The term “employee empowerment” sounds similar to “employee engagement,” so it’s easy to confuse the two concepts. However, engagement refers to how individuals feel about their work, while empowerment refers to the authority and agency that employees have in order to accomplish tasks and succeed in their roles.
So, it stands to reason that if you’re successful in your empowerment efforts, engagement levels will increase as well. You may also see a correlating boost in retention, job satisfaction, performance, and other business benefits often associated with a healthy work culture.
But empowerment isn’t as straightforward as offering encouragement or creating “positive vibes.” It could involve anything from redefining managers’ roles and updating processes, to fully revamping aspects of your organizational structure, from the most junior members all the way up to the C-level.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at:
- What employee empowerment is
- Why it matters for businesses
- Ways in which you can empower your people
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What is employee empowerment?
Employee empowerment is about giving team members more control and agency over their work environment and everyday tasks, helping them to feel more emotionally connected with their professional purpose.
In an empowering work culture, individuals have the tools they need to do their work effectively, but they also enjoy the freedom to perform tasks outside their traditional job description, without negative consequences. In fact, organizations that value employee empowerment reward individuals who demonstrate initiative and develop themselves both as people and as professionals.
“Empowering leaders share power with their subordinates, giving them decision-making authority. They also express confidence in employees’ abilities to perform their jobs autonomously. Empowerment includes four leader behaviors: highlighting the significance of employee work, allowing employee participation in decision-making, emphasizing employee strengths, and removing bureaucratic constraints. In turn, employees feel psychologically empowered if they perceive meaning, competence, autonomy, and impact in their work.”
— Natalia M. Lorinkova, Ph.D. and Sara Jansen Perry, Ph.D., from Reducing Employee Cynicism and Time Theft Through Empowering Leadership
How empowering employees strengthens businesses
Making empowerment an organizational priority means taking a new approach to the roles leaders and managers play. There may already be hierarchical and top-down structures in your company that need to be completely dismantled, which can be daunting. But it’s a worthwhile undertaking that can build greater trust between team members and leadership.
As well as increasing trust, an empowering environment can yield higher retention rates and profits. Recent research by Gallup found that even just a 10% improvement in employees’ emotional connection with their work could lead to an 8.1% decrease in turnover and a 4.4% increase in company profitability.
Empowerment also prevents burnout. A study authored by social and organizational psychologist Ayala Malach-Pines revealed that it’s not just overworking that’s to blame for mental overload and job-related fatigue. Burnout is also a result of people feeling they’re powerless to help others or effect workplace change.
5 ways to empower employees
Empowering your people has significant business benefits, but it requires action, especially for companies that may still be falling back on outdated leadership structures. Let’s look at five ways you can meaningfully empower team members, starting now.
1. Provide real opportunities for growth
Professional growth is central to empowerment. But what do opportunities for development look like? Employee growth entails team members deciding for themselves which career paths to pursue, rather than their managers determining this for them by delegating extra tasks and “busy work.”
So, today’s managers should act as coaches and mentors rather than supervisors. And as coaches, one of their main responsibilities is to help employees grow in their careers — via promotion — or by progressing laterally or diagonally into another position. A few ways to facilitate this include:
- Collaborating on an employee development plan — A development plan is a clear, actionable roadmap that team members can follow to improve role-related competencies or meet specific professional goals. For example, if your direct report wants to work on the soft skill of “holding effective meetings,” you can design a plan tied to the goal of “leading a meeting that gets at least an 80% positive rating in a post-meeting survey or gets at least 90% attendance.” Make sure to include a set of concrete action steps the individual can take to make meetings more productive.
- Holding regular, weekly 1:1 meetings with reports — These discussions should focus on what’s going well, what could be improved and should help both parties to identify the areas that need additional support so that individuals can reach their goals.
- Introducing team members to leadership and colleagues in other departments — This can help them discover and decide on the tasks, responsibilities, and roles they’d like to pursue in the future.
2. Highlight the significance of people’s work
If you reflect on your current team, you can probably name a few individuals who’ve recently been publicly praised or have been offered opportunities as part of your employee recognition program. But a significant portion of your team may be feeling a lack of appreciation, even if they regularly receive favorable scores on performance reviews.
Staff feeling overlooked can have unfortunate consequences for your business: An OC Tanner Institute study revealed that almost 80% of people who leave their jobs mentioned ‘lack of recognition’ as a primary reason for quitting.
The fact is, every team member needs to know their contributions matter, which you can achieve by:
- Openly recognizing people’s strengths and wins — A tool like Leapsome’s Instant Feedback module makes this easier by letting managers and colleagues offer public praise based on core skills or values defined by your organization, like excellent communication, strong leadership, and innovation. Our built-in Slack and Microsoft Teams integration generates even more visibility for public recognition and helps make mutual appreciation part of your company culture.
“[Leapsome is] more than a high five; it’s a way to encourage each other to bring our values to life. It not only celebrates our efforts, but it focuses on impact. Feedback and Praise puts our people in the driving seat to shape and reinforce what great behavior looks like at Learnerbly — how we live our values and, ultimately, our culture.”
