Empowerment – advantages and disadvantages
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According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary empower is defined as “to give official authority or legal power to” therefore employee empowerment would be giving official authority and power to employees, or giving the employees responsibility for what they do. Employee empowerment, or just empowerment, has many positive and also many negative or controversial sides, throughout this paper I will discuss these points and discuss them in depth.
Empowerment is a trend that has been hitting companies since the 1990’s. The movement had originally started in the 1980’s when managers were encouraged to give their workers more involvement in work-related decisions but has now grown into its own controversial topic as 31% of companies define themselves as empowered.
Many companies believe that being in an empowered company will motivate the worker. They believe this because it gives the job content. Researchers have shown that at the individual level and the team level that giving the workers power over themselves will increase productivity. An example of this is Domination Information Systems out of Vancouver. They are the publisher of the BC Yellow Pages and gave empowerment a try in their company. Since they have started the move into empowerment they now take 7% of the time to fix complaints from 27 days to 2. They also have reduced their customer complaints by 40% in the same time period. With fixing customer relations the company has saw a revenue growth of 40% and an employee turnover rate of slightly over 5%. It appears obvious that empowerment has a dazzling effect in the workplace just from this one example. Workers are doing their jobs more efficiently and now are given the opportunity to make their working conditions better and operate a more efficient schedule as they see fit, and by the numbers they have put on the board it appears that the employees are putting together some convincing numbers.
Empowerment has much more to offer than higher productivity numbers. Empowerment also makes healthier workers. With regards to the workers empowerment gives them self-determination, a sense of meaning, a sense of competence, and a sense of impact on their jobs. Giving employees this kind of recognition makes them feel a lot better about themselves and creates a healthier work environment. From the manager’s view, empowerment has an arrangement of advantages. Managers can spend less time worrying about the day-to-day running of the company and more time on running the company more efficiently. They get to do this because to them empowerment lowers administrative burden and gives them more reliable feedback from their workers. An example of this is the RCMP. The RCMP has used empowerment throughout the last decade and has become more efficient because of it. In the past if you wanted to fill the car up with gas or go buy some small supplies, like pens, for the office you had to ask permission from your supervisor which is usually the detachment commander.
The detachment commander is usually the busiest member of the office and was always pestered by this. Now you do not need to ask permission to do these everyday tasks. The same goes for the detachment commander, he used to need permission to buy larger office supplies such as computers, desks, and what not, but now, he does not need to get permission from the district manager to do this because of empowerment the detachment commander now has a budget to spend on office supplies. This is another primary example of why empowerment is a good item to have in the workplace. Another company that has used empowerment and has received many benefits from it is Conoco oil. When going to fix something on a job site the Foreman used to have to supervise the whole job and be at the site guiding the process. Now due to empowerment the foreman tells the crew leader what to do and the crew leader gets to make the decisions on how to fix the problem the best way he sees. To summarize the advantages of empowerment in the workplace; Empowerment creates a more efficient work environment, a cost efficient business, gives employees job satisfaction and health, and creates a friendlier environment to work in.
As we learned in talking about Conoco oil empowerment gives the workers lower in the chain more work to do at the same pay. Many people believe that this kind of behaviour is a way of dumping work off on the little guy and not having to pay him for it. In a way they are right. Many companies have told their employees that they can make decisions for themselves, but are either not trained in making these decisions, and then if the problem is not fixed it is their fault, or are afraid to make what decision they feel is right because they do not believe that their manager or supervisor will agree with them. Many unions that represent workers in empowered companies do not agree with this process. Another problem that people are facing with empowerment are health risks. Even though empowerment has been said to make you healthier as an individual, it has been attributed to many illnesses and deaths. A study done at the University of Toronto and found “that when people are put in charge at work, but don’t have the confidence to handle their responsibilities, they can become ill.” Another problem that corporations are faced with because of empowerment results because of the managers.
Managers are un-willing to teach their workers those same tasks that they perform because they feel they could be easily replaced. This is shown to the public through a commercial by I.B.M. Corp. where they have a executive in a museum and he is obsolete, or as they say “executivis obsoletus.” This fear is not good for the employee morale and creates an unhealthy and non-functional work environment. Another problem faced with changing the work structure and putting empowerment into place is different views. Different departments can have different ideas of how much to empower employees or what jobs are needed for the company to run efficiently. This could start problems with the managers and upper-level staff due to the conflict of opinions.
To summarize what we have talked about, empowerment has many positive and many negative effects. It can be a negative effect because of the possibility of threats to the workers. If the workers are not happy, they will not be productive, and if they are not productive, you as the owner will lose money. However, although there is the potential for chaos because of empowerment, there is a vast amount of benefits that come with it. If you have a good management team to guide your work force your company will receive the benefits of empowerment. These include higher productivity, healthier work environment, better morale in the workplace, and greater customer service among other effects. Empowerment offers an opportunity for companies to expand, grow and become more profitable. I would recommend that any company, that has faith in their managers, input empowerment into their company. The benefits are too great to pass up and that is why it has become a fad that is sweeping the work force whether it is in government companies like the RCMP, or in the private sector like IBM.