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The Benefits and Problems of Management Empowerment Essay

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In the fast paced world of today, one of the main challenges in management is designing and implementing effective human capital strategies to enhance performance and accountability among the employees in a firm. Some of the main variables to be considered in this context are job satisfaction, team empowerment, participative management, and strategic planning (GAO 1999). Many of these factors are interlinked and various studies have shown that job satisfaction is a major factor in employee retention. People quit their jobs for many reasons and one such primary cause is dissatisfaction with some aspect of the job. This is a major problem for most companies leading to major expenditure of funds in the recruitment and training of new employees, payment of overtime to cover vacant positions, and losses in effectiveness and efficiency due to large numbers of inexperienced employees. According to research by the Kentucky Department of Corrections (DOC) it was found that those employees who feel more empowered are more satisfied with their jobs, and thus, are more inclined to stay with the organization. Thus employee empowerment is crucial factor that creates job satisfaction and job satisfactions solves many human resources related problems in a firm.

Understanding Empowerment

What exactly is empowerment? For a very long time, managers have tended to keep their employees in the dark and give them very little real information. Management tended to maintain a distance with the employees at lower levels. Empowerment happens when employees are trusted and provided with information. According to Dennis, empowered employees are motivated to higher levels of effectiveness, efficiency and commitment. To provide empowerment to an individual, it is necessary to focus on an organizational culture that supports employee participation and empowerment (Foster-Fishman and Keys, 1997). Employee participation involves a style of management that includes effective delegation. The most important concept of empowerment is to delegate responsibility to the lowest levels in the organization. The decision making process should highly decentralized and individuals or work designed teams should be responsible for a complete part of work processes (Lawler, 1994: 70).

Employee empowerment can be achieved only by a leader who has a detailed and elaborate vision. Dennis (1998) says: “The key to successful management is the creation of a future vision which truly empowers employees”. This culture of empowerment also will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of both line and supervisory staff by giving them a true sense of ownership. In a nutshell, empowering employees involves, creating and sharing a vision for the organization that motivates employees to give their very best, involving key staff at all levels of the organization in the development of a mission statement, providing them with leadership training, promoting core values that underline the importance of team-building, identifying potential leaders and providing them specialized training, evaluating employees with a credible appraisal system based on merit and accepting feedback from employees.

Empowerment is based upon the belief that employees need the organization as much as the organization needs them and that leaders understand that employees are the most valuable asset in the firm (Olsson, 2007). Research has shown that there is a positive link between participation and satisfaction, motivation and performance (Holander, Offerman, 1990: 183). One way of having participative management is through employee involvement teams that work on specific problems. Studies have shown that such teams have proved effective in resolving problems related to productivity and quality, as well as improved employee morale and job satisfaction (Bartol, Martin, 1991: 650).

Benefits of Empowerment to Employers – Better Performance

The link between job satisfaction and enhanced performance is a point to be considered. Researchers have disputed the extent to which increased job satisfaction leads to improved performance. Iaffaldano and Muchinsky (1985) conclude that there is only a weak relationship between job satisfaction and performance Brayfield and Crockett (1955) conclude there is no evidence of a relationship between job satisfaction and performance. However, based on a meta-analysis, Petty, McGee, and Cavender (1984) demonstrate a strong relationship between job satisfaction and performance. Thus, empowerment of employees that provides job satisfaction for employees can also benefit the employers in the form of increased performance. There is consistent evidence that low job satisfaction results in absenteeism, reduced commitment to organizations, turnover, and stress (Eby et al. 1999). Hence, it is important for employers to focus on factors that provide job satisfaction.

According to Torrington et al (2005), organizations that empower employees are found to make use of autonomous teamwork that results in greater release of commitment, creativity and potential of team members. Moreover, empowerment of employees facilitates their growth to full potential. This means that employees have an environment that allows them to move towards fulfillment of their higher level needs such as self-actualization (Maslow’s motivational theory). As most employees these days have their basic, safety and social needs met, most companies would benefit from providing them with empowerment that will motivate them.

