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Starbucks and McDonald’s Employee Empowerment


Employee empowerment helps to enhance organizational efficiency and boost workers’ productivity. Challenges attributed to technology advancement, environment fluctuation, the need for organizational changes, and demand for efficient decision-making processes have resulted in organizations transforming their management strategies to embrace employee autonomy. Today, most organizations allow employees to make critical decisions on issues that arise in their areas of specialization. According to Fernandez and Moldogaziev (2013a), the concept of employee empowerment continues to gain significance in businesses due to its ability to promote innovation and efficiency. Employee empowerment is highly regarded in the hotel industry as it engenders creativity in customer service and food preparation. The objective of this paper is to determine how fast food businesses implement employee empowerment. The article will evaluate the level of employee empowerment in Starbucks and McDonald’s. It seeks to answer the question about how the two organizations encourage and support employee empowerment. Understanding the significance of employee empowerment and how to implement it is significant to business leaders. Thus, the findings of this study will be of great help to entrepreneurs who wish to encourage employee empowerment in their businesses.

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Literature Review

According to Fernandez and Moldogaziev (2013b), “the intellectual roots of empowerment can be traced to a wide array of movements and ideas over the past few centuries, culminating in the widespread application of empowerment-related ideas to various social reform movements” (p. 159). Scholars view empowerment from different perspectives. Some see it from a relational point of view and argue that empowerment entails sharing authority. Others interpret empowerment from a psychological standpoint and regard it as a motivational strategy. Irrespective of the opinions, intellectuals agree that employee empowerment is an effective method of encouraging ingenuity and commitment amid workers. It is a form of a risk management strategy that encourages employees to share their ideas, set precise objectives, and dare to innovate.

Fernandez and Moldogaziev (2013b) identify four dimensions of empowerment, which are authority, resource, specialization, and personality. Fernandez and Moldogaziev (2013b) posit, “Authority is the power aspect, which makes up the essence of empowerment or the body” (p. 164). The other dimensions comprise the features that utilize reliable power considerately, efficiently, harmoniously, and easily. The authority aspect of empowerment relates to the ability to make sound decisions based on the nature of work and organization setting. The resource aspect entails sharing skills and utilizing the available assets in a responsible manner to realize business goals. The specialization dimension involves acquiring skills and knowledge in a particular specialty. The personality dimension refers to employees’ capacity to exercise the authority given to them with an objective to achieve organizational goals.

According to Gill, Sharma, Mathur, and Bhutani (2012), empowerment does not only mean having the liberty to make decisions but also being accountable and responsible for your actions. Thus, organizational leaders require empowering their employees to ensure that they are committed, motivated, and satisfied. Gill et al. (2012) argue that an empowered workforce helps an organization to realize its objectives. Nevertheless, it is imperative to exercise due diligence when transferring authority to workers. Employees should be held accountable for their actions to ensure that they do not misuse the available resources. Employee empowerment entails training employees to equip them with the necessary skills and encouraging them to make independent decisions and to share ideas. Malik, Chugtai, Iqbal, and Ramzan (2013) allege that organizations, which promote employee empowerment, can thrive in a free economy. Empowered employees have control over their jobs, understand their responsibilities, and commit themselves to organizational objectives. They feel valued and as part of the organization, thus being motivated.

Good leadership is essential in guaranteeing employee motivation. A good leader should encourage employees to share their ideas, commend them whenever they do well, and allow workers to operate with limited supervision. Training and development facilitate empowerment. Equipping workers with the necessary skills gives them a chance to do their duties with confidence, and are not afraid to try new ideas. Men and Stacks (2013) insist, “Employee empowerment is not a product of any structure or system, but a process that is ongoing, dynamic, and fluctuating” (p. 183). It entails involving employees in all activities that affect the organization and seeking their input in decision making. One way that organizational leaders can promote employee empowerment is by encouraging in-the-moment feedback. Meng and Han (2014) argue that conducting employee surveys may not help an organization to spot and address challenges that affect workers on a daily basis. Encouraging employees to give on-the-spot feedback can facilitate the identification of workflow problems. Cultivating an executive mindset can go a long way towards promoting employee empowerment. Employees who concentrate on their jobs cannot see the big picture of the organization. Therefore, it is imperative to encourage workers to think at the managerial level. It invokes creativity amid employees and motivates them to work towards the realization of long-term goals. The management team ought to organize regular meetings with staff and share with them the mission and vision of the organization.

Presenting new opportunities and challenges can serve as motivation to employees. According to Namasivayam, Guchait, and Lei (2014), employee empowerment involves encouraging workers to undertake challenging tasks to achieve their full potential. For instance, administrators may help employees who are used to communicating with clients via emails to try telephone conversation. On the other hand, managers may request workers who like helping their colleagues to facilitate a customer workshop. Encouraging employees to undertake challenging tasks motivates them. Moreover, it enables employees to discover and improve their skills.

