The debate on how to raise the workplace productivity has a long history. It takes a new turn with the introduction of the more contemporary concepts of employees’ empowerment into the routine business life. Modern managers are to be aware of the various techniques of organizational methods and different strategies of enhancing productivity, including the means to empower the employees. It is argued whether some techniques are more effective than others are, and different theories of managerial approaches insist on dissimilar strategies of how to make the work process more efficient and the employees more productive.
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However, it is important to bear in mind the practical aspect of those varied approaches. Considering the nuances of practical implementation of leadership, productivity and effectiveness strategies, some authors claim that the efforts spend on the empirical realization of those conceptual ideas do not justify the obtained results. Thus, the main objective of this essay is to review the advantages and disadvantages of different means of the empowerment of the workforce, analyze both their theoretical standpoint and experiences and results of the practical implementation, and critique the conceptualization and the practical validity of those approaches to the employees’ empowerment.
Contemporary strategies for the employees’ empowerment
In the modern business environment, such concept as empowerment is in common use, together with the understanding of the major role of the employees’ self-awareness and the necessity for the self-monitoring of each element of the corporate structure. There is some approaches and strategies used daily to guarantee that each member of the team engaged in production, certain branch or company is not only fully aware of his or her work duties and responsibilities. However, nowadays the objective of the manager is also to make sure that each of the employees is able to monitor his or her own progress, control the quality of performance, manage effectively time and work amount, etc.
Nevertheless, the empowerment in our modern understanding appeared only in the 1980s because only since then it acquired the business and political context similar to those of today (Wilkinson & Fay 2011). The practices that were applied, for the workforce to monitor their own work and have more responsibilities before were empowering in many ways, yet they have never been so conceptualized and supported with the theoretical background. The conceptualization of empowerment, its combination, and compliance with the employees’ self-awareness and self-management reached its culmination in the context of modern corporate culture, as we perceive it.
Earlier, the business was less oriented on the employees’ professional growth that would enhance the productivity. Moreover, the increase in productivity was either relied on enlarging the number of the employees, or adding up more resources of the production, expanding to the new markets, etc. Nowadays, to make an increase, companies rely on their main assets, which are the workforce, by trying to reach the maximum level of productivity with the minimum use of any other external resources.
Since the late 1980s, the business thinking correlates to the application of different managerial modes (Wilkinson & Fay 2011). It implies that different strategies applied to the relationships in and between the employees of the same company, different styles of the organizational process can result in completely different outcomes in terms of the company’s efficiency and productivity. The attention shifted from the external factors of the production process to the very structure of the organization.
Furthermore, the very meaning of such concepts as corporate culture, empowerment, and employees’ self-awareness has changed. And the reason for that is because it obtained various theoretical explanations and conceptual models of management. Today the opinion on what the empowerment actually is in practical terms is slightly vague because it can differ depending on the theoretical paradigm. One of the generalized definitions acclaimed by Khan (1997, p. 44) views empowerment as “an on-going interpersonal relationship that fosters trust between the employer and the employees”. Thus, it implies that the means for the workforce to be more productive is to understand the whole production process from the employer.
When the amount of self-monitoring increases, the employee understands better the motivation of his or her employer. On the other hand, the correlation has to work in the opposite direction as well, so the employers are supposed to become more aware and trustful of the employees by the engaging in the more open process of building relationships with them and constituting the corporate culture, in which each employee would have a voice. However, the level to which the workforce is empowered to contribute to the process of decision-making and developing the corporate culture quite differs depending on the type of economy and business accepted business practices in a certain country or region, with the regard to political and business environment. Thus, according to Wilkinson and Fay (2011, p. 69), in a liberal business and economic environment, the voice of employees is perceived “in terms of contribution to profit and shareholder value at the organizational level, in product quality and staff retention at the workplace level.”
In such a way, it means that in any case, the empowerment of the employees with the voice presupposes the mutual benefits for the employees and the company, and not the pure effort to improve the workforce conditions. However, among the most important upside of the modern tendencies of the workforce empowerment process is the orientation on the professional growth of the employees, the alignment of the work process. However, the more detailed conceptualization of empowerment in its modern form can be viewed in the correlation to the employees’ commitment to the teamwork and the organizational objectives, the general support of the workplace culture, as well as rates of job satisfaction.
Empowerment and corporate culture
According to Hamilton, Nickerson and Owan (2003, p. 467), “the effects of worker heterogeneity on productivity critically depend on worker participation in teams”. In other words, to make employees more productive, the manager is to ensure accessible and trusting relationships not only between the employer and the workforce but also between the employees themselves. The most obvious way to do that is to organize the work process in teams. The expected practical value of such a strategy is enhancing the diverse ideas and growth in the creative potential of the employees who are all different in one team.