Many others studies have focused on the relationship between empowerment and job satisfaction and concluded that satisfied employees are more likely to be regular in their attendance and more committed towards the firm (Eby et al. 1999). This implies that there is greater individual productivity and reduced absenteeism and increased retention in the case of empowered employees. These factors are important targets for current human resources management (Eby et al. 1999). Researchers such as Eby et al. 1999 have found that empowerment of employees and treating them fairly intensifies their desire for work and thereby results in reduced rates of turnover and absenteeism. This is again profitable for the employers.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1982) says that employee empowerment may be used to maximum advantage in the following situations: to gain new sources of expertise an experience; to get collaboration that multiplies a person’s effort by providing assistance, backup, or stimulation of better performance; to allow all of those who feel they know something about the subject to get involved; to build consensus on a controversial issue; to allow representatives of those affected by an issue to influence decisions and build commitment to them; to allow more wide-ranging or creative discussions/solutions than are available by normal means; to balance or confront vested interests in the face of the need to change; to address conflicting approaches or views; and finally to develop and educate people through their participation (Nykodym et al, 1994).

Benefits of Empowerment to Employees: Participative Management

Empowerment of employees facilitates their growth to full potential. Apart from that ob satisfaction acquired through empowerment is a great reward to employees. Participative management enhances employee empowerment and there is lot of research based evidence that such empowerment through participative management can positively affect job satisfaction of employees (Bernstein, 1993). Participative management involves sharing of influence among individuals who are otherwise hierarchical unequals (Wagner, 1994). In participatory management model, managers and their subordinates work together in information-processing, decision-making, or problem-solving endeavors (Wagner, 1994). Participative decision making has been proven to be directly linked to job satisfaction and many studies have shown that participative decision making can put workers in a positive mental frame and create job satisfaction (Fisher, 1989). Thus workers also benefit from empowerment.

According to Spreitzer, Kizilos, and Nason (1997) the idea of empowerment comes directly from concepts of participative management and employee involvement. These authors explain that participative management is based on the belief that participatory management would enhance performance and work satisfaction. Therefore, job satisfaction was one of the earliest expected outcomes of empowerment. Participative management also involves participative decision making. Daniels and Bailey (1999) argue that when individuals participate in decisions concerning the basic nature of their work environment they feel empowered and job satisfied (Daniels and Bailey, 1999). From the viewpoint of the employees, empowerment can enhance cohesion among the employees, and gives them power through opportunities for influencing organizational operations and decision making (Zimmerman, 1990).

London and Larsen (1999) have found that an employee’s immediate supervisor has an important role in creating a non-controlling environment that empowers self-development. When there are supportive supervisors, employees are encouraged to voice their own opinions, and provide valuable feedback (London and Larsen 1999). This is empowerment in an indirect way. Emmert and Taher (1992) say that social environment and job-related feedback are significant determinants of job satisfaction for all kinds of employees. Their research proves that people who view their job environment in a positive manner and who have good relations with their colleagues and supervisors have greater job satisfaction than others. Other studies have already proved that participative management leading to employee empowerment provides the job environment in which employees feel most positive and thus it can be concluded that empowerment of employees directly leads to job satisfaction.

Results from the study by Soonhee Kim (2002) lend further support to this conclusion. The study has also proved that a participative strategic planning process and effective supervisory communication can lead to job satisfaction and these factors arise only through employee empowerment.

Problems in Employee Empowerment

Empowerment in general involves power and control issues. In order to implement employee empowerment process, there needs to be a certain organizational culture that promotes flexibility to change and expand their power structure and also encourages independent thinking among their employees. Staff empowerment also leads to increased staff control in vital departments. Such control requires greater access to resources and/or more discretionary choice in the conduct of one’s work (Rappaport, 1981; Spreitzer, 1995). It involves more opportunities to exercise these new found prerogatives.

