Viewpoint -- Empower The People

Dec. 21, 2004
A little trust goes a long way where business is concerned.

There is a stigma attached to working at home. Some people even think it's an oxymoron -- for example, my friends and family roll their eyes when I tell them I am going to work at home for a day. I see the look in their eyes, and I get offended. I do work at home. In fact, I work longer hours at home than in the office. My extended work-at-home day may be due to the fact that I don't have to shower, get dressed, and take the dog out before the 40-minute commute. It may be due to the fact that there are less interruptions -- let's face it, between phone calls and e-mails, half the day is shot. Or it may be due to the fact that my employers trust me enough to let me work at home on occasion, therefore I treat it as a privilege. I think the last reason is the best. Sure, I realize that there are people who take advantage of working at home, but I say that those people are taking advantage at work as well. In my case, I tend to put in extra hours to make certain that the tasks I have brought home are completed. This is something that may not have gotten done in an office environment full of interruptions. But I don't mind the extra hours. And I don't mind if I have to bring work home every night in order to meet a deadline. I don't mind if I work through a lunch here and there so that the magazine meets its deadline. I don't mind if I see that there is something that needs to be done by the end of the day and I am going to miss my bus getting it done. And you know why I don't mind? Because I am empowered. My employer trusts me to determine the most efficient time, place, and method to complete my tasks. This year I burned the midnight oil judging applications of manufacturing plants that were vying for the title "Best Plant" in IndustryWeek's annual Best Plants competition (a task well suited for the work-at-home environment). And although I can't tell you who the top 10 plants are -- you'll have to wait until the Oct. 16 issue -- I can tell you that the plants that were empowered earned higher scores from the IW judges. But just because a company empowers its employees doesn't mean that it will automatically do better in the Best Plant competition. However, you might be surprised how often empowerment translates to superior performance. It's right there in their metrics. What are some of the other benefits? The Hagberg Consulting Group in Foster City, Calif., did a study on employee empowerment. The results: Organizations with a high level of employee empowerment also were strong in the following areas:

  • Quality of decisions
  • Commitment to the organization
  • Risk taking
  • Innovation
  • Open discussion of problems. Not bad, huh? But wait, there's more. Other studies and various industry experts note that empowerment leads to increased productivity and employee satisfaction. However, empowerment is not something that can be implemented on a whim. "Involving people in the decisions they must make in order for them to feel responsible and accountable for their work is something that takes time, patience, and perseverance," explains one empowerment pundit. Time, patience, and perseverance . . . what great things have been created without these? Not many, unless you include serendipitous events that spawned the slinky and silly putty. For what it's worth, employee empowerment is a good thing that doesn't cost much. It's a warm-fuzzy business tool that garners results and makes people happy. Why not empower the people? Traci Purdum is an IW associate editor based in Cleveland.
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