This article was produced and financed by BI Norwegian Business School

Employees who are always told what to do, are less creative. (Photo: Colourbox)

The art of empowering your employees

Employees are at their best when they feel a sense of ownership to their jobs. However, leaders may encounter a number of barriers when giving employees more influence over their own work situation.

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BI Norwegian Business School

BI is a private and independent business school in Norway.

In a world of constant change, having employees who are capable of taking responsibility for their own work situation becomes increasingly important for companies and other organisations.

To achieve this, the organisation must give its employees the power and opportunity to participate in the process of deciding how the job is to be done.

Employees who are constantly told what to do, very rarely offer ideas to promote the required innovation. Organisations are dependent on creativity and innovation for survival.

They need employees who can think outside the box, and who are encouraged to do so.

Win-win for both parties
Sut I Wong Humborstad. (Photo: Audun Farbrot, BI)

Employees who are given responsibility for their own work situation, perceive their work as meaningful.

"They have a sense of ownership for their own job. They care about it and will exert themselves above and beyond the call of duty. They experience more job satisfaction", says Sut I Wong Humborstad at BI Norwegian Business School.

Thus, giving employees power and influence over their own work situation will benefit both the employee and the company.

"What organisation does not want employees who do their very best?" Humborstad challenges.

As it turns out, however, it is not always easy for organisations to transfer responsibilities and co-determination to their employees. Success requires that both leaders and employees must get involved in the process.

"To understand the big picture, we have to listen to both the leaders and the employees", the organisational researcher emphasises.

Four barriers

In her doctoral project, Humborstad has identified four possible gaps in the expectations and perceptions of leaders and employees in relation to the process of giving the employees co-determination.

These represent potential barriers for success in giving employees more influence over their own work situation:

  1. Different role expectations from leaders and employees in terms of  the process.
  2. Gap between employees' perception of practice and what they expected.
  3. Gap between the leaders' perception of the employees' expectations, and how they perceive their own practice.
  4. Different opinions among leaders and employees on how they perceive the process.

"Gaps in expectations and perceptions of the process are counter-productive. The greater the distance between the leaders' and employees' assessments, the more difficult to predict how the other party will behave", Humborstad points out.

The study shows that employees who view the process of giving employees co-determination as failing to meet their expectations, react with disappointment.

This leads to less job satisfaction, as well as a feeling of being less responsible for their own work situation.

Together with professor Bård Kuvaas at BI Norwegian Business School, Humborstad has conducted a survey among 1000 Norsk Hydro employees as part of the study.

Advice to leaders

Based on her doctoral studies, Humborstad has prepared some practical advice for leaders as to what they can do to bridge the gaps in perceptions and expectations between leaders and employees:

  • Be aware of the employees’ expectations. The study reveals substantial differences in how the process takes place, depending on whether or not the leader has been aware of the employees' expectations. If the employees feel that their expectations are misinterpreted, this could have a negative impact on their attitude to the job.
  • Make sure that the work of giving employees co-determination is in line with their expectations. If the process is not aligned to the expectations, employees will experience disappointment, resulting in lower satisfaction.
  • Make sure that leaders and employees are dependent on each other when solving tasks. Giving employees co-determination has traditionally been regarded as a top-to-bottom process.

Humborstad establishes that employees are not passive. They play an active role in bringing about changes when expectation gaps occur. However, this depends on leaders and employees working closely together on the tasks.

"Facilitate and promote a sense of mastery for employees. The study shows that employees with a high degree of belief in their own mastering ability will become more proactive in dealing with the different leader-employee expectations. Leaders can encourage this sense of mastery through positive feedback, and by creating an environment for success," the researcher conclude.

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