Employee empowerment is associated with numerous benefits. Ghosh (2013) maintains that empowerment is critical for the growth and survival of businesses in the present epoch of globalization. It boosts organizational efficiency and employee well-being. Research in the transmission plants found that employee empowerment helps to minimize overheads on the assembly line. Moreover, it contributes to job satisfaction, loyalty, commitment, high performance, and efficient service delivery. Empowered workers make fast decisions, which enhance not only organizational efficiency but also productivity. Moreover, an empowered workforce offers outstanding services to customers, thus boosting the competitive edge of business and improving profitability. According to Ghosh (2013), empowerment supports a healthy relationship between workers and clients, thus promoting the image of an organization.

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In the case of employees, empowerment enables them to establish their vocation. The job becomes fascinating, enjoyable, meaningful, and stimulating. Moreover, it nurtures trust amid workers and facilitate communication. Employees develop a sense of being an integral part of the organization, thus committing to their responsibilities. As per Ghosh (2013), empowerment is “a vote of confidence in the employees’ ability to significantly contribute to the organizational goals” (p. 102). It makes employees feel appreciated. Moreover, workers understand their contribution to an organization. Empowerment encourages healthy competition among workers. In return, it helps employees to discover their talents and nurture them.


Research Method

The researcher conducted an ethnographic/participant observation study in Starbucks and McDonald’s food joints. The investigator identified one food joint for each company that was strategically located. Before carrying out the actual research, the investigator conducted an archival and library study to understand what is already known about employee empowerment. It helped them to understand what to expect in the field and also prepare for the study. The researcher also took the time to analyze the organizational cultures of Starbucks and McDonald’s to understand how they operate. The researcher spent two hours in each restaurant to gather adequate information about employee empowerment.

The researcher obtained secondary data from peer-reviewed journals. They conducted a systematic review of scholarly journals that were not more than five years old. The journals were eligible based on the information and mode of data analysis that they used. For a journal to qualify for the study, it must have used controlled trials and quasi-experimental trials that focused on the methods of employee empowerment. All journals that focused only on the significance of employee empowerment to workers and organizations were ineligible for the study because they did not elaborate on the strategies that businesses use to promote autonomy.

Sampling Method

The objective of the field study was to gather as much information as possible regarding behaviors that demonstrated employee empowerment in Starbucks and McDonald’s. The researcher used an ad libitum sampling technique to take field notes and record videos of what was going on in the restaurants. They did not use a systematic or formal sampling method. Instead, the investigator recorded what was readily observable. The data was gathered to facilitate qualitative analysis of employee behaviors. Failure to use a systematic sampling procedure made it difficult for the researcher to avoid possible biases in the study. The investigator may not have captured certain critical behaviors because their attention was diverted to particular groups of participants or individuals. The pollster divided the research subjects into groups comprising the administrators, chefs, and waiters.

Reason for Location Selection

A researcher requires visiting a busy business to understand the degree of employee empowerment. Organizations that do not receive heavy traffic are hard to tell if they exercise employee empowerment as operations are limited. An investigator needs to observe the number of managers in a business and how frequent the workers consult their leaders to determine if there is empowerment. Thus, the reason the investigator opted to observe operations in strategically located food joints was to determine if employees participated in decision making or had to consult their managers every time customers had questions. The researcher conducted a field study in an open setting. The workers operated freely without interference. Though the workers were notified of the investigator’s presence, they went on with their duties without interruptions. Some customers could get into the restaurant and leave without noticing the presence of the researcher.

Role of the Researcher

The researcher assumed the role of an observer as participant. The members, particularly administrators and employees, knew the presence of the investigator. Moreover, they had explicit knowledge of the researcher’s goals. The investigator minimized their interaction with the participants. They endeavored to be neutral throughout the research. The reason for assuming this role was to make sure that the researcher did not influence the behaviors of the participants. It helped to minimize errors in the collected data.

Results and Analysis

The researcher analyzed the data from the two food joints separately and compared their levels of employee empowerment. One of the primary themes that emerged from the study was that Starbucks and McDonald’s valued the contribution of its employees to organizational success. As a result, the two companies encouraged their workers to serve as brand ambassadors. Employees were invited to give recommendations on what should be done to boost efficiency. The study also revealed the significance of dealing with small teams of employees. From the study, it was evident that empowerment works effectively in small groups.

