Hitting a wall is one of the worst feelings in the world, especially at work. Employees can tell when they have the potential to do more but lack the authority or resources to make it happen ー or a voice to ask for them. Working in this state is extremely frustrating, and it leads to demoralization, reduced productivity, and disengagement. In fact, a study of more than 7,000 employees showed that those who felt disempowered were rated at the 24th percentile of engagement while those with a high level of empowerment came in at the 79th percentile.
Thankfully, with the right approach and tools, any organization can empower its employees. This article discusses the benefits of employee empowerment and explains how to start implementing best practices and embed employee empowerment into your company culture.
What is employee empowerment?
When someone is empowered, they have the ability to accomplish something ー and they know it, giving them the confidence needed to succeed. Employee empowerment refers to the manner in which companies provide their employees with anything and everything they need to succeed. This involves far more than simple resource allocation, however. Companies that are interested in empowering employees should act on the following:
- Give employees a voice by regularly soliciting and acting on their feedback.
- Provide opportunities for employees to grow through more autonomy, additional responsibilities, or even an entirely new role.
- Recognize employees frequently to increase their engagement and confidence in their own abilities.
- And, of course, provide employees with the tools, training, and authority they need to excel.
A company’s leaders, HR professionals, and fellow employees all play key roles in establishing a supportive, empowered environment. All parties need to establish mutual trust, feel comfortable taking risks, and establish clear expectations and guidelines. Without this collaboration, truly empowering employees is impossible.
The benefits of employee empowerment
Employee empowerment can instill greater trust in leadership, encourage employee motivation, lead to greater creativity, and improve employee retention ー all of which ultimately results in a better bottom line.
Empowering employees through greater autonomy has been directly linked to increased employee motivation. Experts agree that employees who have more control over how, when, and where they do their job will work harder and find their work more engaging. And given the chance to show off what they can do, employees will put their best foot forward and feel more satisfied at the end of the day.
Greater trust in leadership
A meta analysis published in Harvard Business Review states that leaders who empower their employees are more likely to be trusted by their subordinates compared to leaders who do not empower their employees. This is not to say that empowering employees involves pushing work onto underlings that managers don’t feel like doing themselves. Leaders who empower their employees act as coaches, pushing their employees to do their best work and supporting them along the way. Empowered employees felt that their leaders would not take advantage of their hard work ー instead, they would recognize and celebrate their wins.
In the same Harvard meta analysis, leaders who were perceived as empowering had direct reports who were more likely to be rated by their colleagues as being highly creative. Unsurprisingly, subordinates who allowed their employees to think for themselves and collaborate across teams generated more novel ideas. Not only that, direct reports who felt empowered were more likely to volunteer for extra assignments and support their organizations outside of their day-to-day job function. Psychologists suspected that empowered individuals were more committed to meaningful goals, and used their creativity to achieve them.
A stronger bottom line
At the end of the day, companies that promote employee empowerment are simply performing better than those that don’t. Businesses with highly motivated workers are 21 percent more profitable. On the other hand, disengaged employees in the U.S. cost businesses a staggering $450 to $550 billion each year.
4 steps for empowering employees in the workplace
There are tremendous benefits to empowering employees, but ingraining it in a company’s culture takes a considerable level of focus. Start implementing best practices throughout your organization by following these four steps.
1. Show employees that their feedback matters
Many companies distribute annual engagement surveys, but very few actually take the time to read employee comments, let alone act on them. Survey fatigue is a direct result of leadership not taking immediate action on feedback. And even if they do act on the results of an annual survey, chances are that any response will take place too late to make a difference, as it takes months to move through stages of the annual survey cycle from deployment to analysis to response.
Encouraging employees to frequently provide honest feedback and actively changing your organization to fit their needs empowers employees by giving them a real voice in how the organization functions. In Achievers’ Engagement and Retention Report, 90 percent of workers said that they are more likely to stay at a company that takes and acts on feedback. HR and engagement leaders agree ー 64 percent say an always-on feedback tool is essential to an engagement listening program. However, only 20 percent use such a tool.
The timing and manner in which a company collects feedback has a direct impact on the results they will receive. Consider using an always on, employee-driven feedback tool ー such as a workplace chatbot ー so that employees can give feedback at the moments that matter most to them. You can combine this type of feedback channel with pulse surveys — another strategic complement to a modern-day employee engagement strategy. They are typically a limited series of questions (5-20) sent on a quarterly basis to track engagement levels and understand what’s driving engagement over time.
