Employee Empowerment: create an engaged and productive workforce

August 09, 2023 •

7 min reading

Employee Empowerment: Create an engaged and productive workforce

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When roadblocks are deliberately thrown in your way, particularly in the workplace, it can be discouraging or even disheartening. Workers can sense when they are able to do more, but often lack the power or means to achieve their goals or even to speak up and express their frustration. Working in such an environment is highly irritating, which can lead to defeatism, reduced efficiency, and detachment.

Entrusting employees with greater responsibilities and decision-making leeway enhances engagement and organizational success. Simply put: Empowerment equates to Engagement.

In fact, a research paper published in Forbes showed that employees who felt powerless were evaluated in the 24th percentile of engagement, while those with a higher level of empowerment came in at the 79th percentile.

Fortunately, all organizations can empower their employees by using the right strategies.


What is employee empowerment?

The term 'employee empowerment' has become an increasingly popular topic among businesses in recent years, as more and more organizations strive to create cultures in which their employees feel enabled to use their skills and potential to their fullest.

Employee empowerment is a model of management that gives employees control over their work. Specifically, it means that employees can make decisions that directly affect their day-to-day operations, without needing to consult with their bosses.

The goal of employee empowerment is to create a culture of trust, collaboration, and engagement, as well as to foster innovation and give employees a sense of autonomy and ownership. For businesses, that means increased productivity, loyalty, and motivation from their team.

How does employee empowerment relate to inclusive leadership?

The relationship between employee empowerment and inclusive leadership is an important one, as both impact the effectiveness of the organization as a whole. By giving employees the ability to influence and contribute to decisions concerning their work, empowerment provides an essential framework for workplace success. In turn, inclusive leadership seeks to leverage this empowerment, giving voice to the opinions of all employees and seeking to foster a culture that is open to dialogue and teamwork. While the precise paths of both concepts may differ, their ultimate outcomes are often one and the same.

Results revealed that inclusive leadership is a strong predictor for employee empowerment.

At the same time, the concept of inclusive leadership has gained traction as a means of leveraging employee empowerment and creating a culture in which all voices can be heard. In contrast to the traditional top-down model of leadership, which isolates decision-making to the highest levels of hierarchy within the organization, inclusive leaders strive to create a workplace environment in which employees are encouraged to contribute their perspectives and have the freedom to express themselves authentically. The emphasis of inclusive leadership is on establishing shared values and goals within the organization, with input from all workers, regardless of rank or tenure.


Benefits of employee empowerment

By empowering employees, the organization not only gets better results, but it also creates a productive and engaged workforce. Here are some of the major benefits to consider:

  • Increased productivity

    Empowering employees enables them to take ownership of their work, make decisions and take the initiative, leading to increased productivity and better performance. Studies have shown that empowered employees are more likely to go the extra mile and work hard to exceed expectations. 

    A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review provides strong evidence for the positive link between employee empowerment and performance, noting that organizations that invested in structuring and supporting well-defined decision-making processes experienced substantial improvements in team performance.

  • Improved engagement

    Employees who are empowered tend to be more engaged in their work, leading to higher levels of job satisfaction, better employee retention and improved customer satisfaction.

  • Reduced managerial overhead

    This is one of the major benefits to consider, as delegating authority and decision-making to employees reduces the amount of time managers spend on managerial tasks and frees them up to focus their attention on more strategic initiatives, like developing their team.

  • Improved morale

    When employees feel that their opinions are valued and appreciated, morale is typically improved. This leads to reduced absenteeism and an overall better working environment.

  • Enhanced creativity

    Empowerment encourages employees to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to problems, thus fostering innovation and improved problem-solving.

  • Improved relationships

    By promoting an environment of trust, employees feel comfortable working with each other, which can only improve teamwork and communication between departments.

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The challenges of employee empowerment

While employee empowerment is a powerful tool to help organizations reach their objectives, there are some potential challenges that organizations need to be aware of.

Here are some of the common challenges:

  • Increased risk

    By giving employees more freedom, organizations also run the risk of things going awry. Organizations need to ensure that processes, procedures and other safeguards are in place to minimize the risks.

  • Lack of trust

    If employees do not trust their managers, they may be hesitant to use their discretion, leading to a feeling of disconnection. Organizations need to foster a culture of trust and open communication if they want to be successful with employee empowerment.

  • Onboarding issues

    Organizations need to take the time to properly onboard and train employees on the new processes and procedures. Otherwise, employees might feel overwhelmed or confused.

  • Leadership issues

    If managers are not properly trained or don't understand the concept of employee empowerment, it could be difficult for them to effectively manage their teams. Leaders need to ensure they are on board and understand the benefits of employee empowerment before they implement it.

