What percentage of the workforce doesn’t care about their work? What percentage of the crew doesn’t feel they are contributing positively?
The 2022 Gallup survey revealed a decline in work engagement, dropping from 36% in 2020 to 32%.
An empowered employee, on the other hand, takes pride and ownership of their work. They are happy, engaged, and productive. An empowered employee feels confident expressing their ideas for improvement, generating new solutions with out-of-the-box thinking, and bringing a new level of ingenuity to the company.
Employee empowerment is also an indispensable component of employee retention. And employee retention strategies are central to human capital management.
The good news is that, when considering the high percentage of the workforce that does not feel engaged or care about their work, if you take steps to improve employee empowerment in your company, you will gain a sizable advantage over your competitors.
This short article takes a close look at the various factors that affect employee empowerment. The idea is that it should serve as a checklist to ensure you are doing all you can to create empowered employees.
The 4 Pillars of Employee Empowerment
While the list of benefits of employee empowerment is long, we can break down the fundamental elements of employee empowerment into four categories.
1. Understanding of Their Work and Role
Empowerment begins in a place of clarity. Expectations are well understood. And on these four points, there is no doubt:
- Employees clearly understand their tasks and the standards they are meant to uphold.
- The employee clearly understands how to do their job, what difficulties they are likely to face, and the resources at their disposal to help them overcome these difficulties.
- The employee clearly understands how they fit into the larger framework of the company.
- Employees clearly understand what value they bring to the company and/or consumers.
The job description should define the real-life challenges the employee will likely face. Once a recent recruit has been onboarded and is completing assignments, review the job description. Then, have the employee draft their version, defining their role, reporting duties, and the value of their contribution.
Having the new employee write out their job description will let all parties know they're on the same page. It will serve to empower the employee. It also implies understanding and ownership, another critical component of employee empowerment.
- The employee has drafted and signed their job description
2. Respecting Individuality
The employee was hired for a specific reason: to carry out a defined task, or tasks. They should, however, have reasonable freedom in how they do this.
While it may be true that the position could have been filled by several other people, to generate employee empowerment you need to convey that the employee’s uniqueness is an asset to the company. Their individuality is why they were chosen over other candidates, so they must be able to express their individuality in the work they do.
People often build or express their identity around their jobs. ‘What do you do for a living?’ is one of the most common questions we ask someone we’re just meeting.
Employees who don’t feel their job is an extension or expression of their personality will not likely be successful at it, and they’re not expected to stay with the company for long.
On the other hand, when employees feel that what makes them unique is an asset to their work, they can see their work as an expression of who they are. This, in turn, stimulates a sense of pride and ownership of the work, which, in turn, enables employee empowerment.
Respecting Individuality Checklist
- The employee can specifically identify their unique stamp on the work they do or the methodology in which it is done - or preferably both.
3. Ownership of Their Work
When an employee has had their say in what task needs to be done or how it needs to be done, and they have been given the space to express their individuality in their work, they are far more likely to put in maximum effort. This is because they have a vested interest in the results. The results confirm or refute their ideas, individuality, and identity.
When this occurs, the employee takes ownership of their work. They care about its execution and take pride in the positive results. To make sure this positive attitude persists, the employee’s efforts must be recognized and praised or admonished accordingly.
Ownership of one’s work is often a direct result of personal initiative. An employee who takes ownership of their work is an employee who does not need to be motivated, prodded, or incentivized. Their enthusiasm and professionalism are often contagious and have a positive ripple effect on the team.
- The employee has a say in what tasks need to be completed.
- The employee has a say in how the tasks are meant to be carried out.
- The employee has the freedom to put their stamp on their work and is using it.
- The employee reports to a colleague or boss.
- The employee shares their contribution and work experience with others.
- The employee is recognized for their contribution, and clearly understands the value they have brought to the company/consumer.
4. Accountability and Recognition
The worst thing one could experience is going unnoticed.
When employees are empowered, their contributions - whether good or bad - matter; they do not go unnoticed. As a result, the employee is acknowledged and rewarded when they meet or exceed the standards asked of them. Additionally, the employee faces consequences when they fail to meet those standards.
