Why Employee Empowerment is Inadequate to Achieve Employee Engagement

August 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

According to Gallup and some prominent human resource consulting firms, employee engagement scores continue to hover at inadequate levels. I believe our misunderstanding and misuse of the phase “employee empowerment” exemplifies why these results remain at unacceptable levels.
The dictionary definition of empowerment is “to give power or authority.” If we accept this definition we must assume that managers and/or leaders in organizations own the power and they willingly give it to employees. This suggests that leaders retain the power they just lend it out to employees and this means they can take it away anytime they wish. What impression does that create? For me it is arrogant and controlling. Arrogance and control damage employee engagement. This is why empowerment is inadequate if we want to solve this engagement dilemma and raise the scores.
Our Declaration of Independence clarifies the natural law rights (endowed by the creator) of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Don’t those same rights apply to all employees? Aren’t they guaranteed by the creator and not granted by the leaders? Why are we not living the same principles in our organizations that we espouse for our society? If we did, wouldn’t that increase employee engagement? Wouldn’t that acknowledgement shift a leader’s job from oversight (the granting rights) to support (the protection of natural rights)? The reason empowerment is inadequate to raise engagement scores is because the concept of empowerment is not aligned with natural law. I believe employees (just like citizens) naturally have the right to life, liberty (freedom and autonomy), and the pursuit of happiness (pride at work). Leaders should not be in a position to grant these. They should instead realize their responsibility to protect them.
My step son and his 7 year old daughter went to the lake for a swim. A raft is situated approximately 50 yards off shore and he and his daughter decided to swim out to it for a relaxing sun bathe. The life guard stopped them because my step son was swimming out to the raft with his daughter clinging to his neck. The life guard explained that, for safety reasons, policy stated that everyone must be able to swim to the raft unassisted. The life guard asked them to go back to shore.
My granddaughter was very upset and started to cry. She wanted to go to the raft but she was not sure she could swim on her own. She thought for a moment and told her dad, “I think I can swim it. Will you help me?” Of course he agreed and she was successful. She felt great e and happiness. It was not because he made her do it and it was not because he granted her the right to try. It was because she exercised her rights and he supported her.
Leaders must get over these thoughts of omniscience and omnipotence related to employees. They must realize instead that they are servants in charge of protecting the natural rights that already exist. Unfortunately we have been taught to run our organizations with control and arrogance. Both are inconsistent with natural law. If we shift that thinking we can shift employee engagement. The idea of empowerment must be discarded. The idea of support for natural rights must be embraced.


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