Oxford Review Research Briefing
Why Employee Empowerment Works
Research from the hospitality sector has uncovered some interesting insights into what drives individual employee empowerment. It highlights the issues and resistance when staff are empowered to act without assistance from management. It also shows that when executed in the right way, employee empowerment can have a positive impact on workers, create greater job satisfaction, drive productivity and increase overall profits in a company.
Hotel and hospitality staff tend to be given greater power in their roles because of the nature of the industry. By empowering them and giving them more freedom to make decisions, it improves service quality and outcomes for customers. Employee empowerment has a positive impact on employees, resulting in lower staff turnover, greater job satisfaction, more commitment, increased productivity and, ultimately, happier customers.
At a frontline staff level, it means that when a customer asks for something, staff can make it happen immediately without needing to check with management. A bottle of champagne at midnight, for example, long after the bar has closed. Empowering staff to make on the spot decisions gives them more control and freedom, resulting in the smoother running of operations.In giving staff more power, many hotel chains found that they needed less management overall. This positively impacted staff costs and drove up profits.
Reducing Power Distance
Four top hotel chains started to use the concept of employee empowerment in areas which until recently had a high power-distance between staff and management – meaning where management had all the control and made all the decisions. The new approach to service was introduced to reflect the expectations of an increasingly international, demanding client base and saw encouraging results.
What often happens when staff are given greater levels of empowerment is that greater supervision and control is imposed on them. This is usually because of fear, for example, of a front desk employee giving too great a discount to a guest. Previous research has shown that to make true empowerment possible, the following processes need to be put in place:
1. Express confidence in an employee’s abilities
2. Communicate high expectations concerning their performance
3. Allow employees to participate in the decision-making process
4. Allow employees freedom and autonomy in how they perform their jobs
5. Set inspirational or managerial goals for employees
6. Use a position of power in a prudent, positive way and limit the use of coercive power
A Continuous Process
Empowerment can’t be imposed through a one-off program, but must be a continuous process. Once empowered, it’s difficult to go back – so remember that when you start down the road, the genie is out of the bottle!Empowerment is largely a psychological concept; people need to “know” they are empowered to make decisions. Equally, management need to manage mistakes from a learning and performance management point of view, rather than using dated reward and punishment management tactics. The authors of the paper wanted to discover the contributory factors to empowerment – these can be seen in the diagram below.
Initially, there can be inherent issues with empowerment. Often pushback comes from management who are used to the status gained from the old power distance. Additionally, it’s likely that “uncertainty avoidance” will be an issue to start with as staff might worry they’re crossing boundaries when making decisions. They may also realize that empowerment not only increases their freedom to take action, but it also increases their responsibility, accountability and workload. This can often lead to resistance from staff.
While empowerment is a great way to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction, there is only one way to go with it – all the way or not at all. It’s not a one-way street; there is likely to be resistance from management and staff until they get used to the new arrangement. But get it right and it can transform your organization for the better.
Andi Tamsang Binti Andi Kele et al, “How willing/unwilling are luxury hotels’ staff to be empowered? A case of East Malaysia” (2017) Tourism Management Perspectives.
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