Why empowerment in the workplace is key and 11 ways to encourage it
While stories of the Great Resignation fill LinkedIn feeds, keeping hold of top talent might feel like more of a struggle than usual. Now more than ever, employee empowerment is the holy grail for businesses fighting against a volatile market, dried up funding avenues, and rising stress levels in the workplace. But what is employee empowerment? And how does it differ from employee engagement? Well, simply put, if engagement is the end goal, empowerment is the best way of getting there. Telling your employees they are doing a good job is no longer enough to stave off burnout or keep them motivated over the long term—you need to start showing them instead. Here’s why the key to a successful, stress resilient workforce is employee empowerment.
What does empowerment mean in the workplace?
Employee empowerment is the concept that if you provide employees with the correct resources and authority to do their work, they will be happier, more efficient and more motivated. It’s no surprise then that empowerment is directly linked to engagement—an empowered employee will be more engaged in their work and an engaged employee will feel more empowered in turn. So, how do you create a sense of empowerment at work? The two key elements needed to build a foundation of empowerment are accountability and trust. Accountability so that each person knows exactly what’s expected of them and trust so that they are able to achieve it without any unnecessary obstacles (such as poor management, lack of resources or time). In short, empowerment in the workplace is just as much about seeking input from employees as it is about setting clear and realistic goals for them. What you put in, you hope to get out.
Why is a lack of empowerment in the workplace a problem?
It’s telling that 79% of people who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as being a key factor in their decision. Failing to give individuals and teams adequate recognition for the work they do leads to demotivation and ultimately disengagement. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report, disengaged employees record 37% higher absenteeism, 18% lower productivity, and 15% lower profitability than their empowered colleagues. It’s only once you put these figures into context however, that you begin to really appreciate the impact a lack of employee empowerment can have on an organisation. Forbes’ calculation of a 250 person company that experiences the average amount of employee disempowerment loses over $3million annually. Once disempowerment takes hold, it can spread fast through a company culture, with great financial repercussions.
Of course it’s not only individual contributors that can be affected by disempowerment. Poor management is often a root cause of many organisational problems, with 58% of managers having reported receiving no management training before taking on a leadership role. Not empowering managers with relevant training or taking the time to build their confidence alongside important leadership skills leads to poorly functioning teams and inconsistent management styles across the organisation. While these negative effects can be far reaching, with considered action from senior leadership, even the most disempowered teams can be turned around.
What are some examples and benefits of empowerment in the workplace?
There are three main areas where you can cultivate empowerment at work:
1. Individual empowerment
On an individual level, empowerment means encouraging employees to take full ownership of their work, providing the right context to help them understand when to take risks, when to ask for help, when to make a decision, and when to take a step back. Day-to-day this results in them bringing more creative ideas to meetings, mentoring colleagues in areas they excel at, and taking greater initiative outside of their day-to-day role. Employee feedback surveys will show who your empowered individuals are—those scoring highly on work satisfaction, motivation and company pride. And the benefits of making these changes? Empowered employees who feel that their voice is heard at work are 4.6 times more likely to consistently do their best work and, according to Forbes, are 67% more likely to put in extra effort into their work.
2. Managerial empowerment
Empowerment within the management level means taking an active role in helping employees to achieve their goals, beyond simply ‘checking in’. Are managers providing the right information to their reports at the right time? Are they helping to streamline processes and facilitate better communication between remote and in-office employees? These are all examples of an empowered manager engaging their employees. The impact of managerial empowerment is the strengthening (or in some cases creating for the first time), a sense of team spirit and belonging. Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that empowered managers were also much more effective at encouraging teamwork, creativity and leadership behaviour, all while building higher levels of trust with their employees. So, instead of seeing extra work as punishment, teams that work with empowered managers are likely to feel safer taking risks, knowing that they are being challenged for their own positive career development. Empowered leaders were also found to delegate more work, encourage autonomous decision-making, and create an environment where employees wanted to help with extra-curricular activities and non-mandatory events.
3. Organisational empowerment
On an organisational level, empowerment means recognising employee success and efforts on a regular basis—not just during formal review processes. Showing how individuals and teams contribute to the overall success of the business is a key indicator of empowerment at a higher, cultural level. An empowered organisation is more likely to embrace change in the face of turbulent market conditions or shifting goalposts because of a willingness to collaborate cross-functionally rather than sit in silos. But, it’s in the talent and acquisition team where organisational empowerment can really prove fundamental. Creating a culture of recognition and reward will undoubtedly enable success in both attracting top talent and retaining key employees.
How can you improve empowerment in the workplace?
- Start by acknowledging that a problem exists: make sure employees can see that you’re committed to making positive changes.
- Walk the walk on creating a positive company culture: review your values and ensure that teams are living and breathing them.
- Make collaboration a core value: create best practices for internal communications, set expectations and enforce them.
- Ensure your management teams are leading by example: hold leaders accountable—make employee empowerment part of their mission.
- Regularly collect employee feedback: listen and share how you’re implementing suggestions.
- Invest in your internal communication strategy: find the right tools and systems to make sure those working from home feel just as included and empowered as those in the office.
- Create a culture of transparency: encourage employees to share their mistakes and how they overcame them.
- Recognise and reward excellent work: incentivise empowering behaviours through internal initiatives, awards and perks.
- Implement an Employee Advocacy Program: ask employees to share their positive experiences to help attract talent.
- Reframe goal setting: set realistic milestones and gamify stretch targets that feel exciting rather than overwhelming.
- Create open forums: encourage cross-company communication through regular all-hands, Q&As and round-table discussions, so individuals feel able to communicate ideas or concerns with people outside of their direct teams.