Empowerment In The Workplace: What It Is And Why It Matters

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There’s no question that empowering employees brings numerous positive effects for both a company and its workers. Empowerment in the workplace has proven time and time again to be associated with better job performance, higher employee satisfaction, and a stronger sense of commitment to the company. 

But what exactly does employee empowerment mean, and how can organizations ingrain it into their culture? We’ll define empowerment in the workplace, explore why it’s so important and reveal some actionable strategies for making it a reality in your place of work. 

What Is Empowerment In The Workplace?

Empowerment in the workplace means enabling employees to take ownership of their work and contribute to meaningful decision-making. In a culture of empowerment, company leaders delegate responsibilities, share information freely and seek out input from members of their team. 

A culture of empowerment isn’t just about how company leaders treat employees; it’s also about what is asked of them in return. When you empower your employees, you hold them to a higher standard, set ambitious goals, and establish an expectation that they’ll take accountability for their performance. 

When executed correctly, employee empowerment can help organizations motivate workers, retain top talent and achieve optimal business outcomes. 

Why Is Employee Empowerment Important?

Empowerment in the workplace is a net positive for workers, managers, and organizations as a whole. Here are a few of the top benefits of empowering your employees. 

Improve engagement

Empowering employees yields the most dramatic impact in the area of employee engagement. Empowered employees feel more invested in their company’s mission, are more willing to step up when extra work is required, and are more likely to make contributions that can lead to meaningful change. When employees are able to take ownership over their work, they’re more invested in doing a good job and feel a stronger sense of pride when they accomplish a goal.

Retain top talent

One aspect of employee empowerment is catering to workers’ strengths–capitalizing on what they’re good at and interested in. When employees are doing a job they’re good at, they’re more likely to enjoy it, and workers who are happy at their jobs are more likely to stick around. 

Another aspect of empowerment in the workplace is recognizing employees for a job well done. This contributes to stronger retention since top performers want to work at a company where they feel that their contributions are valued. 

Related: Effective Strategies for Employee Retention

Accelerate professional development

Managers who empower their reports are constantly supporting professional development, providing regular feedback and seeking out opportunities to increase their employees’ knowledge. Professional development is beneficial on a personal level since it feeds into employee engagement, but it’s also a win for the organization, which reaps the benefits of a more skilled workforce. 

Related: Ways to Invest in Employee Development

Support strong leaders

At the organizational level, empowerment in the workplace means trusting that managers know their teams best. When managers are empowered, they’re able to better connect with their staffers and provide what their team needs to succeed. Empowered managers are transparent with information, that employees value. Processes become more optimized thanks to direct input from the employees who work through those processes on a daily basis.

Strengthen financial performance

Adaptability is one of the strongest predictors of an organization’s financial success. Empowered workers are more likely to embrace change and even be drivers of it, which can yield creative solutions and innovative business developments. Research has found that employees with autonomy are more likely to feel responsible for their jobs and engage in change-oriented behavior like proactive problem-solving. When you empower employees, they’re motivated to do good work, which is always an upside from a business perspective. 

How To Implement A Culture Of Empowerment In The Workplace

1. Start at the top

You can’t have empowered employees without an empowered leadership team. When an employee brings a concern to their manager, the answer should never be “it’s out of my control,” but rather “I’ll see what I can do about it.”

To achieve true empowerment in the workplace, an organization must support its managers fully and provide for their needs. This means investing in leadership training, giving managers autonomy in their decision making and engaging them in conversations about the company’s future. 

2. Embrace transparency

Empowering employees revolves heavily around allowing them to take ownership of their work, but it also requires a heavy dose of communication. An organization with a culture of empowerment gives employees the information they need to have a thorough understanding of the business and its goals, which helps them make stronger decisions and be more successful at their jobs. Messaging about the company’s mission, objectives and direction should be communicated by leadership clearly and often.

3. Listen to employees

There’s a reason customer surveys are so effective when optimizing a product–because they gather feedback from the people who directly use and experience that product. It’s no different when you’re looking to optimize your business. You have to gather input from the people who work in that business. Employees can be the most amazing source for transformative change–if you actually listen to their contributions. 

Give them channels to express their feedback, then ask for it regularly. Use tools like employee advisory panels to include the voice of the worker in company decision-making.

Related: How to Measure Employee Satisfaction

4. Make space for creative work

It’s hard for employees to feel engaged with their work if they’re boxed into a rigid set of tasks every hour they’re on the clock. Give staffers space to stretch beyond their typical skill sets by involving them in new and interesting projects. Offer direction and provide structure, then back off and see what they come up with. This not only builds trust between managers and teams, but gives employees a chance to develop new skills.

5. Hold employees accountable

Empowerment in the workplace isn’t all sunshine and daisies. Giving workers autonomy means sometimes they’re going to make the wrong decisions. There will be failures and disappointments. In a culture of empowerment, managers support their employees in taking ownership of those failures, analyzing how they happened, identifying lessons learned, and forging a path forward with the newfound insights. 

6. Prioritize company culture

We’ve mentioned company culture several times already, but it’s not something where you just say the word ‘empowerment’ and it materializes overnight. Building a culture of empowerment requires strategic planning and intentional decision-making over the long term. It also requires putting your money where your mouth is and allocating resources to initiatives that support employee wellbeing, innovation, creative thinking, and transparency. 

7. Invest in technology

It’s impossible for employees to feel empowered if the tools they have to do their jobs aren’t functional. Any rhetoric about empowerment will immediately be undermined by outdated software, broken equipment, and ineffective systems. 

Invest in the tools and technology that enable workers to get the information they need, communicate with colleagues, work faster and optimize tasks. This is a great opportunity to walk the walk by listening to your employees by asking what they need. 

8. Focus on the why

Leadership experts from Harvard Business School advise that rallying employees around a shared purpose is one of the best ways to mobilize a team. To do this, clearly delineate the organization’s mission and the driving force behind it, like improving customers’ health, making people’s lives easier, using technology to drive change, etc. Use this ‘why’ as a compass when making decisions; it’s not the right move if an initiative doesn’t contribute to the purpose. 

Empowerment In The Workplace Examples

Here are some tangible examples of what employee empowerment looks like:

  • Conducting employee feedback surveys to ask what needs improvement
  • Assembling an employee task force to come up with creative ways to address a problem
  • Using a gamification tool to recognize employees for their contributions
  • Hosting a training retreat for managers
  • Providing a stipend for continuing education
  • Letting employees set their own work schedule
  • Giving floating holidays for volunteer work
  • Establishing a mentorship program

As you can see, empowerment in the workplace can take many different forms. At its core, it’s about trusting workers to do the jobs they were hired to do and supporting them with the resources they need to continuously improve, which ultimately yields better outcomes for the business. 

Resources and sources

  1. https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0022676
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5673857/#B57
  3. https://online.hbs.edu/blog/post/how-to-empower-employees
Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn