific strategies, they are determined and focus on regulating specialized areas of employee interactions and job duties such as managing talent or knowledge. As for the most popular human resource management strategies, they include but are not limited to effective reward strategies (stimulating performance improvement using developing the system of positive and negative motivation), focus on individual performance (addressing individual needs instead of paying specific attention to overall requirements), enhancing interpersonal relations to create a favorable working environment, flexibility strategy (one that is easily adaptable once the working atmosphere or organization’s strategic objectives are altered, which is based on flexible schedules and job duties), knowledge and talent management strategies, etc. (Armstrong 27, 100, 184).
It is imperative to note that the most effective strategies are those, which focus on the emotional aspect of cooperation and management. One such approach is referred to as employee empowerment. In the case of implementing this human resource strategy, the focus is as well made on improving employee performance, satisfaction with the current working environment and conditions, promoting innovativeness, and fostering loyalty. According to this model of organizing workforce, significant attention is paid to enhancing employees’ confidence in their organizations and themselves using stimulating positive emotions related to working with a particular firm or in a particular environment (Kairu and Rotich 1537). This approach gained momentum during the past three decades, as more and more organizations select it as their dominant human resource management strategy.
Nevertheless, all of them face the same challenge: to what extent can modern organizations truly empower their employees without losing control over their operations and performance? This question is the primary focus of this paper. Specific attention will be paid to different approaches to defining employee empowerment, the scope of implementing this strategy in the workplace, factors affecting employee empowerment, consequences of adopting this strategy, and determinants of the effectiveness of this human resource management model. These issues will be addressed to find the answer to the key problem: what is the allowable and acceptable extent of employee performance, which maximizes the benefits for an organization and minimizes risks of losses? The central hypothesis of this paper is the following: employee empowerment is the most effective human resource management strategy, as it benefits an organization due to employee self-management and involvement.
The Essence of Employee Empowerment
Employee empowerment as a dominant approach to human resource management grew popular during the last three decades. Most organizations choose it because of the positive influence on employee performance and job satisfaction. However, to obtain an in-depth understanding of this HR model on an organization and an acceptable extent of its implementation, it is imperative to focus on the peculiarities of this approach to organizing staff.
To begin with, employee empowerment is more of a philosophy than a human resource management strategy. The foundation of this model is attitudinal change and focusing on completing a particular task. It is a primary determinant of creating a smart workplace – one, which is characterized by high employee performance and job satisfaction, flexibility, and self-management, but low level of supervision (Armstrong 143, 202). Even though the basis of this approach to human resource management is self-organization and redistribution of power, it is not related to absolute independence of employees and their autonomy, as senior managers are those, who determine the direction of organization’s development, and HR managers are still those, who control employee performance (Wilkinson 46).
Employee empowerment has several critical specificities. First of all, this approach to human resource management is synonymous with the exchange of information and freedom of expressing opinions regarding the organization of the workplace and ways to manage an organization. Also, empowerment is impossible without the independence and autonomy of employees. It does not mean that human resource management is unnecessary in an organization. Instead, it stands for flexibility of the adopted policies and guaranteeing opportunities for self-management. The primary idea is to make sure that employees are acquainted with organization’s strategic objectives and desired outcomes of operation and are provided with the opportunities to determine the ways to achieve them, which are most productive and efficient for each team member (Lengnick-Hall et al. 66; Saremi 10-11).
Employee empowerment specificities mentioned above are the reflection of the principles of this approach. The foundation of the model is the change in the role of the human resource managers from control and supervision to support, coaching, sharing necessary information with senior executives and team members as well as guaranteeing appropriate selection of human resources, i.e. hiring highly competent people with enough knowledge and skills necessary for self-organization. Second, employee position within a company defines the scope of responsibilities and freedoms. It means that those occupying higher ranks are more autonomous and have more authority compared to those on lower positions of career development. Third, the emphasis is made on continuous training. It is the area of HR managers’ responsibility to organize them and create an atmosphere motivating constant desire to obtain new knowledge and develop skills. Finally, each mistake or missed opportunity is seen as a source of new knowledge instead of being a ground for blaming ineffective employees, i.e. people are valued and given chance to uncover their creative potential (Saremi 11).
