March 19, 2018

Giving Employees More Responsibility Has Both Benefits And Drawbacks

 |  By: Mike Opperman

Giving employees latitude by delegating authority and decision making can help them feel empowered. A large dairy can have several layers of employees based on experience and ability. However, due to this workforce diversity, while empowering employees can be successful, it can also have negative results.

Research led by Allan Lee, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter Business School in the UK, conducted a meta analysis of field experiments on leaders who empowered subordinates. The study examined if an empowering leadership style was linked to improved job performance. The results were published in the Harvard Business Review.

  • Empowering leaders had more creative and helpful employees. They were perceived more likely to delegate authority, ask for input and encourage decision making. According to Lee, this leadership encourages employees to generate ideas and new ways of doing things, help others in the workplace, volunteer for extra assignments and support their organization outside of the workplace.
  • But feeling empowered doesn’t always boost routine task performance. The study showed while empowering leaders were linked to good employee performance on routine tasks, there wasn’t much difference from results with non-empowering leaders. But there was variability.

In one study a leader who tried to provide employees with additional responsibility burdened them with too much work and increased stress. On the other hand, the empowering leaders who saw better performance developed good relationships with employees and were more trusted.

“Results showed that the effects of leading by empowering others are determined by how employees perceive their leader’s behavior,” Lee says. “Followers may view greater autonomy as an indication that the leader trusts them and is providing them with opportunities for self-development and growth. Or they may see those as evidence that the leader can’t lead and is trying to avoid making difficult decisions.”

Results, Lee says, suggest empowering leadership can motivate employees, but it can also create burdens and stress that might hurt routine performance.

“It is crucial for managers to understand that empowering leadership has its limits and that factors like trust and experience affect how their behaviors are perceived,” he says.

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