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Is the process of passing on authority to make decisions to others in the organization. It requires all employees to take responsibility for the quality of their work, and act in the best interest of the customer. For example, supermarket employees might be empowered to take off display and put in the waste bin any product they would not buy themselves—thus they are using their discretion to make judgements about quality without having to check with their supervisor. Empowerment also allows decisions to be made at lower levels in the organization, thereby improving the responsiveness of the organization. It has become popular due to firms operating in a more intense competitive environment, where there is an emphasis on quality and getting close to the customer. Potentially, all employees can be empowered, although the type and extent of empowerment can vary considerably. For example, for employees in a fast food outlet empowerment may mean nothing more than being able to greet the customer in the way they choose. In contrast, an employee in a call centre for telephone banking may be empowered to make credit adjustments up to a certain level without seeking the guidance of the supervisor. Total empowerment rarely occurs since it would allow employees to influence all aspects of the business, such as decisions over investment, dividend levels, profit margins, and so forth. There are concerns amongst some commentators that empowerment is being used to disguise work intensification. It is argued that empowerment usually entails taking on more responsibility for more work but with no extra money. Furthermore, in many instances, case study research shows that empowered workers are subject to increasingly sophisticated systems of monitoring and control (see surveillance). Commentators have pointed out the irony of this: empowerment is about trusting employees by giving them more responsibility and autonomy over their work, yet managers are backing this up with control systems that suggest employees cannot be trusted. So critics of empowerment often argue that it is a term used to disguise the grim reality of work intensification, job stress, and exploitation.

Subjects: Human Resource Management.

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