In theory, everyone loves employee empowerment. Empowered employees are more productive and engaged, more likely to trust senior leadership and more likely to approach situations. What’s not to like?
Equally, that initial process of letting go can be hard – and that’s nothing to be ashamed about. Employee empowerment is a relatively recent philosophy, and many of us will have progressed our careers with a top-down approach to workplace management.
With the huge rise in remote and hybrid work, this approach is crumbling. As many workplaces are set to remain remote, and many others are losing employees in droves due to lack of career progression and low pay, it’s not a viable long term strategy.
Your managers can add huge amounts of value to your business in the projects they oversee and the bonds they build with their teams. Micromanagement is wasting them as a resource.
Staff empowerment involves trading some control over various aspects of your work environment for higher productivity and greater job satisfaction. Here’s how to embrace letting go in return for these tempting performance gains.
What is employee empowerment?
Let’s turn to the Society for Human Resource Management for a useful top-level definition of employee empowerment:
“Employee empowerment is a management philosophy that emphasizes the importance of giving employees the autonomy, resources and support they need to act independently and be held accountable for the decisions they make.”
“Autonomy, resources and support” encompasses a range of things here, and could include:
- Offering employees freedom over where they work (e.g. remote or hybrid working arrangements).
- Offering employees freedom over how they work by building managerial trust and avoiding micromanagement.
- Providing resources for skills development and career progression
- Structuring your organization in a way that allows employees some say in how it’s run, for example employee voice initiatives and shareholder schemes.
Employee empowerment, engagement, and satisfaction…what’s the difference?
Employee engagement is the strength of the mental and emotional connection employees feel toward the work they do, their teams and their organization.
Employee satisfaction is a measure of how happy an employee is in their role, and with their place of work in general.
Employee empowerment is providing the resources and support needed for your employees to act independently.
If you’re the type for metaphors (don’t blame you, they’re super useful!), consider employee satisfaction and employee empowerment as two key building blocks for employee engagement.
High employee engagement is the ultimate goal – companies with engaged employees are 21% more profitable than companies that aren’t. Workplace satisfaction and empowering employees with control over how they work are essential contributors to this.
The benefits of empowerment in the workplace
Your workforce is more flexible
Empowered workforces can work across locations and time zones, innovate more, and find solutions to problems quicker. That’s a real asset across your business – you can create better products, offer a vastly improved CX and build watertight internal processes.
Your workforce is more productive
Employees who feel trusted are more likely to get more done in the same space of time. This is partly because it’s easier to feel driven when you have autonomy over your work, and partly because micromanagement is a major time drain. Free your colleagues from this over-hierarchical hellscape and they’ll be more willing to go the extra mile.
Your workforce trusts leadership more
Trust is a two-way street. You’ll find that if employees are trusted to manage their workloads and have a say in how your business is run, they trust senior leadership to make mutually beneficial decisions as a result.
Research by the Great Place to Work Institute and Fortune suggests that trust between managers and employees is the main factor in the world’s best workplaces. Workplaces with the most mutual trust beat the average annualized returns of the S&P 500 by a factor of three.
How to empower employees in the workplace
Employee empowerment isn’t a bandaid that you can tack onto your existing workplace to make it better. It needs to be woven into the fibers of your company culture.
Bad news: this takes time and effort.
Good news: this investment will absolutely pay off in the long term. Creating new management practices, investing in new ways of working, sharing feedback regularly and creating a culture of recognition all help you maximize the value you get from employee empowerment as a business.
Feedback: give it and receive it
The more feedback you give on performance, the more you empower your employees to work dynamically, creatively and independently.
The more feedback employees share with you about the workplace, the more your workplace can meet their needs – and the more likely they are to stay.
Recognition: little and often is key
Did you know that a simple ‘thank you’ just once per month to your employees doubles employee engagement, halves the risk of them leaving and triples the likelihood of them sticking with you in the long term?
By all means celebrate the big milestones, but don’t forget to create a supportive, encouraging atmosphere day to day as well. Self belief is empowering – let your employees know that they’re doing a good job and watch performance improve.
Career development: make sure employees are working towards something
Career development motivates employees to act independently. Why take the risks that come with autonomy and decision-making responsibilities if there’s no payout?
In a recent survey 63% of workers cited lack of career opportunities as a reason why they left their position – the joint most popular response alongside ‘poor pay’. To create an empowered workforce motivated to stick around for the long-term, take a look at your career progression structure. What could be improved? Or, if you haven’t got any formalized structures in place, how could you design them to support the needs of your workforce?
Communication: two-way, not one-way
Watching your employees’ every move makes your workforce resentful and erodes trust. Instead of monitoring behavior, start thinking about how you can facilitate meaningful two-way communication between managers and employees.
