Don’t Just Empower Front Line Employees

A new research report in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, The Destructive Nature of Power Without Status, examines an interesting phenomena. The research shows that people who have a combination of high power and low status are more likely to mistreat people for whom they have power over. Here’s an excerpt from the research:

… individuals in high-power/low-status roles chose more demeaning activities for their partners (e.g., bark like a dog, say “I am filthy”) than did those in any other combination of power and status roles.

My take: If you apply the research findings to customer experience, it suggests that front-line employees that are empowered with a range of activities may be more likely to act negatively towards customers if they feel that their role at the company is relatively low in status. Here’s an example of what that looks like (in the comically absurd extreme):

To alleviate this situation, companies need to elevate the perceived status of front-line employees. This research provides even more motivation for executives to publicly discuss the importance of front-line employees and to regularly recognize the value of their efforts. Make sure that front-line employees feel that they are an important part of the organization.

The bottom line: Empowerment works best with high self-esteem

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile:

4 thoughts on “Don’t Just Empower Front Line Employees”

  1. I have to say, big props for putting Jay and Silent Bob in a business blog.

    I’m reminded of the Ritz-Carlton line, “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” I was at the Montage this week for a Consortium for Service Innovation meeting, and all the staff greeted and spoke with each other just as they did with us. By delivering four-star service to each other, they got to experience how good it felt.

    Anyhow, it’s great to see the research that supports our intuition in this area.

  2. Thanks David. It felt good including Jay and Silent Bob; they just aren’t included enough in today’s management literature 🙂

    For those of you who aren’t familiar with Jay and Silent Bob, they are the two guys who just hang out in front of the store.

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