Over Empowering Employees — Common Managerial Mistake Series

Managers, influenced by the “employee empowerment” buzz of the late ‘90’s sometimes place too much emphasis on insisting that ALL employees exercise more power, discretion and decision-making in their jobs. The result can be the appearance of indecisiveness on the part of managers, and a desire, on the part of employees, to be “left alone” to do their jobs within a more limited scope. Learn how to avoid this common error on employee empowerment.

As a result of the encouragement of management gurus in the late 1990’s empowerment became a state of affairs of value in and of itself. While having employees capable and willing to make decisions and act on their own is a good situation, some managers have taken the concept too far.

Not all employee want to be involved in day-to-day decision making, and are quite content to leave decision up to the “person in the corner office who makes the big bucks. Insisting on employee involvement and empowerment can cause negative fallout.

Pitfalls To Watch For

  1. Some employees don’t want more responsibility. They are content to cede responsibility to their managers or supervisors, who they see as being paid to “steer the ship”. If you are attempting to place more power in the hands of employees, watch for hesitancy, procrastination when employees are asked to take a broader role, and resistance. That may indicate, for an individual employee, that he or she is not ready, or willing to “be empowered”.
  2. Managers can’t expect employees to make effective decisions when the are empowered to make decisions, if they lack the information or skills to make INFORMED and EFFECTIVE decisions. If information is not freely shared with employees, asking them to be “empowered” will end up frustrating employees, and result in poor decisions.
  3. Managers who empower staff to make decisions, but then turn around and reverse or argue those decisions cause more problems then they solve.
  4. Over empowerment of staff (manager avoiding making decisions) may create the perception, accurate or not, that the manager is weak, and indecisive. It can detract from employee trust.

Prescriptions For Avoiding Employee Empowerment Mistakes

  1. Do not insist that hesitant or resistance employees take on more responsibility when they clearly do not want that responsibility. You can force empowerment on staff. Make increased responsibility available to all staff, but be aware that not all staff have the ability, or desire to exercise it. Don’t push too hard.
  2. Ensure staff have the information they need to make decisions properly. As a manager you have more “big picture” information, and it’s easy to forget that good decisions require the decision-maker to have that information, or they will make poor decisions.
  3. Give up some of your control in decision-making by accepting that some staff decisions might be different than the ones you make. Give more leeway and latitude and argue less with their solutions.
  4. To avoid appearing weak or indecisive, don’t “offload” all decision-making to empowered employees. Communicate so that employees understand that you are empowering them because they are closer to the action, and in some ways, are the experts about their job functions. On the other hand, some decisions ARE management level decisions, and should remain that way. For example, deciding what should be done about a particular employee’s poor performance is a MANAGEMENT LEVEL DECISION. Asking employees for their advice or input on such management level decisions guarantees that you will appear weak, and indecisive.


Empowering employees can result in better decisions, more engaged workers, and can help managers focus on what they alone must deal with. Managers with empowered staff spend less time micromanaging and dealing with day-to-day decisions (that can be taken over by staff).

However, empowerment which is coerces employees, or is improperly implemented can backfire. Follow the simple tips, and you can avoid negative outcomes that you don’t intend.

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