That said, to adopt this human resource management technique, it is essential to take several steps and guarantee that an appropriate atmosphere is created in an organization. First of all, it is imperative to assure that the working environment is dynamic so that everyone has enough space and opportunities for personal and professional development. It means that an organization should invest in stimulating employees’ creative potential and develop an atmosphere, which is beneficial for unlocking talent. Moreover, it is vital to alter the organizational structure, pointing to the critical significance of continuous self-improvement and self-development.
Also, developing channels for effective communication of ideas beneficial for the organization’s sustainable development and ways to introduce them is as well crucial. Furthermore, the traditional approach to organizing workforce, i.e. strict regulation of tasks and negative motivation, should be replaced with space for self-management and participatory method for addressing common challenges occurring in the workplace. These steps should be accompanied by constant environment investigation aimed at identifying any potential obstacles, which make the process of implementing this strategy impossible or hinder employee development (Saremi 10).
As for now, there are several forms of employee empowerment. The first representation of this HR philosophy is information sharing, i.e. enhancing communication by creating channels for exchanging information so that everyone is familiar with the organization’s strategic objectives and direction of development. It is both upward and downward, which means that not only senior executives have access to sharing information with employees but also ordinary team members are free to share opinions with managers and executives. At the same time, there is a horizontal communication channel, i.e. one for fostering interpersonal communication between team members and those occupying the same ranks and positions within a company.
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The second form of empowerment is upward problem-solving. It stands for employee involvement and participatory model of addressing challenges and crises. The primary idea is to provide employees with an opportunity to share their perspectives on the existing problems and ways to overcome them but preserve the option for making the final decision to senior management. Another form of employee empowerment is task autonomy. It means that inspectors and supervisors are removed from controlling task results. Instead, the focus is made on overall employee performance and the effectiveness of individual decisions. That said, work is organized by creating self-managing teams, which are still limited and constrained by the frameworks designed by senior managers. Finally, attitudinal shaping is as well a form of employee empowerment. It stands for an emotional shift in the employees, i.e. training them to grow self-managed and autonomous and recognize the criticality of constant self-development and education (Wilkinson 46-48).
Factors Affecting Employee Empowerment
Because employee empowerment is a psychological approach to managing human resources, it is imperative to recognize that there are both barriers to adopting it and factors determining favorable ground for establishing this model. Both barriers and motivators are connected to the established atmosphere in the workplace and peculiarities of people, who make up teams as well as human resource managers and senior executives. The way they perceive work and directions of the organization’s development is what affects employee empowerment.
When choosing employee empowerment as a dominant HR strategy, it is critical to note that it is synonymous with a substantial change in the model of managing the workforce. It means that there is always a risk of facing the challenge of employee resistance and unwillingness to operate under the approach, which requires continuous self-improvement and gaining new knowledge and skills. At the same time, leaders and managers can as well oppose the adoption of this model of human resource management, as they might feel the risk of losing power and authority to control staff. Moreover, there is always a barrier to inadequate criticism and doubts that employee empowerment is an efficient tool for improving performance and achieving the organization’s strategic objectives (Greasley et al. 358-359).
Also, before selecting employee empowerment, it is essential to remember that its effectiveness is usually determined by the cultural factor. It means that some cultures are subconsciously willing to embrace changes and strive for self-management, while the others are taught to operate under the strict control of a leader and do not want to eradicate this perception of the workplace (Baird and Wang 575). Because employee empowerment is synonymous with a broader scope of responsibilities, which are predetermined by cultural identity, changing it can be either met with severe opposition and fail or take a long time to adopt it and make the philosophy work efficiently.
Another potential barrier to implementing the employee empowerment technique is the lack of sources. It is connected to the very essence of the philosophy, i.e. continuous self-improvement and providing employees with opportunities for self-management and communication. Because bringing these steps to live is associated with the change of organizational structure, it demands vast investments in both creating channels for sharing information and constant training and motivation of employees (Wilson 29). Some organizations do not recognize the scope of these changes and face the problem of being unprepared for them.
One more factor, which has a robust impact on employee empowerment, is the structure of an organization – common values, mission, and vision. Organizational structure is closely related to culture. It means that some of them appreciate employee empowerment and are willing to adopt it because employees value creativity, broader scope of responsibilities, and risk-taking. On the other hand, some organizations might not recognize the necessity of the elements of organizational culture mentioned above and give preference to the traditional bureaucratic approach to developing business and work relations within a firm (Poorsafaei and Alimiri 2436). In similar cases, managers and senior executives do not need to embrace changes even if the expected results are positive and would be beneficial.