All of these expansive opportunities need a willingness from leaders and managers to expand their sharing of power to provide staff greater access to resources and increased discretion (Hollander & Offerman, 1990). These changes in power structure may not only redistribute control but also increase the overall amount of autonomy and influence exerted. Because this restructuring requires significant system and individual change (Bartunek & Moch, 1987), the organization’s capacity to affirm such change is important. Unless the organization is one in which the culture promotes risk taking, empowerment is impossible (Senge, 1990). Management and top leadership should be willing to share information and power with subordinates. There is the risk that the power at the top is diluted through employee empowerment. But if there is such a risk taking culture in the organization, then, the employees are empowered, and their confidence is boosted. It encourages them to seek access to power and resources. Empowerment of employees takes place in organizations that promote a sense of community and develops organizational citizenship (Bond & Keys, 1993).

Managers trying to explain job satisfaction through participative management hold that as long as subordinates feel that they are participating and are consulted, their ego needs will be satisfied and they will be more cooperative (Richie and Miles, 1970). But Matt Vidal (2005) holds that empowerments need not always lead to job satisfaction. Vidal explains that alleged increase in the responsibilities and abilities of front-line workers has been labeled empowerment by many commentators. Vidal opines that increasing employee involvement does not necessarily increase satisfaction. His study is based on interviews with workers. The research indicates that empowerment may involve substantial new responsibilities that can cause additional stress and tension to the employees. In such a case, empowerment may be considered a burden rather than as a challege. In the paper titled “A Dimensional Analysis of the Relationship between Psychological Empowerment and Effectiveness Satisfaction, and Strain” Spreitzer et al study the contribution of the four dimensions of psychological empowerment in predicting three expected outcomes of empowerment: effectiveness, work satisfaction, and job-related strain. The four dimensions of empowerment are meaning, competence, self-determination, and impact (Spreitzer et al, 1997). The results show that that employees need to experience each of the empowerment dimensions in order to achieve all of the hoped for outcomes of empowerment. This implies that only when employees find meaning, challenge, power to choose their responsibilities and adequate resources, they feel empowered and job satisfied.

There is another problem with the implementation of employee empowerment. Employee empowerment can happen only when the employees desire change and feel a genuine need for empowerment. Without this desire, empowerment is unlikely even if the organization supports such transformations. Only when the employees are individuals who desire greater control they are more likely to acquire new behaviors and pursue empowering opportunities (Florin & Wandersman, 1990).

In the case of employee empowerment, there is increased responsibility and thrust on the employees. There is also pressure on the management to acknowledge the potential of employees and respect their suggestions in the context of quality problems (Stevens, 1993: 20). Stevens (1993: 20) warns that if management refuses to act upon team recommendations, “the team members’ faith in the quality program will be destroyed.” Also, in such cases it is possible that employees may be given the impression that employee empowerment is just eyewash and the decision making powers still rest with the top management (Scully, 1993: 453). Scully (1993: 455) argues that to some people empowerment means more delegation in form of indirect control while some people may see empowerment as abandonment. The latter view can lead to organizational conflict. “Workers affected by proposed changes must be involved in the decision to change, else they will fight progress” (Magjuka, 1993: 63). In an empowered organization, employees should be ready for the change and ready to accept new roles.

Many supervisors fear that empowerment may make them lose authority and power and ultimately their jobs. This fear is most common in the middle management and hence empowerment of employees has a lot of resistance from the middle management (Keighley, 1993: 7). Keighley argues that this resistance to change can be reduced by setting, measuring and evaluating performance together with the team (1993: 8). Hand feels that supervisors and managers should be trained in order to cope with organizational change (1994: 24). Empowered personnel have “responsibility, a sense of ownership, satisfaction in accomplishments, power over what and how things are done, recognition for their ideas, and the knowledge that they are important to the organization” (Turney 1993: 30). Empowerment works the best when employees need their organization as much as the organization needs them, “and the need is much more than a paycheck and benefit package” (Johnson, 1993: 47).