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At Starbucks, waiters dealt with a majority of employee complaints and only escalated the problem to the administrators if it turned out to be beyond their capacity. It was hard to distinguish between the waiters and managers as they all engaged in the same activities. Unlike in many organizations where managers stay in offices, at Starbucks, they interacted with other employees and helped them to discharge their duties. There was limited supervision of waiters. The employees did not address managers with their titles. Instead, they used the title “partner” despite the status of the employee. It helped to eliminate bureaucracy in the hotel and enhance efficiency. A close examination of the restaurant revealed that employees were divided into small teams comprising six workers. The limited number helped to ease management. All staff members served as brand ambassadors. The company ensured that employees had adequate knowledge about their areas of specialization. It did not only contribute to efficient decision making but also encouraged creativity.

McDonald’s appreciates the contribution of employees to organizational success. Thus, it encourages workers to serve as brand ambassadors. An investigation of McDonald’s restaurant revealed that employees operated with a significant degree of autonomy. The waiters made a majority of decisions in their areas of specialization. They only consulted managers when things appeared to be beyond their ability and power. Unlike in Starbucks, there was a clear distinction between managers and other employees in the restaurant. The company maintained an online platform that allowed workers to share experience regarding their areas of occupation. Employees participated in initiating projects within the restaurant. The leadership welcomed ideas from all employees. McDonald’s did not split workers into small groups. Moreover, the managers and other employees did not operate at the same level. Thus, there was a degree of bureaucracy in the restaurant.

Starbucks and McDonald’s appreciate the significance of employee empowerment and have established online communities to persuade workers to share ideas. The two companies support employee engagement as evidenced by their effort to assist staff to evolve from simple workers to brand ambassadors. McDonald’s has established a “learning ladder” that sets out transferable skills as well as a development path that employees should follow. On the other hand, Starbucks spends millions of dollars annually to train its staff. The company sends managers to conferences and exhibitions meant to enhance their leadership skills.

McDonald’s and Starbucks value communication and have established an online platform to facilitate interaction among workers. Nevertheless, the level of communication between employees in the two companies differs significantly. In Starbucks, the degree of communication between employees and their leaders is high because they all operate at the same level. The absence of bureaucracy in the company facilitates interaction between managers and other workers. Moreover, the company discourages the use of employee titles, which contributes to junior employees not fearing their managers. Conversely, the presence of bureaucracy within McDonald’s discourages open communication among employees and their managers. Some workers may fear to share their ideas with managers because they do not know how they might take them. The presence of hierarchy amid workers exacerbates the communication challenge at McDonald’s. It sets the boundaries between workers, thus discouraging interaction among individuals working in different departments.


Starbucks and McDonald’s appreciate the role of employees in promoting organization success. Thus, they empower workers and encourage them to take an active part in the management of the daily operations of the businesses. Both companies encourage employees to serve as brand ambassadors. The move makes employees develop a sense of ownership, therefore is committed to the organizations. Empowerment entails allowing workers to make decisions on matters that affect their areas of occupation. It also involves encouraging employees to assume challenging tasks and to nurture their skills. Starbucks demonstrates the significance of splitting workers into small groups to promote empowerment. It helps in decision-making as well as the management of employees. From the two companies, it is clear that employee empowerment motivates workers and boosts their productivity. Moreover, it promotes efficient service delivery, resulting in customer loyalty. McDonald’s and Starbucks are popular brands due to their excellent services. The companies are renowned for burgers and coffee respectively. It would be difficult for the corporation to offer quality products without empowering its workers.


Fernandez, S., & Moldogaziev, T. (2013a). Employee empowerment, employee attitudes, and performance: Testing a causal model. Public Administration Review, 73(3), 490-506.

Fernandez, S., & Moldogaziev, T. (2013b). Using employee empowerment to encourage innovative behavior in the public sector. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 23(1), 155-187.

Ghosh, A. (2013). Employee empowerment: A strategic tool to obtain sustainable competitive advantage. International Journal of Management, 30(3), 95-107.

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Gill, A., Sharma, S., Mathur, N., & Bhutani, S. (2012). The effects of job satisfaction and worker experience on employee-desire for empowerment: A comparative study in Canada and India. International Journal of Management, 29(1), 190-200.

Malik, F., Chugtai, S., Iqbal, Z., & Ramzan, M. (2013). Does psychological empowerment bring about employee commitment? Evidence from telecommunication sector in Pakistan. Journal of Business Studies Quarterly, 5(1), 14-21.

Men, L., & Stacks, D. (2013). The impact of leadership style and employee empowerment on perceived organizational reputation. Journal of Communication Management, 17(2), 171-192.

Meng, B., & Han, H. (2014). The effects of empowerment on employee psychological outcomes in upscale hotels. Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management, 23(2), 218-237.

Namasivayam, K., Guchait, P., & Lei, P. (2014). The influence of leader empowering behaviors and employee psychological empowerment on customer satisfaction. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 26(1), 69-84.

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