However, it would also require the manager to pay much more attention to the productive relationship in the teams. Given the fact that in some critical situation even management of the relationships in the homogeneous teams can be quite challenging, it requires more effort from the managers, and therefore, more strategic approaches. Hence, all this the question is, whether the results of those efforts will justify the amount of work, resources and projecting of the team given to it. This is why the only assurance for the team-building process to be successful is the presence of the strong leader who will facilitate the relationships and enhance the mutual gains of the team members (Hellinghausen & Myers 1998).
The corporate culture is usually supposed to be one of the means to facilitate the employees’ molding into the team because it provides him or her with a set of rules, regulations, and guidelines that are to make the employee more comfortable to take him or her less time to acquaint themselves with the new work environment. However, nowadays, with the empowerment strategies, much of the responsibilities of monitoring lie on the small and middle managers. They are not supposed to manage the work of the team from the inside, but somehow control the achievements on the general level. They have less control over the process of each employee’s work because he or she is to manage their own time and work capacity.
Nevertheless, the small managers are responsible for the whole final result of the teamwork, as well as monitoring the work process without direct interference. It leads the shift in the corporate culture, where the results of the empowered employees are perceived differently on the different levels of the corporate structure. Some managerial levels are nowadays seen as the obstacle to the productive work of the empowered employees. Thus, to explore the issue, we are to analyze the practical implementation of the employees’ empowerment on the different levels of the company about the change in productivity.
Practical evaluation of the correlation between empowerment and productivity
The main characteristic of the productive employee or an actor of the production process, according to Conger and Kanungo (1988, p. 472), is “the actor’s ability to provide some performance or resource that is valued by the organization, or the actor’s ability to cope with organizational contingencies”. In other words, productivity is the value of the employee on the different levels of the company. And the more valued work the employee brings, the more empowered he or she gets. From this perspective, in my opinion, the relation between the empowerment and productivity is mutual rather than causal.
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Another issue with the empowerment policies is their compliance with the other managerial approaches. According to Maynard, Gilson, and Mathieu (2012, p. 1259), the “empowerment initiatives assume that employees should be free to adopt different practices as they see fit”. Hence, they can undermine the endeavors to implement standardized procedures at the workplace. From this point of view, each case situation should be observed in its own political and practical context, because the policies of more freedom and empowerment mustn’t cross out the standard rights of all the employees, on which they can rely on for the social protection at work. Thus, the empowerment policies should presuppose the protective mechanisms for the employees for the cases of force-major (Mishra & Spreitzer 1998). It will increase the productivity of the employees if they know that they are protected from the cataclysms at the workplace if their performance is good enough.
However, the concept to which the productivity relates at the largest extend is job satisfaction, as the assessment of actual and expected outcomes by the employee and his or her reflections, emotions and personal evaluation of the job done (Karim, & Rehman 2012). It means that it is the most important that an employee sees the results of his or her job, and is able to provide the feedback on it, to monitor the progress. The highlight of this is that making the employee analyzing his or her work performance provides awareness and empowerment, however, it would be impossible for the human capital to provide the constructive analysis on their own products without the high level of job satisfaction and without feeling already empowered.
In conclusion, it is important to emphasize once again that the assessment shows that constructs of the employees’ empowerment and their productivity are interdependent. In the context of the modern corporate culture, the relation between the empowerment and productivity is mutual rather than causal. The practical application of empowerment of the teams and single employees can make them more productive, but each situation needs to be viewed in its own context for the empowerment policies not to undermine the mutually beneficial standardized elements of the organizational structure.
Conger, J & Kanungo, R 1988, ‘The Empowerment Process: Integrating Theory and Practice’, The Academy of Management Review, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 471-485.
Hamilton, BH, Nickerson, JA & Owan H 2003, ‘Team Incentives and Worker Heterogeneity: An Empirical Analysis of the Impact of Teams on Productivity and Participation’, Journal of Political Economy, vol. 111, no. 3, pp. 465-497.
Hellinghausen, MA & Myers, J 1998, ‘Empowered Employees: A New Team Concept for Total Customer Satisfaction’. Industrial Management, vol. 40, no. 5, pp.21-23.
Karim, F & Rehman, O 2012, ‘Impact of job satisfaction, perceived organizational justice and employee empowerment on organizational commitment in semi-government organizations of Pakistan’, Journal of Business Studies Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 4, pp.92-104.
Khan, S 1997, ‘The key to being a leader company: Empowerment’, The Journal for Quality and Participation, vol. 20, no.1, pp. 44-50.
Maynard, MT, Gilson, L & Mathieu, J 2012, ‘Empowerment—fad or fab? A multilevel review of the past two decades of research’, Journal of Management, vol. 38, no. 4, pp.1231-1281.
Mishra, A & Spreitzer, G 1998, ‘Explaining How Survivors Respond to Downsizing: The Roles of Trust, Empowerment, Justice, and Work Redesign’, The Academy of Management Review, vol. 23, no.3, pp. 567-575.
Wilkinson, A &Fay, C 2011, ‘New times for employee voice?’ Human Resource Management, vol. 50, no. 1, pp.65-74.