Very often during employee empowerment, there is likely to be conflict among the middle level managers and the top level managers who set up tasks and teams. Sometimes, empowerment of employees through participation is offered as a gift and this can seem insulting to the employees. If employee empowerment is made voluntary, it is not representative, if it does not, it is coercive. Thus care should be taken that employees have a say in the decision to introduce empowerment. There can be conflicts regarding the team structure and management if the boundaries are not clearly defined. The manager should be part of the team at all times. Again, in empowerment through teamwork, sometimes, members fail to express their personal view on problems due to inhibitions and tend to go with the majority action. This is more popularly known as the “Abilene Paradox”. Thus they lead one another to misperceived collective reality. This can be destructive to the organization and result in frustration and anger amidst the members (Nykodym et al, 1994).

Komal Khalid Bhatti and Tahir Masood Qureshi (2007) in their recent paper titled “Impact of employee participation on job satisfaction, employee commitment and employee productivity” warn that increasing employee participation is a long-term process involving empowerment which needs attention from both the management side and the employee side (Bhatti and Qureshi, 2007). Thus both employees and employers need to be in a ready condition for employee empowerment to be truly effective.

Win-Win situation

It is sometimes possible that an organization has a flexible risk-taking organizational culture, a leader who is willing to support the participative management model and employees desirous of change and wanting more control. In this case, employee empowerment can be a win-win situation for both sides. Empowerment causes employees to have more member commitment and work-group cohesion and less likely to experience personnel problems such as turnover and sabotage (Argyris, 1971). Such positive effects among employees can lead to greater trust in the organization which in turn may become more able to provide power and resources for sharing with its employees (Bond & Keys, 1993). In short, when both organizational and both individual preconditions for empowerment coexist, there is a greater likelihood for empowerment of employees.

In a study by Carson et al (1999), involving a survey of medical librarians it was found that employees who were dually committed to their organizations and careers reported the highest empowerment, willingness to engage in service recovery, and work satisfaction. They also showed lower job and career withdrawal intentions than did any other group. Interestingly, librarians who were committed to both their organizations and careers reported viewing their supervisors as having stronger legitimate and expert power bases. This is a win-win situation. This finding implies that managers should encourage employees to become attached to both their organizations and careers and this can be achieved only when the employee trusts the supervisor. In order to develop trust, employees should be treated as equals in a team. A climate of mutual trust is also fostered when employees are empowered. In such a climate, empowered workers can be confident about taking the risks necessary to attain organizational goals.

Decentralization is important for a win-win situation in the issue of employee empowerment. The study titled “Examining the relationship between organizational structure, job involvement, job satisfaction, and empowerment: implications for human resource development” by S. Bhargava and A. Kelkar (2001), concludes that centralization was positively correlated with job involvement but negatively with job satisfaction and empowerment. This implies that empowered employees need not necessarily be job satisfied. However, the negative correlation of centralization with job satisfaction and empowerment underlines the importance of decentralization (Bhargava and Kelkar, 2001). Only with decentralization, a win-win situation is possible.


In summary, employee empowerment results in a win-win situation only when the psychological attitudes of employees and managers, the climate of the organization and the environmental conditions are conducive. Several studies have been done over the years have produced mixed results regarding the connection between empowerment and job satisfaction. Factors such as role conflict, ambiguity, stress, differences in goals, job levels and personalities can negatively affect the win-win situation. The empowerment process must be effectively to avoid problems. There is a greater shift towards employee empowerment these days mainly because decision making is becoming more and more complex and managers need to integrate the knowledge of employees in different functional and technical areas. Moreover, employees of today desire to have a voice in management decisions. It is only through a win-win situation through empowerment that the organization can meet the intense competition in the global market.


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