The multiple benefits of empowerment

Apr 19 2011 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Almost all of us like to feel that we are in control of our own lives and destinies Ė and that's as true in the workplace as it is anywhere else. Which is why it should come as no surprise that a new study has confirmed that workers who feel empowered by their employers have higher morale and are more productive, regardless of their industry, job role or even their culture.

Scott Seibert, professor of management in the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa, reviewed more than 140 studies into various aspects of empowerment in the workplace that have been carried out since 1995.

What he found was certain organizational and management factors stand out as having a impact on staff empowerment and overall organizational performance. In particular, these are:

High performance practices: Managers share information, decentralize authority, involve workers in decision-making, provide training opportunities and pay well. Seibert said high performance management makes workers feel a strong part of their organization and that they matter to the firm's success.

Socio-political support: Managers make their employees feel like a valued part of the organization, and encourage employees to recognize each other's importance.

Effective leadership: A manager who inspires, provides strong feedback and is a good role model enhances workers' feelings of competence and helps employees find meaning in their work.

Work design characteristics: managers encourage training and provide individual workers with challenging work assignments.

"Managers in these studies reported that empowered workers were more innovative and more willing to take the initiative to solve problems on their own," Seibert said.

"Employees said they were more engaged in their work when empowered, that they felt like they had an influence and an impact on the business around them."

He added that it is clear that when implemented properly, empowerment initiatives can lead to higher job satisfaction, lower turnover and reduced stress among employees. Empowered workers also are more innovative and perform better at their jobs. These improvements apply to team performance as well as individual performance, and that they tended to be strongest in the service sector.

Empowerment also has an impact across national borders and different cultures, though its impact seems to be greater in Asia than in North America.

While Seibert work focussed on the productivity benefits of empowerment, other studies have shown a further benefit of empowered workers: better health and lower rates of absenteeism. Among the most important work factors associated with psychological ill health and sickness absence are a lack of control over work, lack of participation in decision making and unclear management and work role.

The findings, from a study carried out in Finland in 2003, also revealed that that male workers classed as having low justice in 'decision making procedures' had a 41 per cent higher risk of sickness absence than their 'high justice' equivalents.