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Leaders’ Perspectives on Worker Empowerment

Why are so few leaders empowering their employees in spite of ample evidence that it is beneficial? In a survey of business leaders, Soojung Han and co-authors find that leaders are aware of many of the benefits of empowerment, but also perceive accompanying risks.

Specifically, leaders perceive that empowering workers adds costs because it is time-consuming, creates conflict in the workplace and threatens the leaders’ authority. Furthermore, employees who are empowered may make poor decisions, take advantage of given responsibilities or become overconfident.

The findings suggest that leaders who perceive benefits of empowerment are more likely to empower their employees, whereas those who perceive costs are less likely. Organizations can help leaders empower workers by increasing awareness of the benefits and mitigating potential costs.