Empowered employees are more proactive at work, even with a backwards boss, study says

ZHOUKOU, China — A little power goes a long way, especially in the office.

A study by Chinese researchers provides insights into how to empower employees and what benefits an empowered workforce might provide. One of the findings in this research is that even when employees distrust their employers or have other problems with them, when they are empowered, they’ll go above and beyond and anticipate problems before they grow into serious issues.

The secret is increasing “role breadth self-efficacy,” or the confidence workers feel to complete tasks and work beyond their standard job descriptions. The more workers trust their leader’s competency, the higher their confidence in going above and beyond. But, contrary to expectations, the more workers trust their leaders’ competency, the less necessary sharing their power becomes to motivate workers to be more proactive.

A new study finds that even when employees distrust their bosses, as long as they’re empowered they’ll still go above and beyond on the job. (Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash)

“Despite the well-documented benefits of proactive behavior, the question of how to promote employee proactivity in the workplace is relatively under-explored,” argues study co-author Dr. Yungui Guo, from China’s Zhoukou Normal University, in a media release. “Our research elaborates a theoretical model that explains why, and when, empowering leadership might promote this.”

The benefits of a proactive workforce have been well-documented. Studies have shown that when employees take the initiative to seek feedback, take a leadership role in a project, and build social networks, their organization benefits from better creativity, more streamlined processes, and higher job satisfaction. Proactive behavior is associated with empowering leadership that is willing to share some of its power and responsibility.

For this project, researchers surveyed 280 leader-follower pairs in a large, state-owned, Chinese company. They evaluated leaders for levels of empowering leadership, and followers for proactive behavior, trust in their leader, proactive personalities, and role breadth self-efficacy.

The results indicated that empowering leadership is correlated strongly with proactive behavior, even when controlling for proactive personality. While trust in the leader improves the mediating effect of role breadth self-efficacy, it is not necessary to promote proactive behavior.

“If you view your leader as incompetent, you may prefer to make your own decisions than follow what he or she tells you to do,” explains Guo. “Therefore, empowered employees with lower level of trust in leader competency are more likely to seize opportunities to exert more proactive behaviors.”

The full study was published Nov. 1, 2017 in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

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Ben Renner

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