— Lauren Gomes, Head of People Experience at Learnerbly
- Connecting compensation with performance — One major aim of compensation is to retain and reward all team members. In addition, employees that have excelled in their roles and continue to show dedication to their work and team should be rewarded financially with raises, bonuses, or merit increases. To keep this process transparent and fair, Leapsome helps managers make unbiased pay decisions. Our Compensation module integrates with our Reviews and Instant Feedback modules so you can reward employees based on objective data and criteria.
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3. Encourage employee participation in decision-making
Giving employees a say in the decisions you make for your business is crucial because they possess insights and experiences that leadership might lack. And ultimately, they’ll be just as impacted by strategic decisions as those in charge.
One tried and tested way to gather their feedback is with surveys. But what do you do if people are reluctant to complete surveys? Often people are busy and might not make time to fill out a survey if they deem it to be unimportant. Even worse, some employees might have noticed that the previous survey results led to zero noticeable changes and so might view them as pointless. Here are a few tactics you can try to gather much-needed input from employees:
- Develop a strategy beforehand — While you won’t know what the survey results will be, you can make predictions based on recent pulse surveys and informal feedback. Doing so allows you to determine what problems are currently affecting your people and gives you the opportunity to reflect on what you can do to fix them.
- Let team members know what you intend to do with survey results — If you need to rebuild employee trust in the survey process, acknowledge your mistakes. Then, explain how you’re going to improve and detail how you plan to implement survey results.
- Set up one-on-one meetings with team members — Surveys are valuable, but they don’t always yield the insights that a person-to-person interaction can. Arranging 1:1 check-ins with individuals across your organization also sends the message that you’re listening and value what people have to say.
Use software that suggests action plans — Your previous lack of action on results might have stemmed from the fact that you simply weren’t sure what to do with the data. Thankfully, products like Leapsome’s Surveys module automatically provide detailed action plan recommendations based on your findings.
“[Leapsome] tells you right away where the problem areas in your organization are located and where you need to focus to create a better work environment. The survey results have been so helpful for managers to make more meaningful decisions. There are a lot of initiatives coming out of the use of Leapsome.
For us, it’s a very helpful tool to uncover hidden layers within the organization and ultimately make hy a better place to work.”
— Tina Chater, Director of People and Organization at hy
4. Remove bureaucratic constraints
If your company still relies on rigid, hierarchical systems, it’s likely hindering empowerment. When employees feel they can’t reach out to higher-ups without their team lead’s approval, it can make them feel boxed in and inhibits innovation and growth.
This doesn’t mean you have to overhaul your current workplace structure and layout, although that might be necessary in some cases. You can start small by:
- Eliminating communication barriers — Opt to communicate in a similar way to companies with flatter organizational structures. Employees should be encouraged to get in touch with senior management and leadership without managers acting as intermediaries. This system makes it easier for leaders to gather candid, timely feedback, solve problems, and get results faster.
- Rewarding initiative — When team members test out a new skill at work or start a project with a fresh approach without checking with their manager first, they’re demonstrating initiative. Rewarding and applauding this type of initiative means that even if an employee makes a mistake as a result of acting independently, managers treat it as a learning opportunity and praise them for giving it a go.
- Making feedback a two-way street — Performance reviews give team leads an opportunity to give reports clear and direct feedback. But team leads also need feedback on their managerial skills in a separate channel, such as a 1:1 meeting or reverse review. During these discussions, prompting direct reports with questions like “What could I have done better to support you?” gives them an opportunity to be constructive rather than overly critical.
5. Provide tools & resources
If employees taking initiative is a key aspect of empowerment, then employers need to create a professional environment where people feel comfortable acting independently. One way to do that is by ensuring team members have the tools and resources to improve themselves rather than waiting for staff to request them.
It’s easy to give your people everything they need to thrive with present-day technology. Some concrete examples include:
- Competency frameworks — Also called career progression frameworks or development frameworks, they map out the roles employees can advance to at every level of their careers. They also clearly define the skills staff need to demonstrate before making an internal move and serve as a reference for their progress. This way, companies drive clarity, transparency, and alignment when it comes to development opportunities and internal promotions.
- Learning paths and courses — Self-paced, personalized learning courses can help team members cultivate soft and hard skills independently. Using a platform like Leapsome to manage employee development means managers can track progress without being directly involved in the training process. Instead, team leads can act as mentors that offer guidance and feedback on coursework when direct reports need it.
- Learning days — Rather than asking people to seek learning opportunities and complete training on their own time, provide them with learning days. You can offer team members a half day, a full day, or even a week off work to attend workshops, complete courses, or lead team-building events.
Create empowered employees through engagement & learning
Employee empowerment and engagement are deeply intertwined. It’s difficult to engage team members without celebrating their contributions and encouraging them to act independently. You can give staff all the tools at your disposal to help them take more initiative, but if they aren’t connected with their purpose and team, they probably won’t feel empowered.
That’s why Leapsome is passionate about being more than just an engagement software solution or learning tool. We’re an all-in-one people enablement platform that combines tools for creating custom learning paths, engaging team members with feedback and praise, and developing employees with performance reviews, goals and OKRs, and competency frameworks.
We believe your people should have it all: engagement, empowerment, and enablement.
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Leapsome empowers companies by connecting learning paths with goals, feedback, and competency frameworks.
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