In addition to it, the effectiveness of employee empowerment is often determined by job duties. The clarity of descriptions of job duties and primary responsibilities is the main contribution to empowered employees because it is the only way to guarantee that they are familiar with organizational processes, their functions, and skills necessary for coping with the tasks effectively (Narenji and Nojabaee 751). Because continuous improvement is a vital element of this HR tool, clearly determined explanations and constant update of valuable information should not be ignored as well as technical and educational details related to a particular position within an organization.
Furthermore, the extent of adopting an employee empowerment strategy is greatly affected by the significance of the job. Except for an understanding of one’s job duties and functions in a workplace, this factor is related to the role of an individual in the organization, i.e. their contribution to corporate success and sustainable growth (Narenji and Nojabaee 751). In this case, those occupying higher ranks and having a more robust impact on an organization’s performance give preference to being empowered and feel more benefits of the adopted strategy. It should be noted that the significance of a job is determined by the level of employee education, interpersonal communication skills, work-related competence, and the duration of working experience.
Finally, access to information and the ability to exchange information is the most critical factor affecting employee empowerment. It is explained by the very essence of the philosophy. Because the strategy implies self-management, adopting it without an appropriate atmosphere is impossible (Poorsafaei and Alimiri 2437). Employees should be confident that they have access to the latest information regarding the performance of their organization and market developments to offer adequate and relevant ways to direct the organization’s future development and solve potential hardships. At the same time, sharing information is the source of openness and contributes to the feeling of being trusted and valued by senior executives and human resource managers, which as well makes up the very foundation of the employee empowerment approach. Also, it enhances interpersonal communication, which is also critical for this human resource management technique.
Consequences of Choosing Employee Empowerment as the Dominant HR Strategy
Although adopting employee empowerment is usually opposed and accompanied by numerous barriers, its influence is, for the most part, positive, as it results in benefits. In general, there are two groups of benefits – for organizations and individuals. The first group is connected to the improvement of employee performance and more effective economic activities. It means that once employee empowerment is selected for managing human resources, an organization becomes more flexible, and less strict control measures help employees to enhance the quality of carrying out their job duties, which is a direct benefit for senior management.
Moreover, employee empowerment is beneficial for organizations because it affects job demands (Marsden 10). The primary idea is the following: once employees feel empowered, they have higher job demands. It means that they either do not want to search for another position and cooperate with competitors or cannot find a company, which would satisfy their high demands. In any case, employee empowerment is a guarantee that a skilled and competent worker will not seek employment by another organization and waste investment in their training and education by benefitting rivals.
At the same time, employee empowerment is beneficial for individuals. Even though its initial objective is to benefit an organization, employees find it advantageous because it makes an atmosphere in the working place more comfortable and favorable due to fostering self-management and avoiding strict control measures. Also, empowered employees are less likely to become involved in interpersonal conflicts because their responsibilities and functions are determined by their position within an organization and they are free to pick the most efficient and appropriate ways to cope with the assigned tasks. Finally, empowered employees feel that they are trusted and their senior executives see them as competitive and skilled enough so that they have enough authority to manage their tasks without the excessive supervision of human resource managers. It means that emotional strain on employees is reduced, thus decreasing the risk of occupational stress and increasing job satisfaction and loyalty to a hiring organization (Greasley et al. 358, 362).
Also, both organizations and employees feel the advantages of employee empowerment because the foundation of this approach is a substantial training of individuals. Because an empowered employee is synonymous with a competent educated employee, it means that productivity and performance levels boost, as workers cope with job duties more efficiently and spend less time for completing assignments. At the same time, the risks of work-related errors, which are ruining organizations’ image and reputation, are mitigated. Furthermore, educated and empowered employees feel more confident as they realize that they are competent, thus feeling driven to enhance self-development and further personal growth (Kairu 1538).
Acceptable Extent of Implementing Employee Empowerment
Before answering the central question, it is imperative to note that employee empowerment is maximally effective in a project-based environment. It means that those organizations, which operate based on short-term projects experience the most significant advantages of this human resource management technique (Greasley et al. 365). This statement can be easily explained by the fact that even though self-management and flexibility are the foundation of the philosophy, control measures are not eradicated. Because managers still estimate employee productivity, avoiding lengthy timeframes of projects is a key to guaranteeing that the approach is adopted effectively and does lead to chaos in the workplace. On the other hand, checking employee performance on a timely basis can become an alternative to the transition to a project-based business environment, especially in cases of organizations, which a priori cannot operate under similar conditions, e.g. scientific institutions conducting grandiose research projects.
