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Is "Workforce Empowerment" an Outdated Idea?

by Dr. M Marie Sanders


As a former university professor and business owner, I taught (and believed in) the concept of the "Empowered Workforce." This concept first took root in the US in the 1980s and has been espoused by professors, consultants and workplace gurus as "the only way to go!" One of the foundational components of the "Empowered Workforce" is the Workforce Morale Survey. This survey is used to determine the "temperature of your workforce."

While in a prospective client's office last fall, the business owner flatly stated that "there will be little need for your products - workforce assessments - in the days to come." I asked why, to which he replied, "The economy is going to get worse and worse. Soon, we [as employers] won't have to care what the people are thinking or needing; they'll [employees] be grateful just to have a job. Period."

Some of what he said has come true. Our economies (many around the globe) have gotten worse since last summer. Jobs have been lost as a result. But are all employees "grateful just to have a job"?

A quick study of psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs provides that there are five basic needs (which extend into the workplace):

  1. Survival — Workers at this level are concerned with physical and economic survival. Physical needs may dominate the behavior of a person who has no job or who is in economic difficulty.

  2. Security — People motivated at this level feel the need for security and predictability in their lives. They want assurance that their jobs are not subject to loss or change. There are needs for signs of stability from leadership. Think how you would feel if you sensed that your job was in jeopardy, or imagine the concern you would feel if the equipment, supplies, or other resources required to perform your job were taken away.

  3. Belonging — When belonging needs are the primary source of motivation, employees value work as an opportunity for establishing warm and satisfying human relationships. Jobs that allow them the opportunity to interact with people and to create friendships are likely to be valued, regardless of the nature of the work itself. Employee needs for belonging are normal.

  4. Respect — This motivation level reflects a person's need for recognition. The respect of others for one's special traits or competencies is important. Work that provides the opportunity to display skills that one feels others respect will be valued and has motivational strength.

  5. Fulfillment — When a person is motivated at this level, his/her primary concern is to fulfill personal values and experience growth. There is a desire to demonstrate life values on the job.

The prospect mentioned earlier made a few basic but erroneous assumptions:

Bottom line:

Fear of unemployment is simply not enough to motivate employees to give their best efforts to sustain and improve an organization.

So, is the "Empowered Workforce" an outdated idea? NO! Now more than ever, possessing the knowledge, skills and courage to fully engage your workforce will make the difference in your company/organization's ability to weather the economic storm that rages. Failing to recognize, respect and respond to your employees' Level 3, 4 and 5 needs is foolish and shortsighted. The level at which you engage and empower your workforce will largely determine if you will fail, survive or thrive in the days to come.

Do you have the courage to take the
Workforce Empowerment Assessment?



2 By "cream of the crop," we don't necessarily mean the highest paid people - rather the highly productive, self-motivated, empowered portion of the workforce

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About the author

Dr. M Marie Sanders

Dr. M Marie Sanders (USA)

Ms. Sanders holds an MBA and a Doctorate and has 30+ years of business experience in privately held businesses and non-profit organizations. She was a professor for the University of Central Oklahoma teaching undergraduate and MBA classes in the college of business (Leadership and Human Resource Management) and holds real estate broker licenses in two U.S. states.


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