By: Caitland Conley
Every company has heard of employee engagement tactics to keep your workforce plugged in and productive. But in the work world today, your work environment needs to be more than engaging—it needs to empower employees toward their overarching career goals, learn new skills, promote them into greater responsibility and leadership, and encourage positive impact.
Employee empowerment might sound like just another buzzword in the business world, but it’s actually a foundational element that can shape your organizational culture.
Engaged employees aren’t necessarily empowered, and empowered employees aren’t necessarily engaged. It’s a delicate balancing act that requires human resource management to be applied in thoughtful, intelligent ways.
What is Employee Empowerment?
The definition of employee empowerment is simple: it’s the business processes that demonstrate how organizations value their employees. In a previous iteration of work, valuing employees might have looked different than it looks today.
For example, companies having a 401k match, or lunch programs, feels like the bare minimum these days, as this generation of the workforce works more than their predecessors at generally lower or stagnant wages.
Employee empowerment, at its core, is how you treat and value your employees. A manager who acts at a higher level and empowers their team is one who sets up an environment of support and trust.
How to Build an Empowered Organization
An empowered company is one where the workforce understands where the company is headed—its current plans, future ambitions, and where things can be improved. Empowered organizations aren’t afraid of constructive feedback, and they listen when employees raise issues to HR.
In small businesses, empowerment can take a different shape, including clearly set boundaries for work/life balance. It may look like giving projects to new hires, instead of making them “prove themselves” or “ease in” during their first weeks of employment.
At the core, empowered employees know that they will be treated as a human being at work. If that doesn’t occur, or if managers aren’t treating others with respect, you may have a culture problem that needs to pivot immediately.
How Managers Can Empower Staff Members
There’s more to employee empowerment than an occasional wage adjustment based on federal standards. It’s also more than saying “thank you,” though thanking your staff for their contribution is critically important in showing your appreciation of their work.
Managers who empower their team approach work from a human-centered, empathetic framework. Part of that is being available. If your top management is too busy to have regular employee one-on-one meetings, or they are curt when their subordinates ask questions, this is a red flag that they care more about the bottom line than investing in the team.
For example, when a boss is scheduled in back-to-back meetings all day, they will likely not have time for mentorship, effective delegation, and providing feedback. This is a dangerous slope for companies who have rock-star employees who are drowning in work, and front-line employees who aren’t trusted with meaningful tasks.
Having thoughtful feedback on employee performance is also a critical piece of the empowerment pie. People don’t just want to hear “good job” at work. They want to hear, “I love that your marketing initiative drove x in revenue. Great work!”
Specificity in compliments and criticism alike is what makes employees feel seen, and that the feedback you provide is tailored to their role, their skill set, and their personality.
How you structure your team is also a critical element. If you have silo-ed departments or staff who report directly to the C-suite without any oversight, things are destined to slip through the cracks. With a little know-how, managers can make recommendations and their teams can be structured to function at their best.
More Ways to Help Employees Feel Empowered at Work:
- Hire adaptive managers who are comfortable with different working styles, and implement standardized training to make them better managers over time
- Have processes and solutions in place to make onboarding and recruitment seamless, and make sure you are clear on your core values communication
- Let driven, ambitious team members own decisions, manage up, and take on additional responsibility
- Delegating. Handoff tasks to other employees and trust them with the outcome
- Establish goal-setting and set up regular check-ins toward achieving those goals
- For wallflower employees or shy team members, check in via email or take them out to coffee one-on-one to discover what makes them feel empowered at work. Remember—different team members need to be managed differently. One size does not fit all.
- Reward positive job performance, and handle poor performance with grace and maturity. Avoid call-out culture, which can build an environment of fear at work, where employees are focused on making the right decision all the time.
- Listen when you receive feedback on your work environment. Hostile work environments lead to disempowered employees who don’t want to become managers, take on leadership, or even provide their expertise, for fear of being shot down.
Benefits of Employee Empowerment
Empowered employees will, in turn, empower others who join the team. It’s a symbiotic, circular process where mentorship of one new team member can lead to new types of decision-making
You may think that only millennials are clamoring for an empowered workplace, but there are actually core benefits of organizational empowerment that lead to:
- Higher job satisfaction
- A degree of autonomy at work, or less micromanagement
- A better, more open line of communication between top management and co-workers
- A work environment that encourages employee growth and furthers organizational goals
- Curb job-hopping. Less employee turnover, leading to a sense of stability and consistency in one’s work environment
- Stronger teams who feel connected to one another and the company’s mission
- Synergy and purpose in a day-to-day sense.
People want to be recognized for their work. After all, we spend more time at the office or answering emails, than most places. A sense of empowerment is no longer a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have piece of organizational culture.
Worried your employee empowerment efforts aren’t up to a high enough standard? Let GuideSpark light the way.