In the past, businesses functioned around their owners. Decisions were subject to owners’ tastes and biases, and workers followed precise rules to get their tasks done.
In today's global economy, this way of working and leadership is out of style. Markets and environments change rapidly. Decentralization and employee empowerment are crucial for any company aiming for growth and success. But what exactly is employee empowerment?
What is employee empowerment?
Employee empowerment means delegating authority and giving workers autonomy to make decisions and influence matters within their roles. This involves assigning not only tasks and responsibilities but also resources and support to enable employees to drive results that benefit the organization.
Employee empowerment gets team members enthusiastic about their goals. They begin to own their tasks and take the initiative to achieve stretch goals instead of waiting for a manager to give directions.
Organizations practicing employee empowerment create a work environment that is less about autocratic or hierarchical leadership and more about teaching and empowering staff at all levels. Under an empowering leadership style, they will act in the company's best interests and perform their duties with operational excellence.
Why is empowerment in the workplace important?
Empowerment in the workplace creates an engaged and high-morale work environment. Empowered employees are self-directed, self-organizing, and keen to leverage their full potential in pursuing and achieving business goals.
A 2018 research summary in the Harvard Business Review revealed that companies that actively promote employee empowerment have more productive employees delivering highly creative work with considerable job satisfaction.
An empowering management style increases trust between workers and employees, strengthening psychological safety at work. This boosts employee confidence and capabilities so they're able to achieve more, which benefits the business.
As author Daniel Pink wrote in “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” "Human beings have an innate inner drive to be autonomous, self-determined, and connected to one another. When that drive is liberated, people achieve more and live richer lives."
The benefits of employee empowerment
A few significant benefits of employee empowerment are:
Empowered employees are more likely to be self-motivated and directed, needing less supervision to accomplish their tasks. They know what is expected of them, how it ties into the organization's big picture, and remain committed to delivering valuable results at every opportunity.
Confidence in leadership
When staff members feel their employers care about their development and well-being, they perform better and are more willing to represent the company, take measured risks, and innovate. Confidence in leadership significantly influences employee engagement, performance, and output.
How leaders relate with employees affects how the employees engage with customers. There's a positive ripple effect across the organization when employees feel empowered. Customer service and support, marketing and sales, even collaborators and vendors represent your business better when you empower them. Empowered employees are proactive and thoughtful about customer requests and issues, making your business a welcome place for prospects and customers.
When a company embraces employee empowerment and autonomy in its culture, employees are allowed to be creative and insightful. They share knowledge and can connect the dots between ideas as they collaborate. An empowering management style encourages employees to speak up, stand up for others, and try new approaches to solve problems and produce results.
Employee empowerment is a huge determinant in retaining expert talent in your organization. It’s often said that "people don't leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers." If you recruit high-performers into your team, you should give them room to apply their expertise to help you succeed. High-performing teams and professionals work in organizations where they can learn, solve new challenges, and grow in their careers. Companies prioritizing employee empowerment are better positioned to attract and retain expert talent than those who do not.
Saving on hiring costs
Research shows that replacing a team member or employee costs an average of six to nine months' salary in recruitment and training costs. Companies with high employee churn spend more on hiring, training, and onboarding new employees. It's advisable to promote employee empowerment in the workplace to reduce turnover and save hiring costs.
Stronger bottom line
As seen in the benefits mentioned above, companies that support employee empowerment perform better than those that don't. They satisfy customers with excellent service, rake in higher profits, and grow stronger with a committed team of employees working as ambassadors.
Employee empowerment examples
There are many good employee empowerment examples from modern companies with unique cultures. In this section, we take a look at four:
Netflix is one of the best employee empowerment examples. The global streaming company allows high levels of autonomy and independence with a high bar for excellence and responsibility for every employee, regardless of position or role. Netflix's No Rules Rules way of working thrives on trust and proactivity.
Managers trust team members to give their best. Teams and employees in turn trust the company to provide all they need to thrive, giving them a sense of project ownership and the drive to see that projects are successful.
Google has a strong culture of innovation and experimentation, which encourages employees to pursue new ideas. The company implemented the 20 percent rule, giving employees 20% of the workweek to explore their creativity and experiment with new ideas. This employee empowerment strategy has led to the development of some of Google's most popular products, including Google News, AdSense, and Gmail.
For this 39-year-old billion-dollar SaaS company, freedom is paramount. Adobe has adopted a 'no hovering' work policy that discourages hand-holding, micromanagement, and nitpicking.
The company believes in allowing room for employees to ideate, execute, and take responsibility for their work and impact within the organization. Adobe makes it clear that employees will not be micromanaged but have true freedom and responsibility to do their work. Employees work on challenging projects and have autonomy over how they create.
Buffer has built a culture focused on transparency, utilizing open communication and feedback to improve company policies and work arrangements so that employees can do their best work.
Buffer's flexible work culture allows employees to choose where they work from, take time off when needed, and focus on work when they're present. This culture has contributed to making the company successful. Employees give their best on every project, knowing that they work for a company that cares about employee empowerment.
How can you empower unmotivated employees?
Is it possible to empower unmotivated employees? The first thing to do is identify issues that may be causing demotivation. Gather employee feedback and conduct an audit of your processes, noting employees' most common pain points.
Have conversations with teams and managers. You may choose to have an all-staff meeting or discuss with key team members one-on-one. It's important to give the employees a chance to speak. Listen to and note their responses so you can make more informed decisions and come up with the right solution.
Get back to your team with proposed fixes and implement the best ideas. Do you need to adjust KPIs on specific projects? Do you need to cut in-office work hours and embrace a hybrid work arrangement? Come up with solutions that tackle the real causes of demotivation your employees shared with you.
Develop a reward system for productivity and creativity. Recognize and give credit to those working diligently and delivering results. Celebrate small wins to show the progress you're making as a team. You may decide to choose one employee to be the manager of this transformation.
How to adapt to an empowering management style
Adapting your company's management style to an empowering one takes a bit of work, but the benefits are worth it. Here are some steps to implement:
- Share your top-level vision: Be clear about the mission, goals, and strategy for the organization. Make sure the top-level vision is communicated transparently and consistently across departments. This creates an understanding of the company's big picture that every staff member can tie to their role.
- Give employees autonomy: Give employees autonomy over their work by ensuring they have the resources to complete tasks they're assigned without being micromanaged.
- Get out of the way: After delegating tasks, don't second-guess your team members' decisions. Only step in if they ask for your help. You don't want to undermine their confidence, add chaos to their work, or discourage them from owning the task.
- Invest in employee growth and development: Provide opportunities for growth through mentorship, courses, and training programs. Inquire about employees' personal goals and career aspirations and find ways to align those with the company's vision and roadmap. Encourage team members to share knowledge with each other and ask questions.
- Organize team bonding activities: Organize team bonding activities to foster better interpersonal relationships between staff, including managers and team members. As they get to know more about each other, teamwork and cross-functional collaboration become easier. Activities like company retreats, mentorship pairing, and virtual team-building games are excellent ways to foster an engaging workplace.
- Update your employees on crucial information: Employees who understand what's happening in the company and why certain decisions are made are more equipped to make intelligent choices and solve problems. Empower your team with accurate information about changes in the company or their roles and involve them in being a part of the solution.
Are there any downsides to employee empowerment?
The benefits of employee empowerment far outweigh its disadvantages, but there are some to note. Here's a list of downsides to employee empowerment:
- Lack of employee experience: An empowering management style works best when your employees are already good at what they do. They have operated the system or gone through the workflow enough times to know what to do if things go wrong. If your employees are new recruits or inexperienced in their positions, it's best to set them on a track to learn the fundamentals of their role before assigning them entire tasks on their own. It's not advisable to put too much autonomy in the hands of someone who has never done a particular job before.
- Empowerment requires patience: Empowering employees is not a one-and-done task. It takes time, patience, strategy, and consideration from the leadership team. Employee empowerment efforts must be sincere to have a positive impact. If your efforts come off insincere or misleading, employees may lose confidence in the company. Practice patience in your employee empowerment efforts and set achievable timelines.
- Decrease in efficiency: If your employees are not conscientious, there may be decreased efficiency as you allow more autonomy, especially in the early implementation stage. Give room for employees to find their footing as you switch to the empowering management style. Empowered employees bounce back quickly and ultimately contribute increasing value to the company.
- A tendency to be abused: If proper accountability is not in place, some employees may take advantage of empowerment initiatives and slack off. A study from the Harvard Business Review shows that depending on how employees perceive their leaders, they may see new responsibilities and challenges as evidence that the leader can't lead or is trying to avoid making tough decisions.
Is employee empowerment the right strategy for you?
If you're interested in the benefits of employee empowerment, you can take small steps to empower your employees before committing.
Empowerment in the workplace is a commendable strategy that works at varying levels in different types of businesses. Consider the risk factors involved in your business with different levels of employee empowerment. Test these with individuals or small teams and adjust your employee empowerment strategy based on the results.
Some argue that employee empowerment may not be suitable for every company or culture. However, research has shown that if you want to create a stable work environment that attracts and retains top talent, employee empowerment in the workplace is a top requirement for today's job market.
How Wrike helps with employee empowerment
Empowerment in the workplace entails communicating openly and regularly with employees, sharing wins, metrics, and milestones, and recognizing team members who deliver exceptional work.
Using Wrike's team collaboration software, you can set up systems that enable employee empowerment across your organization. Give every employee visibility into their tasks and teams, communicate within projects easily, and view key metrics that show how they're faring.
Wrike's software provides a streamlined way of working across departments and with external collaborators without the need to micromanage. Managers can adjust employee workload, assign the right tasks to available team members, and allocate resources to cover ongoing projects.
Wrike provides transparency in all stages of a project, eliminating the need for back-and-forths and chaotic collaboration. To shift your culture towards employee empowerment, set the stage with our award-winning collaborative software for modern teams. Get started today with a two-week free trial of Wrike.