Empowerment in Action: How to Empower Your Employees

Definition and Examples of Empowered Behavior

Construction worker and architect using laptop
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Are you interested in your own personal empowerment or the empowerment of your employees?

Empowerment is the process of enabling or authorizing an individual to think, behave, take action, and control work and decision-making about her job in autonomous, independent, self-directed ways. It is the state of feeling self-empowered to take control of your own destiny.

Empowerment is feeling in control of your work environment and that you have permission to make decisions in the areas you control and are responsible for in your job.

When thinking about empowerment in human relations terms, try to avoid thinking of it as something that one individual does for another. This is one of the problems organizations have experienced with the concept of empowerment. People think that someone, usually the manager, has to bestow empowerment on the people who report to him.

Consequently, the reporting staff members wait for the bestowing of empowerment, and the manager asks why people won't act in empowered ways. This bestowing and waiting has led to a general unhappiness, mostly undeserved, with the concept of empowerment in many organizations.

Think of empowerment, instead, as the process of an individual enabling himself to take action and control work and decision making in autonomous ways. Empowerment comes from the individual.

The organization has the responsibility to create a work environment which helps foster the ability and desire of employees to act in empowered ways.

The work organization has the responsibility to remove barriers that limit the ability of staff to act in empowered ways.

Think too, of empowerment as an employee philosophy and strategy that organizations benefit from adopting. Empowered employees, who are operating within an organization's strategic framework that includes mission and goals, increase the productivity and effectiveness of the workplace.

They are enabled to perform their jobs more efficiently and effectively without feeling as if they are waiting for a decision, waiting for direction, and waiting for permission to act. They become more responsible and accountable when self-direction is the norm.

Empowerment Is Also Known As:

Employee involvement and participative management are often used to mean empowerment. They are not really interchangeable. Each describes a different characteristic of an effective workplace. 

Examples of Empowerment

These are examples of empowerment in action.

  • The manager of the Human Resources department added weeks to the process of hiring new employees by requiring his supposedly empowered staff members to obtain his signature on every document related to the hiring of a new employee. Consequently, documents sat on his desk in a pile until he had time to review them.

    When the time problem was brought to his attention and the fact that is actions impeded empowered behavior, he fostered empowerment by telling employees they no longer needed his signature unless the hire involved extraordinary circumstances or an executive position.
  • John empowered himself to discuss the career objectives he wished to pursue with his supervisor. He told his supervisor, frankly, that if the opportunities were not available in his current company, he would move on to another company. 
  • Mary took charge of her career by fueling her sense of empowerment when she developed a career path plan, met with her manager to ask for her assistance to achieve it, and set goals for its accomplishment in her performance development plan.
  • The company's management style involved sharing the goals, sharing each employee's expectations and framework with the employee, and then, getting out of the way while employees were empowered to set goals, accomplish their objectives, and determine how to do their jobs.

Empowerment is a desirable management and organizational style that enables employees to practice autonomy, control their own jobs, and use their skills and abilities to benefit both their organization and themselves. I recommend empowerment.

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