One of the best ways to understand a word or phrase is to look at the basics, such as the two words used in employee empowerment. An employee is one who is working for a business or another individual for pay. Empower can mean giving legal authority to act or promoting the actions of another by giving them the means to do so.
Employee empowerment does not have to be a formal strategy for business, though it has become just that in recent years. For example, an individual business owner may empower an employee simply by telling him or her that he trusts the work will be done properly. When the task is completed, the owner or manager must then support what the employee has accomplished, to complete the process.
The term employee empowerment currently defines a managerial style that allows non-management members of the staff to make decisions without having to get the approval of a manager. In the system of empowerment the company with a formal process will probably define which tasks and which decisions can be made without “upper-level” input.
There are, and always have been, business owners and managers who cannot give up their authority. In a free-enterprise system, this is certainly their privilege. If the workers in that business are satisfied with the conditions and pay, and the business is reasonably profitable, then there is little that needs to be done to change.
However, if the manager or owner of a business wishes to invest in empowerment, he or she must step back from some of the details of daily operations. Generally, the managers or owners will carefully define just which tasks or processes may go forward without that upper-level input. Employees must then follow the guidelines, with limited freedom to make production or service decisions in the course of the day.
There is a second step to employee empowerment that follows the planning involved in such a managerial system. The owner/manager must follow up by supporting the actions of empower employees. As mentioned in the basic example of one owner and one worker, empowerment in a larger firm also requires support after the fact. The company may have to define not only empowered tasks and decisions, but also the process of review, so that the benefits of empowerment are not lost after decisions are made. Owners and managers now have access to seminars, conferences and printed material that will guide them from the idea to the support stage.
What are the benefits of employee empowerment? These can range from simple improvement in employee moral to mid-level managers and production staff members who feel they have something to gain from company success. For the managers who oversee the process, the benefit can come in the form of positive feedback from “above” to extra money in the form of salary or bonus.
How does empowerment get started? Some empowerment systems urge companies with multiple employees to put up a suggestion box, which sometimes brings in workable ideas. A business may also want to establish a small team of three or four people who can design and implement an employee empowerment plan. With any empowerment plan, the manager/owner must firmly believe that the idea is good for business then must follow through.