Does the rhetoric of empowerment drop on your head at every turn like ‘confetti’?

(LinkedIn sent me a note saying that publishing shorter posts and more often is better than waiting for the perfect draft. Thank you LinkedIn. That is actually quite inspiring)!

In the next few posts, I will write about employee empowerment, a subject that I have studied and researched for a number of years, interviewed people and written a book on it. I will share my research findings, which has made a notable contribution to knowledge in this area of employee empowerment.

Does the rhetoric of employee empowerment drop on your head at every turn like‘confetti’? Humphries (1996). It is not just profit making organisations, even not for profit organisations, such as, charities, social work, medical, and the teaching sector, everywhere, the word ‘empowerment’ seems to pop up and strewn like confetti.

Well, it is good that the subject of empowerment is being talked about, but there is concern in the management literature that there is lack of information and evidence based research with regards to what employee empowerment means, which attracted me to study this subject. I thought, well, if I am going to spend five or six years (turned out to be seven years, part-time) studying for a PhD, I would like to choose a subject which has been criticised for lack of research, which would mean that my PhD findings may be of some use, instead of sitting on University library shelves.

Encouraged by a publisher in UK, I wrote a short book and published part of my research findings. Professor Adrian Wilkinson (Director, Centre for Work, Organisation and Well-being, of Griffith University), read the manuscript of my book ‘Employee Empowerment the rhetoric & the reality’ and remarked: ‘Rozana Huq has made an important contribution to the subject of employee empowerment with this book’ (Huq, 2010; p.v)

I could not let important things that people I have interviewed said to me about how they experienced and felt about employee empowerment sit inside my leather bound thesis, it needs to be shared; their voices freed. After all, one of the outcomes of empowerment is that people’s voices need to be heard. And, if I don’t let their voices be heard I will not have done them justice. As, one employee I interviewed said to me, ‘Rozana, I would like you to tell my boss how we feel that our organisation is paying lip service to empowerment. But, please keep my name anonymous. But, I want you to give the message from our department, without saying who said it; we are told we are empowered, but if we go ahead and take a decision without consulting our manager we get told off’! It was obvious that people’s emotions and the psychological implications of employee empowerment are not given attention to. Another manager said to me, ‘we are not good at dealing with the problems of soft skills’. But, if ignored, the soft skills can be the most hardest to solve in organisations.

As my particular research was concerned with people’s personal experiences of employee empowerment, qualitative methods were appropriate in order to retell their story and ‘… capture the richness and diversity of human experience …’ (Sommer and Sommer, 2002). Thus, an interpretive approach employing qualitative methods was used in my research study.

Several authors have noted this, and Wilkinson (1998) remarks that the term employee empowerment has become part of everyday management, and it tends to be regarded as providing a solution to the ‘age-old problem of Taylorised and bureaucratic workplaces where creativity is stifled and workers become alienated’. This is echoed in my own research, where call centre operators in a large telecommunications company remarked in an honest way that they felt more ‘alienated’ since the organisation tried to implement employee empowerment.

‘Why is this happening?’ ‘Why are employees feeling alienated?’ In the first instance, the natural response would be to criticise organisations, leaders or managers of organisations who do pay lip service. But, I think there is a genuine case of the lack of information and research about this area of employee empowerment, and hence organisations do not have the information of really what employee empowerment means. For example, many are of the opinion that delegation, employee involvement or employee participation is employee empowerment. But, after gathering the evidence it is not the case; the fact is that the aforementioned management practices, such as, delegation, employee involvement or employee participation are not employee empowerment. I will talk about this in another post.

To continue the debate of organisations paying ‘lip service’ my argument is how can organisation be expected to implement employee empowerment or blamed for not practising employee empowerment properly, if there is lack of information regarding what it is and how it is to be implemented? Most organisations try their best to implement employee empowerment, particularly if they are applying for Quality Awards, such as the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM), where empowering employees is important to be able to ‘harness the creativity and innovation’ in people and ‘succeeding through the talent of people’.

But, there is no framework or information found about the ‘how to?’ In other words, how does an organisation empower people? What will be the policy to practice with regards to it; are they aware of the pitfalls? These are some of the areas where my research contributes to knowledge. So, in a humble way I will share some of my findings with regards to this, sometimes using actual quotes what people have said (always respecting anonymity). In this way, it is hoped that the knowledge of employee empowerment can be shared, in the true sense of ‘knowledge sharing’ with people who are genuinely interested in this area of employee empowerment.

© Copyright Dr Rozana Ahmad Huq.  October, 2014.

Thank you for reading, until the next Huq Post ….

References:

Humphries, B. (1996); Critical Perspectives on Empowerment, Birmingham, Venture Press.

Huq, R. (2010); Employee Empowerment the rhetoric & the reality, UK, Triarchy Press.

Sommer, R. and Sommer, B. (2002); A Practical Guide to Behavioural Research, Tools and Techniques, 5 Edition, New York, Oxford University Press.

Wilkinson, A. (1998); Empowerment: Theory and Practice, Personnel Review, 27, 1, pp. 40-56.

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