Entitlement or Empowerment

Entitlement or Empowerment

Suppose the company you own could improve productivity, reduce employee turnover to less than 5% and become a place where people wanted to come to work. Your organization would become known for its innovation, attracting amazing new talent. All you have to do is implement one program to create this turnaround. Would you do it? Sure. Right? Here’s the “however.” Like virtually all major change, the culture in which the change occurs would be radically altered. Status quo within your company along with many of the reward systems, standards and hierarchies you put in place would be replaced with the new culture’s values. Do you still want to recreate and improve your organization? What is that one program you would have to implement? Mentoring all employees with an emphasis on the attainment of individual empowerment.

Living in an empowered state is natural. People are hard-wired for empowerment at birth. That means each person is designed to

  • have power over him or herself,
  • never be a victim,
  • avoid exerting power over anyone else,
  • express creativity,
  • question,
  • challenge routine,
  • empower everyone else.

Unfortunately, everyone is exposed to familial and societal enculturation that often runs contrary to being empowered. The original wiring gets frayed and broken by internalized messages that turn into invalid beliefs that can dominate a person’s self-image. Individuals who exist in a depowered state cannot realize their potential or fully contribute to organizations or society. This condition deprives individuals and the community at large of benefits that emerge from their unique skills, gifts and creativity.

As an adult, one message sent out by many American businesses that creates a huge stumbling block to empowerment is the belief in entitlement. Decades ago companies developed financial compensation programs that rewarded loyalty. Stay with the company for one year and get a raise. Then get an annual increase every year after that. Get two weeks of paid time off every year. Stay with the company for five years and be entitled to three weeks of PTO. This kind of compensation rewards loyalty and longevity while creating a sense of entitlement among employees. As long as the individual maintains an average work standard-the “gentleman’s C”-the raises are automatic. So is the feeling of being entitled to those raises and to being depowered. Meanwhile, upper management may also be feeling entitled to their seven or eight figure annual bonuses simply because they occupy an elevated position.

A sense of entitlement at any level leaves no motivation for improvement in performance. It tells someone, “You don’t have to stretch yourself or exercise your special talents or even bother to find out what those abilities are. You have no power to change your compensation by excelling, so don’t bother. You’re entitled to receive a salary increase each year.” In this corporate dynamic, too often the people who get rewarded with a promotion are the ones who perform consistently and adequately and who do not challenge status quo. Innovation that can arise from empowered employees suffers greatly under an entitlement system.

Numerous studies have been conducted during the past decade to investigate the link between empowerment and job satisfaction. They have consistently shown that employees who have the power to make decisions about their work, including the speed at which they work, rank job satisfaction much higher than workers who are not so empowered. They also have greater levels of productivity and lower levels of stress. Commitment to the organization goes up while turnover goes down.

Writing in 1999, Thomas Potterfield called empowerment “. . . one of the most important and popular management concepts of our time.” Empowerment buzzed through many large companies in the ‘90s. Yet those same organizations often discovered that implementing true empowerment as part of the corporate culture was difficult. It meant change. Old hierarchies based on the entitlement model were shown to conflict with the new paradigm. Sometimes companies attempted to implement empowerment practices at the lower and mid-levels while retaining the hierarchical model at the upper level. Top management wanted status quo to remain intact. Employees quickly understood the split created by this double standard. Empowered workers have the perception that their bosses respect them and are fair in their management. Yet when those managers have bosses who fail to implement empowerment, the duplicity becomes too great. Hence, for many employees at many levels, the word “empowerment” inspired cynicism and derision.

That response to unsuccessful empowerment programs is understandable and unfortunate. Once an individual experiences empowerment, often as a result of mentoring, that person does not want to go back to an entitlement mentality. Nor does s/he have any desire to return to the old corporate system.

Empowerment is all about teaching someone how to fish. Imagine what would happen if all entitlement programs, both corporate and government, would transition into mentoring based programs that empowered individuals. The American addiction to “I’m entitled . . .” would be dealt a severe blow.

Successful mentoring accelerates the empowerment process. An effective mentor is empowered and has a desire to nurture that same state in others. While focusing on a task with the mentee, the mentor can draw out, validate and nurture latent skills and talents, encourage creative problem solving, and continually build self-esteem. These activities are all integral to the empowerment of another individual. The crutch of entitlement collapses when this state is reached. The empowered individual is free to make innovations, to take risks, to be creative and to continually stretch his or her limits. Entitlement stagnates while empowerment facilitates growth. The person, the employer and the community all benefit from a culture of empowerment.

For more information on empowerment, go to 
Ciulla, Joanne. “Leadership and the Problem of Bogus Empowerment” in Ethics: The Heart of Leadership, 2nd edition. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.
Potterfield, Thomas. The Business of Employee Empowerment: Democracy and Ideology in the Workplace. Quorum Books, 1999.

C Diane Ealy holds a Ph.D. in behavioral science. This playful, fun, guide specializes in the creative process and devotes her life to facilitating personal growth and empowerment. She is the visionary author of five books including The Woman’s Book of CreativityThe Complete Idiot’s Guide to Spirituality in the WorkplaceOur Money Ourselves and her latest book, Your Creative Soul, is available exclusively at www.gatherinsight.com.
As writer, speaker, teacher and healer, Diane communicates her knowledge and life passion through writing, speeches, workshops, and personalized sessions. — See more at: http://www.cdianeealy.com

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