Leadership Topics: The Secret of Employee Empowerment

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Appreciation. Gratitude. Trust. This series has explored many topics that circle around the same subject: how to lead in a way that makes your business into the best it can be. Not just in terms of output and revenue, but in terms of satisfaction in the place we spend the majority of our waking hours.

One topic we have yet to explore is the word “empowerment” and what its place in the workspace can mean to you, your employees, and your daily work life.

What is empowerment?

We all understand that empowered people do more because, well, they feel empowered to do so. Most of the research on empowerment raves on and on about how positive the workplace atmosphere is and how well it operates when employees feel empowered. All of that sound really great, but how do you improve this further? What are you truly growing when you grow an empowered employee, and what might harm growth in this direction?

Empowerment at its most basic level not just the giving of additional tasks and the power to make decisions. You could easily overwhelm a key employee by giving them too much of this. Or worse yet, as Lee, Willis, and Tian state in When Empowering Employee Works and When it Doesn’t, you may instead give your reports the feeling that you did not want to do the work of your job since you are giving so much of it to your reports.

The interesting thing about empowerment is that it does not directly affect the productivity of tasks that an employee does. Instead, Lee, Willis, and Tan state, “empowering leaders are much more effective at influencing employee creativity and citizenship behavior (i.e., behavior that is not formally recognized or rewarded like helping coworkers or attending work functions that aren’t mandatory).” Now, that’s not to say that this cannot translate into employee output (improving your workplace can always result in increased productivity) but it’s not the main goal.

Additionally, empowerment is a social concept. Just like trust and gratitude, it grows from within. A boss does not empower an employee, as David Marquet wrote in 6 Myths about Empowering Employees. He notes that “People are already empowered. What you as a leader do, is give them the voice and authority to exercise the empowerment they naturally have.”

Empowerment grows the employee’s feeling that they are supported in their role. That not only does the boss have their back, but their coworkers do too. An empowered employee is more apt to lend a hand to do extra work or stay until the work is done. And they are more apt to work on what is called the social construct, which at the core is what you really want to grow if you want to grow empowered employees.  As A Conceptual Framework for Measuring Empowerment states, the empowerment of individuals and groups has the potential to influence norms and expected values,” leading individuals to take risks and responsibilities they might otherwise not take.

How do you cultivate it?

This seems like a tall order, but it really is quite basic. Like the articles on trust, gratitude, and delegation too, the first order of business is to get to know your employees. What makes them feel empowered? Do they feel as though that social construct is there for them at work? Do they feel appreciated when you take the time to go over to them and really talk to them? What about having an employee work on a more challenging task and offering support along the way? The research also shows that empowerment is really influential with newer employees, eager to make a mark on your organization. While it may not make sense to have these new recruits work on many projects alone, having them shine in some way, makes sense when you are thinking of empowerment.

Bob E. Hayes states in How to Measure Empowerment that employees “who reported higher levels of empowerment also were more satisfied with their jobs, felt more valued, and perceived their jobs as having higher levels of variety, importance, and participation” than those that felt less empowered.

As with all of the subjects discussed in this series, this is deeply personal. Have you recently discussed with your staff their importance in the organization? And not by simply saying that they are important. And while it is at the individual level, it is also at the social network level of your organization. Do you support your coworkers when they ask for help? Do you get to know the new employee starting out in your group? Empowered workers are more likely to empower others. Be a leader in your organization and demonstrate how to build up your team, your department, and your organization.

Empowered employees empower businesses

We have all heard the phrase, “People are our number one asset.” Model this behavior, regardless of what level you are in your organization. Empower others and you are more likely to feel the same in return.

Author

  • Alycia Meyers

    Senior Technical Writer, Writing Department, CU*Answers

Comments
  • Keena Pettijohn#1

    January 27, 2023

    Excellent article. Empowerment is critical to maintaining positive employees but the tactics to “ engage” them are entirely different.

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