What is employee empowerment, and why is it important for your company?

Viesturs Abelis 7.07.2023
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Top-down management is falling out of fashion and employee empowerment is on the rise. 

Over the last several decades, the work environment has become more dynamic and fast-paced making it increasingly challenging for a single person to run the entire ship. In parallel, employees have been growing more educated and capable. 

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As a result, the traditional approach of micromanaging employees no longer aligns with the needs of the modern company, nor the aspirations of the modern employee. Or rather – organizations stuck in the old ways will inevitably fall behind competitors who make better use of their human resource potential. 

Enter employee empowerment – a paradigm shift that levels authority, encourages autonomy, and nurtures a culture of trust and collaboration, making for a more effective and happier workforce. 

What is employee empowerment?

Employee empowerment can be defined as a style of management that grants individuals the freedom, resources, and support to take ownership of their work, make independent decisions, and contribute their skills and strengths to the company’s success. It is about creating an environment where employees feel valued, heard, and empowered to drive positive change.

Accordingly, employee empowerment can come in many forms – from trusting people to make critical decisions to providing them with the resources they need to perform at their best. 

man motivating and empowering employees

What does it look like in practice?

Some employee empowerment examples may include:

  • Giving workers projects, not tasks, so they can determine the best path forward
  • Offering communication channels for open feedback 
  • Making space for experimentation and mistakes
  • Holding regular brainstorming sessions and retrospectives
  • Hosting workshops and training sessions that develop skills for independent work
  • Rewarding workers based on performance, both as an individual and as a team member
  • And more

At the end of the day, employee empowerment boils down to giving employees the space and trust in order to bring out the best in each individual. 

Why is employee empowerment important? 

From higher-morale to better business results, workers and managers will both experience the benefits of employee empowerment. 

For employees, employee empowerment means the freedom to excel. Not being restricted by arbitrary rules and receiving encouragement to complete projects as they see fit are powerful and fulfilling motivators to work hard and achieve results. With workers having a stronger personal stake in the success of a project, work becomes more engaging and rewarding. Additionally, more responsibilities typically entail learning and personal development that boost not only the workers personal qualifications, but also creates a stronger employee for the company. 

3 people exemplifying team empowerment in the workplace

In short, empowered employees experience higher:

  • Autonomy and sense of control
  • Professional growth and development
  • Job satisfaction and engagement
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Sense of fulfillment

For managers, employee empowerment means more creative, helpful, and engaged workers, which, in turn, should lead to better business outcomes. Trusting employees to solve challenges on their own frees up the manager’s own time to focus on more value-added activities. Plus, happier employees are more likely to sing your company’s praises in public, thus helping attract and retain other talented employees, simplifying recruitment. 

In short, managers of empowered employees can expect:

  • Increased employee performance and engagement
  • Improved employee retention
  • Reduced managerial overhead
  • Happier and more open workers
  • Faster and more creative problem solving

Empowering employees is a win-win situation for all involved parties. Moreover, this style of management is becoming increasingly common in modern enterprises, so companies entrenched in traditional ways of working may begin losing talent to others who have embraced employee empowerment in the workplace. 

happy employees which is one of the benefits of employee empowerment

5 ways how to boost employee empowerment in the workplace

To make your organizational environment an attractive and engaging place to work in, here are five suggestions you can begin implementing today. That said, keep in mind, empowering your employees isn’t a one-off project or a quick method for boosting morale. Rather it’s a fundamentally different way of management that must permeate every level of your team and organization. 

While it may be wise to start with baby steps, remember that to fully benefit from the advantages outlined above a comprehensive approach is required. As to the baby steps – here’s where to begin. 

1. Give projects, not tasks

To boost creativity and innovation, you need to make space for it. A common way of doing that is to give employees ownership of their responsibilities and allow them to personally determine how to approach a challenge at hand. 

By letting employees make decisions, they become more engaged with their work and more invested in the results they produce. 

2. Encourage innovation by rewarding performance

While it’s great to be trusted to do things your way, people often get disenchanted if the improved results aren’t recognized. There’s little motivation to invest yourself when the investment generates no returns. 

Hence, to keep employees engaged, it’s crucial to recognize and reward success. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean giving a monetary bonus or complex salary schemes, although those can certainly be strong motivators. Showing public appreciation and not punishing effective workers with more work are a good place to start. 

3. Give employees control of their time

Flexible work schedules boost not only morale, but productivity, too. Different people peak at different hours of the day and being able to work when it is most convenient can go a long way in boosting team empowerment. 

Today, with tools like DeskTime, teams worldwide are giving their employees control over their time and seeing productivity improvements. Not only can employees work more flexibly, while still being accountable for their time, but they can also identify bad habits and optimize their own working patterns. 

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4. Establish a way to get honest feedback – both ways

Open communication is a cornerstone of employee empowerment. Understanding what works and what doesn’t can only happen if workers are pro-active in offering substantive feedback and aren’t afraid to speak out. Without open communication, you’ll get forced staff empowerment, which is the fastest route to toxic positivity and burnout

Repeatedly seek input from workers, discuss challenges, brainstorm solutions – when employees see that their opinions matter, they’ll be far more engaged and feel more empowered to voice their ideas. 

5. Learn from failure – don’t shun it

Giving employees more control is likely to result in more failures, too. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than indicators that empowerment isn’t working, failures are learning opportunities that enable valuable knowledge-sharing. 

Of course, in this case, we’re talking about interesting, strategic failures. If an employee cannot complete a basic task without hand-holding and training doesn’t help, that’s not exactly worth a team-wide seminar. 

good and empowered vibes

Important – don’t force it!

Don’t expect total buy-in from all employees. Employee empowerment benefits those who want to be empowered. Others might work to simply earn a living and aren’t particularly ambitious or driven to experiment, i.e. they might favor structured tasks with clear expectations and a predetermined roadmap to follow. Which is completely fine – empowering high-performers is not at odds with making space for regular work. 

Forcing experimental ways of working on diligent employees that don’t subscribe to that kind of philosophy can have the adverse effect of scaring them away. 

Empowered employees empower companies

In conclusion, employee empowerment is a vital ingredient for both workers and managers in today’s evolving business landscape. 

Our jobs increasingly demand more creativity, dynamism, and learning, so avoid keeping those qualities bottled up, and let your team shine by empowering your employees.

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