Employee empowerment erosion: How? Who? Why?

I first learned about erosion in my geography class at school. It was when we learned about how streams find their way, eroding and smoothening rocks, to join other flowing currents to form rivers and invariably find their way into a sea.  So erosion is “the gradually gnawing away”.

When one speaks of employee empowerment being eroded, it is generally caused by it’s replacement by the age-old belief that a company’s only resource is the money it has. Today, we know that this is further from the truth than the furthest galaxy known to us is from us. It does render having other resources, just like these very “other” resources make it possible for the company to have money. So, the circle of this argument is about as vicious as the one about the egg and the chicken.

However, when service is scripted and procedures become more important than the “needs” or as I like to call them desires of customers, without as much as sounding sincere and are merely read or recited by heart rather than enquired by the workforce, the client base tends to become wary of the quality of the service offered by the company.

In days bygone, a car used to be repaired, now spare parts are replaced. The result is a higher cost not only of “repairs”, but also in terms of the consequences of replacing rather than repairing. A mechanic used to listen to the car’s motor and body and not only diagnose the problem but come up with the easiest and most cost-effective and efficient solution – for himself and the customer. Now, it just get’s connected to a computer and the mechanic replaces the part altogether without as much as wondering what could be wrong with it. The onus of the diagnosis has shifted from the person to a machine.

When I was ill and went to the doctor, I was given a thorough auscultation whilst the x-ray machines, blood tests and other gadgetry remained either for the richer patients or for exceptional use; what was better, I usually came away without any medical prescription beside the odd couple of tablets which cured symptoms such as fever or a syrup for the cough. Today, the auscultation mostly consists of x-ray images, a blood test of some sort, and the patient feels insulted if the prescription doesn’t consist of at least half a page of prescribed medicine, another battery of tests and even some other novel and innovative way for the doctor to prove his ability to think out of the box.

What I am trying to get at is the fact that the advent of gadgetry in the professional world has made our jobs so impersonal and the onus shifted so much on to them, with the chains of humans getting longer and longer in the process so that the responsibility that doctors used to take has turned into a slithering blame, and given time, the destination of that blame will be some sort of a freak machine malfunction.

In the meanwhile, Universities have spewed out so many doctors that the number of hospitals has had to be increased, making room for even some hypochondriacs to occupy and financially support the “health maintenance organisation” (Carlin,1997)  of their choice.

Rasmussen (2014), made another point which is interesting by saying,”the next time a politician talks about empowerment, ask the candidate how they are going to give you more power to walk away and make your own decisions.” I would suggest doing that with management within an organisation as well! For having done it previously, I can even suggest asking for deadlines; in most cases, it is Human Resource management who tend to use such terminology with their target group. As such, they do owe specific explanations. By questioning the HR management, the workforce will hopefully, in the medium to long term, lead them to do what Royles (2014) suggests as follows, “HR needs to adapt policies and become more flexible, rather than sticking to compliance and control.” On the other hand, this has to be done in a strategically measured way rather than “argue that every judgement a manager makes about a set of individual circumstances sets a ‘precedent’. (Ibid)

It is by hiding behind terminology that is, for the most part, meaningless to the workforce, that management through HR puts equity – in other words, profit making – before empowerment and let the latter be eroded by the former. The management must be subjected to the same SMART goal setting that it subjects it’s workforce to. For those who might have forgotten what SMART goal setting is all about, here is a link that might help you out.

Whilst we are at it, employee empowerment is, as Johnson (2014) reminds us, “an umbrella term that includes everything that enhances the capacity of people to make decisions and take actions (including about their own work) that lead to desirable outcomes for the organisation.”

As an example, and to illustrate that in countries, and at levels where employee empowerment is only spoken about, there continue to be disparities in salaries and opportunities for women in various fields. A report from Kerala, India singles out a company which empowers women at their workplace, to the point of paying them at par with their male counterparts, ensuring that the atmosphere is stressless, conducive to working productively. What is more, they have taken work to the workers rather than the other way round or cutting them out of the circuit altogether.

If the more developed countries took such examples and followed them, there would be less word and more deed in the ideal world of employee empowerment rather than it’s erosion. There would be progress and responsibility of actions taken rather than blame being shifted from one desk to the next, sending customers to climb up walls and walk on ceilings without any assistance whatsoever from any form of a ladder.

Employee empowerment gets eroded when and only when the onus is wrongly placed on a single aspect of an entire organisation’s operational and communicative process rather than applying it holistically to the entire organisation. The entire process of the required change is described here.

Reference:

G. Carlin (1997), “Brain Droppings”, Hyperion, New York, USA

A. Johnson, (2014), “Why employee empowerment can lead the way to greater success”, How to Growth Strategies, Business Journals, American City Business Journals, available at http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/how-to/growth-strategies/2014/12/employee-empowerment-and-business-success.html

S. Rasmussen (2014), “The ability to walk away is key to empowerment”, CovNews, available at http://www.covnews.com/section/122/article/56257/

D. Royles (2014), “HR Policies that empower?”, HR Magazine, available at
http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/hro/features/1146363/hr-policies-empower