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Employee involvement is a philosophy practiced by companies that gives their employees stake in decisions that directly affect their

jobs, while employee empowerment is a corporate structure that allows non-managerial employees to make autonomous decisions. Each one is a distinct practice and is usually mutually exclusive to one another, though the benefits can be similar. The main benefits of employee involvement and empowerment are enhanced morale, more productivity, healthier coworker relationships and creative thinking.

Improved Morale
Involving employees in decisions and policy changes that directly affect their job, while empowering employees to be more autonomous, greatly improves morale at large. When employees are treated as an asset and their input is given consideration, confidence increases among every team member, and the company sees significant gains in different facets such as productivity and loyalty. Moreover, improved morale can increase an employee’s longevity with the company. The longer the employee is associated with the company, the more experienced they become, making them mentors to new employees and indispensable to managerial staff.

Increased Productivity
Employee involvement and empowerment translates directly into increased productivity. Employees with an investment in the company’s best interest increase their role in the company, fostering a stronger work ethic. When employees are given independence and expected to be more self-sufficient, they become more efficient over time, as they learn to navigate their responsibilities with minimal interference and/or relying less on managerial staff for direction. This allows managerial staff more time to attend to responsibilities other than giving assignments to subordinates and decreases micromanagement, which retards productivity.

Team Cohesion
Although employee empowerment is largely designed to give each employee autonomy, it likewise fosters better relationships between employees and with their managers, because employees that are given more independence tend to form better working relationships. Each sees the other as mutually benefiting from their working relationship. In addition, more self-governance in the workplace lessens dependence on managers and supervisors and redirects that reliance laterally to coworkers.

Employee empowerment helps to cultivate innovation. Employees that have a stake in the company’s growth and sustainability will offer more ideas and problem-solving solutions when obstacles arise. Moreover, as the employee meets particular challenges or finds improvements in policies, procedures or products, it will foster growth and more critical and imaginative thinking. Employees may see a particular issue differently than a manager and be able to think of a creative solution, which may not be considered in a closed circle of managerial staff.

Improve Productivity - Reduce Costs
John Zink of the PHCC Educational Foundation says that employees have great ideas about how to improve productivity and reduce costs, but companies need to know how to ask for these ideas and listen. "Sometimes it takes an employee stepping outside of their authority to show the benefits of employee empowerment an owner," he says. Employees who feel confident that their input will be valued, listened to and acted upon will be more likely to share those ideas, benefiting employee and employer.

Better Customer Service
Simon Sinek, a blogger who writes "The Empowered Employee", says that empowered employees provide exceptional service and he's experienced this first-hand. "Empowered employees have the power to make decisions without a supervisor. They are entitled to go off script, bend the rules, do what they see fit if they believe it is the right thing to do for the customer. More than any other kind of employee, the empowered employee is able to create a feeling of true customer service that ultimately yields much greater customer loyalty," he says. Companies that give employees the freedom to make decisions on the spur of the moment, that may even sometimes fly in the face of established rules and protocol, often find that service to internal and external customers is improved. In addition, empowered employees take pride and ownership in their jobs when they know that they can exercise independent judgment when necessary.

Embracing Change
Empowered employees feel free to challenge the status quo, which is critical for companies in today's fast-changing, technology-driven environment, says Lin Grensing-Pophal, author of "Human Resource Essentials". Employees and the companies they work for can become too complacent, doing things the way they've always done them. Unless employees feel comfortable questioning the status quo, those companies are likely to stagnant as competitors move swiftly past them. Establishing an environment when employees feel free to question, challenge and offer new ideas can help to avoid this problem and benefit employees and employers in the process, says Grensing-Pophal

Employee Empowerment Questions for Management Students

Management students have a wide range of questions about employee empowerment. After all, employee empowerment leads to increased productivity, which results in business success. But empowering employees is not often something that is taught in school. Success comes through experience and practice. Management students can gain some headway by considering those things that empower their own performance.

How Does Involvement Impact Empowerment?
Employee empowerment is impacted by the level of involvement that employees have in decisions that impact their day-to-day work. Management students may consider their own work experiences to gain insight into how having the ability to control everyday tasks--as well as longer-term decisions--can impact the feeling of begin empowered and motivated toward higher levels of performance.

Does Failure Lead to Empowerment?
Interestingly, the ability to take risks and even fail on the job can lead to empowerment, says Lin Grensing-Pophal, author of "Human Resource Essentials." When employees feel that managers trust them to make choices based on sound reasoning, and a focus on business needs, they feel more confident in their ability to try, and even fail--learning in the process. This empowers them to try harder.

How Can I Empower My Employees?
The most important question that management students may have about empowerment is: "How can I empower my employees?" The answer is that managers don't empower employees, says Grensing-

Pophal. They do, however, provide an environment in which empowerment can take place. That is an environment where employees understand what is expected of them on the job, know how their job contributes to the company's success and feel free to make choices and decisions about their work without having to ask for management permission.