Accountability and recognition are key to acknowledging the value of the work and, in consequence, the value of the worker. It is not possible to have one without the other.
Many companies have a rewards program in place. And one program or strategy is not necessarily better than another. There is no one solution for everyone. Some companies attempt to incentivize their workers by offering monetary rewards. However, recent research analyzed by the Harvard Business Review suggests that ‘symbolic awards’ such as parties, public recognition, or certificates can often yield better results.
The rewards or recognition strategy must be tailored to the individual employees. For example, while some employees might thrive when they compete with their peers, other employees might find that kind of environment stressful. In some cases, a competitive approach to rewards and recognition can lead to cliques and/or resentment among colleagues.
To tailor the employee accountability and recognition strategy so that it fits the personalities of your employees, it may be worthwhile to create and define the strategy together. This is a good way to make sure the employees clearly understand the accountability and recognition strategy, and it will also empower them by incorporating their ideas and giving them ownership of their work.
Accountability and Recognition Checklist
- The employee has specific reporting requirements that ensure their work does not go unnoticed.
- There is a rewards and recognition strategy in place, one that has been shaped by the feedback of the employees concerned.
What Are the Visible Signs of an Empowered Employee?
Besides the efforts you make, monitoring employees for tell-tale behavior can be indicative of how empowered they are in their role. Here are the visible signs that you can expect to find in a successfully empowered individual.
Open Lines of Communication
An empowered employee is not reluctant to share their opinions. They are encouraged to do so. The employee is confident in their ideas, and there have been enough trust built up that they feel they can share their opinions and feedback without fear of reprisal.
On the other hand, some people, by nature, are shy or reserved. This doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t feel empowered. However, an employee who is unwilling to share their opinions or ideas on their work is cause for concern. This does raise some red flags, and it’s worth monitoring the situation carefully. At the very least, the company is potentially missing out on great ideas that could improve the process, the final product, or the service.
- Employees offer unsolicited suggestions or opinions on the work or how it is carried out.
- The feedback from employees is taken into consideration. When appropriate, their suggestions are implemented.
Taking the Initiative
When employees are empowered, they feel comfortable taking appropriate action even when not prompted to do so. The empowered employee doesn’t require much in terms of external motivation. They take ownership of their work, know what needs to be done, and are confident they possess the skills and know-how to get the work done.
If you are having difficulties getting your employees to show initiative, the problem may lie in one or more of these three areas: ownership, understanding, and confidence. The employee doesn’t feel concerned about the work. It is not their problem. The employee doesn’t clearly understand what needs to be done. Or, the employee lacks, or feels they lack, the skills to take effective action.
How frequently employees take the initiative is a good barometer of how empowered they feel.
- Employees often take action even when not prompted to.
Outside the Box Thinking
When employees are empowered, their work expresses their personality, who they are, and their unique characteristics. When this type of expression is encouraged, it will lead to helpful diversity in the workplace: diversity of thought, diversity of perspectives, and diversity in problem-solving techniques and solutions.
Allowing or encouraging employees to stray from the ‘standard’ way of doing things used to be called ‘thinking outside the box.’ But it may be more accurate - albeit less catchy - to describe it as ‘bringing a unique and personal perspective to the problem.’
An empowered employee is confident in the individual stamp they put on their work. After all, they’ve taken ownership and have a sense of pride in their work. They will look at things from their unique perspective and offer original insights into the problems faced at work, as well as the processes they undertake to complete their tasks. The empowered employee will ‘think outside the box.’
Outside the Box Thinking Checklist
- You can recognize a unique approach or perspective that has gone into a product, service, or process.
- This unique approach is the result of an employee who has been given creative liberty and has taken the initiative to put their individual stamp on their work.
Some Final Thoughts on Employee Empowerment
Employee empowerment results from embracing the uniqueness of the individual. It is the result of clearly defining needs and expectations and giving the employee the resources they need to meet those expectations. Empowering employees is also allowing them to put a personal stamp on their work.
Stimulating a sense of ownership of their work leads to work pride, company pride, and ultimately more care and attention to the job at hand.