Moreover, any change should contribute to the stability and sustainable growth of an organization, not lead to shock and decreasing performance (Raisch 504). It means that if organizations decide to adopt employee empowerment techniques without developing a detailed plan of action, this change is inappropriate and would not benefit employees and organizational performance. Also, changes should be contextual, i.e. they should be implemented to correspond with the specificities of the organization’s environment and contribute to sustainable development in the future. Here, it is essential to note that context should be both internal and external, i.e. both market and organization’s requirements should be addressed (Dawson 63, 65). In this case, it is vital to recall the factors, which contribute to the effectiveness (or inefficiency) of adopting employee empowerment techniques such as cultural determinants and resources and assess them on a timely basis to guarantee that human resource management strategy is appropriate and relevant.
More than that, there are different extents of implementing employee empowerment. They vary from what is referred to as sham empowerment to extremely high levels of autonomy and personal responsibilities (Baird and Wang 575). The minimal level of adoption is connected to some practices such as training and clear descriptions of job duties. At the same time, they are characterized by deploying strict control measures and management techniques. As an organization chooses to make employees more empowered, it launches additional educational initiatives, loosens the managerial grip, and grants more autonomy and authority to ordinary employees. That said, the only thing that changes during the transition to higher levels of employee empowerment application is the scope of employee independence in coping not only with work-related tasks but also critical and crises occurring in the working environment and any difficulties jeopardizing the flawlessness of organization’s operations.
Still, only a combination of human resource management techniques has the potential of contributing to improving organizational performance (Orlitzky and Frenkel 1328). That said, employee empowerment can be chosen as a dominant HRM strategy, but it should not become the only one because such a choice can lead to higher risks of chaos and inadequate distribution of power in the workplace. Bearing in mind the specificities of this philosophy and the fact that it entails changes in the organizational structure and culture, switching to project-oriented resource management as a supplementing HR technique is recommended (Keegan, Huemann, and Turner 3087-3088).
The rationale for pointing to this choice is the following: because employee empowerment is more efficient in a project-based environment, establishing one is economically beneficial. In addition to a similar transition, it is advisable to preserve a traditional system of rewards and penalties, i.e. not ignore the importance of positive and negative motivation as a tool for organizing the workforce. Together with employee empowerment, it could make up ground for efficient loosening of strict supervisory activities. It can be explained by the fact that even though employees will become more empowered, they will never forget about being responsible for their decisions and selecting particular ways for coping with assigned tasks and work-related matters.
Keeping in mind the primary findings of this study, there is only one acceptable answer to the central question under consideration: there is no universally acceptable extent of implementing employee empowerment techniques and following its postulates in the workplace. For me, each organization should recognize the primary strategic objective of its existence and design a unique human resource management mix, which satisfies it as well as corresponds with the environment of its operation. It means that senior executives together with human resource managers should estimate available resources and their goals and define what is the affordable extent of implementing employee empowerment and what is the volume of investments they are ready to spend on employee development and growth.
Nonetheless, the initially stated hypothesis that employee empowerment is the most effective human resource management strategy is proven due to significant benefits it promises to both employees and organizations. Even though there are some critical barriers, which should be recognized and properly addressed, this philosophy is productive. Still, it is imperative to point to the importance of a step-by-step process of its implementation, as it is useful for revealing bottlenecks that might remain unnoticed during the planning stages of the approach adopted as well as any potential challenges connected to the dynamism of economic environment. Furthermore, a similar approach to integrating empowerment techniques in human resource management would become a contribution to making an organization more flexible and dynamic, as it constantly evaluates challenges and opportunities related to the environment of conducting business activities and social interactions. Finally, a gradual transition is a guarantee of mitigating the risks of shocks caused by turning to be unprepared for substantial organizational changes.
Finally, an acceptable extent of employee empowerment is a subjective matter of concern. The rationale for making this statement is the fact that it is influenced not only by cultural factors and financial resources of an organization but also personalities of human resource managers and senior executives. It means that even though it has proven to be efficient for enhancing communication, increasing employee productivity, and boosting corporate performance, some leaders do not recognize the efficiency of sharing authority and access to decision-making procedures with ordinary employees, as they might see it as a direct threat to their power. So, all the aspects and specificities of both this philosophy and the organization’s corporate culture should be kept in mind to gain an in-depth understanding of the transformation process and back up the efficient transition.
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