Will My Emploees Be Empowered If I Don't Feel Empowered?
Managers lead by example, and whether they are aware of this or not, their employees are often looking to them for signs of what good performance looks like. Managers who do not feel empowered will set the stage for employees who do not feel empowered. Set a good example in your management style and working style and you will find it will reflect on your team as well. Case Study: Employee Involvement; A Key To Successful Waste Reduction

Office of Waste Reduction Services State of Michigan Departments of Commerce and Natural Resources P.O. Box 30004 Lansing, MI 48909 517-335-1178 United Technologies Automotive Engineered Systems Division Employee Involvement: A Key To Successful Waste Reduction At a time when waste disposal costs skyrocketed for most manufacturers, a western Michigan automotive supplier decreased annual plant disposal costs by almost 50 percent. Aggressive waste reduction projects at the Holland Plant of United Technologies Automotive Engineered Systems Division (formerly Sheller-Globe Corporation) reduced the costs of disposing of production and office wastes from $25,900 in 19867 to $13,6700 in 1987. A prime reason for the success was employee involvement in planning and implementing the waste reduction projects. According to Mel Schaub, recycling coordinator for the United Technologies' Holland Plant and three nearby plants, "With the direct assistance of our workers, waste disposal loads have been reduced 90 percent over the past two years. Now we are trying to reduce the remaining 10 percent to less than 1 percent." "It seemed like one good suggestion triggered two or three new good suggestions," Schaub explains. "Once people learned that their ideas were valued and would be considered seriously, participation in waste reduction planning required virtually no stimulation. The excitement of making the Holland Plant more productive and more profitable, as well as making it cleaner and safer, seemed to be contagious." Starting Out The first waste reduction project was the recycling of approximately 5,000 pounds per month of office paper. The employees discovered a ready market for "mixed" office paper, which included most types and grades of paper and which accounted for 15

percent by volume of solid wastes being landfilled. Arrangements were made for pickup of collected paper twice each week by Lubbers Resource Systems, Inc., Grand Rapids, which assisted in setting up the collection system, including supplying a dumpster. Although no money has been received for the paper, approximately $150 a month has been saved in disposal charges. "With the direct assistance of our workers, waste disposal loads have been reduced 90 percent over the past two years. Now we are trying to reduce the remaining ten percent to less than one percent." A unique feature of this project was the construction of a round chute from the office collection center to the dumpster positioned directly beneath in the shipping area one floor below. Office paper is conveniently and efficiently accumulated in the dumpster with little handling. In fact, a paper shredder was mounted over the chute to ensure confidentiality. Following the successful office paper recycling effort, new projects were implemented to end the disposal of cardboard, damaged wooden pallets, scrap metals from maintenance operations and plastic shrink wrap. Recycling of cardboard reduced waste disposal volume by 10 percent, while collectively, the recycling of pallets, scrap metals and plastic accounted for another 10 percent reduction. In addition to reduced disposal costs, payment has been received from the sale of cardboard and scrap metal. Revenues have been used for employee education and recreation programs. From Waste to a Usable Product The most challenging waste reduction project soon followed. A primary product line of the Holland Plant has been compression- formed heat barriers and noise reduction pads for automobile bodies and engines. A layer of EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) mastic is applied to a thick polyurethane foamed sheet, which is then molded and trimmed. The EVA mastic serves as an adhesive for mounting the parts onto the metallic automotive assemblies and enhances sound deadening characteristics. Trimmings were previously unusable because of the material combination. The elimination or reduction of this waste, however, became a major priority because it accounted for 55 percent of the original waste. Some success had been achieved in reusing mastic with small quantities of foam contamination. The need to economically separate the materials into separate foam and mastic fractions was clear. Soon, a process for granulating the scrap and separating the materials with a cyclone was developed. A market for the finely-cut foam particles was established. The reclaimed EVA is directly incorporated back into processing on-site. Not only were disposal costs reduced and a source of revenue established but EVA raw material costs were significantly reduced. In fact, the investment of approximately $40,000 in the new process was paid back in less than four months of operation.

In addition to these major waste reduction projects, the company has implemented several small profit-building practices suggested by employees. Returnable containers are used to ship product, saving packaging costs. Recycled paper is used for most office correspondence. Currently, a project is underway to redesign the faucets on solvent drums for more efficient shutoff, eliminating overfilling and dripping when liquids are withdrawn. Quality Circles: Employee Idea Stimulators United Technologies' waste reduction successes began as Quality Circle suggestions. Quality Circles, consisting of six to eight employees, meet for one hour each week to review plant operating concerns. The circles may consider any aspect of operations, except for confidential areas such as payroll. "Brainstorming" sessions serve to identify or itemize problem areas. No suggestion is dismissed as being insignificant. Next, the problems are ranked based upon concerns for worker safety, product quality and cost and overall operating efficiencies, for example. The third step in the planning process is "data gathering" for the top-rated problems. A "fishbone" type of chart has served as a useful tool for displaying the elements of a problem, including interrelationships of operations. The final step of the Quality Circle procedure is to develop and present a proposal to company management for support of the plan and authorization of needed resources. "Management has rejected very few of our suggestions," says Schaub, "even though some of the ideas have required relatively large appropriations. The enthusiastic support of management has certainly helped our projects to be successful." Interestingly, the presentations to management are videotaped so as to help develop the proposal-making skills of the presenters. Plant personnel suggest that companies wishing to reduce disposal costs through waste reduction should encourage participation by their employees in planning and implementation. In general, employees want to make their companies financially strong for job security. Furthermore, they have concerns on pollution of air, water and land. In the words of Joe Schrader, Human Resources Manager, "The thinking and resourcefulness of our employees have resulted in substantial cost savings to the company. And, they have a feeling of satisfaction that they have made a contribution to a cleaner environment." Developed by: Office of Waste Reduction Services and Resource Recycling Systems, Inc. Funded by: The Clean Michigan Fund Michigan Department of Natural Resources

For more information on the subject of waste reduction for businesses, contact: Office of Waste Reduction Services P.O. Box 30004 Lansing, MI, 48909 (517) 335-1178. December 1989--#8915A Last Updated: November 8, 1995