As well as the right software – employee apps, instant messengers and project management software are all useful here – take a look at shifting your concerns away from regulating behavior and more towards focusing on results.
Responsibilities: avoid making things too top heavy
The classic scenario: managers are expected to maintain a huge degree of control over their teams, resulting in time pressures, delays and a lack of feedback for frontline teams.
By sharing responsibilities across employees and teams, you reduce this pressure drastically and encourage employee autonomy. You also avoid gradual erosion of trust and performance stagnation, as you empower your managers to spend time with their teams and invest time in employee development.
Barriers to employee empowerment and how to overcome them
Stuck on building a naturally empowering workplace? Check these common barriers to employee empowerment.
Your remote employees can’t communicate
To empower employees in a remote environment, your communications strategy needs to be stronger than it’s ever been.
If performance is suffering and deadlines are being missed due to confusion, invest in remote employee communication tools and make sure your managers are checking in at least daily.
Fear of position loss
If your employees are increasingly autonomous, what’s in store for middle to lower management positions?
Ease your managers’ concerns about this by communicating new expectations for different roles. If they know that employee empowerment is as much about reinvesting their time in meaningful work as empowering the workforce, they’re significantly more likely to get on board.
Lack of clear goals
“Be empowered” won’t cut it. To maximize returns on your employee empowerment strategy, you’ll need to be specific about what these goals look like. This could include:
- Employees handling specific tasks on their own
- Employees contributing regularly to strategic discussions
- Employees shaping their workplace via employee voice initiatives
Employee empowerment in different industries
Not all industries work in the same way. What empowers employees in one industry might be impossible in another. Your healthcare workers might not be able to work remotely, for example, or there may be a particularly rigid professional hierarchy in place that you need to work around.
No matter your sector or organizational structure, there are ways to empower your employees. If flexible working is difficult, or there are real limits on the responsibilities you can share, try focusing on:
- Employee voice initiatives like surveys and focus groups
- Career progression – if your industry is hierarchical, work with it!
- Recognition – a little ‘thank you’ never goes awry
Employee empowerment resources
There’s no such thing as being “too nerdy” about the wellbeing, productivity and performance of your employees. If you’re up for a bit of further reading, take a look at these resources.
Examples of employee empowerment (Chron)
Blink resources – a few more friendly blog posts that might be helpful!
And, don’t forget to check out our Frontline of the Future podcast! Listen here.
Employee empowerment examples
Need some real-world empowerment inspiration? Take a look at how these three businesses encourage their employees to reach their full potential.
British service retailer Timpsons is a renowned example of what happens when you trust your employees.
The business’s ‘upside down management’ philosophy was borne of owner John Timpson’s realization that “the only way to provide truly great customer service is to trust our customer-facing colleagues with the freedom to serve customers the way they know best.”
Timpsons’ frontline team members are encouraged to do whatever they can to provide a brilliant customer experience, including changing prices, rejigging displays and paying up to £500 to settle a complaint – without having to justify themselves to anyone senior.
If you’re looking for the ultimate employee empowerment strategy, look no further than employee ownership. Your employees become shareholders in your business, and get a share of annual profits and a say in how the business is run.
It’s definitely a commitment, but UK department store John Lewis makes it work. According to recent figures, 84% of John Lewis retail partners recommend John Lewis as a great place to work and 86% of customers feel valued when they shop with John Lewis outlets. Positioning their workforce as partners rather than employees drives empowerment; the retailer regularly tops ‘best workplace’ polls as a result.
It’s no surprise that worldwide innovation leader Google expects the best from its employees. To facilitate this, Google invests a lot in building a creative work environment where employees are empowered to develop new skills at every turn.
Google Cafes encourage employees to build connections across the business, whilst the Google Moderator management tool draws a wider audience into meetings with a range of interactive features.
Google also allows its engineers to spend 20% of their working week on projects that interest them but show no immediate promise of paying dividends. Employees have the chance to develop new skills and work with their interests, whilst Google keeps ahead of the pack on long-term innovation.
Employee empowerment: final thoughts
As how we work continues to change, employee empowerment is becoming essential. Your teams need to be flexible, adaptable and engaged if you want to remain competitive – particularly right now, as open vacancies soar and workforces are asked to do more with less.
Employee empowerment will look different in different workforces. For example, you might not be able to offer flexible working, but you can still allow employees control over their processes and a say in how the workplace is run. Or, you might have strict protocols that need to be followed, but be able to offer some degree of time and location flexibility.
Whatever staff empowerment means for you, encouraging meaningful communication between managers and employees, setting clear expectations and building a culture of mutual trust is essential to success.
Blink is an employee app that enables two-way conversations, builds trust and empowers employees as a result. Get your free demo today!