Ensure you choose a platform that empowers managers to take action as well. Using an employee feedback platform can immediately show leaders what drives their employees’ engagement via dashboards and heatmaps that indicate exactly where managers can make the greatest impact. With these real-time insights that provide guidance for any situation, managers can take positive action by engaging in a post-pulse survey listening session where they and their team can collectively plan and take responsibility for the response to feedback.
Feedback reveals how to effectively empower your workforce
Companies need to tailor their empowerment strategy to individual employees and their organizational culture. Take the time to determine what employee empowerment methods work best for your team members. And empower employees to provide feedback to managers and senior leadership from the start of their time with the company, so they get into the habit and any early issues can be identified and addressed. Facilitating open, honest conversations between employees and leaders by using the right engagement solution is a key way to empower all team members and increase trust.
2. Recognize to empower
Recognition goes a long way. Employees who are recognized for exceptional work feel more empowered to do their best, and recognition has been directly linked to higher empowerment. In addition, Brandon Hall Group’s Culture of Recognition Pulse Survey found that organizations with a high rate of employee recognition have more than double the employee engagement, and employees who work for a business that consistently recognizes its employees are 79 percent more likely to give their employer a high brand rating. Recognition improves motivation as well: 90 percent of employees say receiving recognition motivates them to work harder.
To empower employees through recognition, give them words of support, encouragement, and praise. Acknowledge their accomplishments so they know you’re invested in their success and trust them. Recognition from all levels ー from peers, to managers, to the C-suite ー is critical for establishing an empowering culture at your organization.
Recognizing behaviors that are in line with company values incentivizes employees to keep doing them, empowering them with the confidence they need to live your values. 92 percent of workers agree that they are more likely to take a specific action again in the future if they are recognized for doing it the first time. Using a recognition platform can foster an environment of empowerment, and make it easy for employees to feel good about taking positive risks. Besides improving individual performance, employee recognition platforms have been shown to improve NPS scores and raise stock prices.
3. Provide opportunities for professional growth — and the necessary support
Professional growth and employee empowerment are highly interconnected. 87 percent of millennials say that development is important in a job, and as millennials make up over a third of the workforce, it’s in your best interest to meet their needs. But the need to focus on professional development is not limited by generation, as 40 percent of employees who receive poor training will leave their job within 5 years.
All companies must then invest in learning and development. Urging employees to share their knowledge, take on new responsibilities, and attend industry conferences or events gives them the power to learn and improve their skills. And empowering employees to take ownership of their own projects and sharpen their critical thinking ensures that they’ll be ready for new opportunities. When employees are exposed to these opportunities, they feel like a valued member of the workplace community.
Fostering professional growth also demands that HR establishes a clear path for career advancement at their company. Even if employees feel empowered, it can be discouraging to work towards an ill-defined or unattainable goal. Promoting employees in-house shows that growth and success has tangible rewards at your organization, so all your team members can feel confident that they too can find a long-term home with your company.
Companies also need to ensure there are plenty of coaching, mentoring, and training programs available to employees who want to achieve their goals. Mentoring and coaching more junior employees can boost morale and offer them a concrete sense of direction, but consider establishing other types of mentor relationships as well. A new hire may have just as much to teach an experienced manager as the manager has to teach the new hire. Don’t neglect psychological safety, either, or employees won’t get much out of the relationship.
Read more: Hit the Ground Running: Create a New-Hire Ramp-Up Plan
4. Make empowerment part of your organization’s culture and vision
Revamping your company culture to focus on empowering employees is no easy feat; it takes time and dedicated effort. Listening to and recognizing employees is a great start, but you need to practice them daily to spark company-wide change. According to Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers, “employees who feel ‘heard’ by leaders are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to do their best work,” and leaders must “find ways to recognize everyday behaviors that align with company culture and goals.” To create a culture of empowerment, leadership must realize its role to support employees, not the reverse.
All levels of your company need to feel empowered, including HR, managers, higher-level leadership, and employees, as every team member should be set up for success. To ensure no one is left out of your empowerment initiatives, think of ways for existing employees to guide new employees through orientation, set up mentoring circles or idea exchanges, and brainstorm new and exciting ways for employees to engage with other departments.
Empowering employees produces a culture of continuity that can handle any changes thrown the organization’s way 一 even a global pandemic.
Empowering employees starts with listening and recognition
Companies need to find ways to empower employees in order to encourage and excite them. This makes employees feel as though they are meaningfully contributing to the company’s success and improves their emotional well-being.
Get started on your employee empowerment journey by downloading Achievers’ comprehensive guide.
Read More: Ways to Boost Employee Wellbeing