Techniques for building employee empowerment include

Implementing employee empowerment can seem daunting, but with the right steps in place, it can be successful.

Here are some tips organizations should consider when implementing employee empowerment:

  • Invest in training

    Taking the time to train employees on the new processes and procedures is essential for employee empowerment to be successful. Employees should be provided with the necessary training to help them understand how their roles contribute to the success of the organization. Use training to underscore the organization’s vision and mission and provide an overview of the company’s programs. 

    Training can also help employees build the skills they need to better handle their responsibilities. Providing employees with the necessary training and resources are essential to empowerment success. Not only must employees know which specific skills they need to have to succeed in their roles, they also need to have access to those tools and resources.
  • Communicate clear expectations and boundaries

    Managers should have a clear understanding of what employee empowerment looks like and what is expected of employees. This includes having a thorough understanding of decision-making processes, responsibilities, and outcomes. Before implementing an employee empowerment program, it's important to establish the goals of the initiative. 

    What are you trying to accomplish? Is the goal to create an engaged and inspired workforce, or to enable employees to make meaningful decisions? Is your overall goal to create a culture of knowledge-sharing and collaboration, or to develop an empowered workforce that can create value and innovate? 

    Being clear with yourself and your team on the goals of the program will make it much easier to move forward. Although employee empowerment initiatives can be extremely effective when implemented properly, employee-empowering programs can also be hampered by existing organizational structures and processes. In order to make employee empowerment successful, it's important to identify and remove any existing structural barriers that stand in the way. This could mean examining hiring practices, relocation policies, work-life balance, job descriptions, or any other policies or protocols that could be hindering employees from being their most productive and engaged selves. It's essential to identify potential roadblocks before you attempt to implement any sort of employee empowerment program.

  • Listen, learn and adapt your approach

    Organizations need to be flexible and open to suggestions from employees. For instance, if a certain process isn't working, don't be afraid to listen to feedback from employees and make adjustments as needed. When implementing employee empowerment initiatives, flexibility is key. Some employees will take to the new empowerment faster than others, hence the importance of being ready to adjust policies, plans, and processes.

  • Facilitate feedback

    Encourage employees to provide feedback about their job satisfaction and any challenges they face. Consider holding monthly feedback sessions where employees can express their points of view in a constructive environment. This offers employers the opportunity to identify areas of improvement within the organization. It also lets employees know that their opinions are appreciated, and their feedback is taken seriously. 

  • Recognize achievements

    An effective employee empowerment program should involve a reward system for employees who make significant contributions to achieving department, team, and organizational goals. This could involve certificate awards, special prizes, and recognition events. In addition to rewarding employees for their successes, thank-you notes and recognition of small accomplishments can be just as powerful in motivating employees.

Holacracy topples hierarchy

A trio of EHL researchers, namely Bertrand Audrin, Stefano Borzillo and Steffen Raub, explored the notion of holacracy in a recent paper. According to their work, “Holacracy removes top-down hierarchies and instead decentralizes management and authority, replacing manager–subordinate relationships with fluid autonomous (self-organizing) teams to accomplish tasks and achieve company goals.” Under holacracy, the hierarchical pyramid is no longer. Managers become “lead links”, subordinates become “roles” and departments become “circles”. According to the researchers, “Circles operate as autonomous fluid teams, where roles are defined around the work to be done rather than the person doing it.”

Individuals are not assigned tasks by their manager; instead, they “negotiate amongst themselves to ensure that the roles are allocated to the most suitable person”, which mirrors the concept of subsidiarity. Beyond the new nomenclature, holacracy enables certain organizations to increase: 1) decision-making speed; 2) innovation capabilities; 3) the agility of their work methods; 4) transparency; 5) employee engagement; and 6)overall effectiveness.

The research team worked with a local business in Switzerland to assess employee readiness as they prepared for the implementation of a holacracy structure in their company.

Employee empowerment is a powerful tool for organizations to help create an engaged and productive workforce. There are both benefits and challenges when it comes to employee empowerment, and organizations need to be aware of these before implementing the strategy.

To ensure success, organizations need to take the time to invest in training, create clear expectations, and demonstrate respect to employees. With the right steps in place, employee empowerment can be a powerful force for positive change in organizations.

Written by

Business Development Senior Manager - Consultant at EHL

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"The ability to lead inclusively is one of the most powerful skills that a leader can possess. It encourages collaboration and dialogue, and creates a sense of community and belonging. An inclusive leader looks beyond the status quo and creates an environment in which everyone is valued and included. They have the ability to build bridges and embrace diversity, not just tolerance. When leaders are truly inclusive, those they lead are inspired to work together to achieve greater things that bring success to all.”
"Investing in your staff training is an investment in your businesss future. Training staff expands their knowledge base, makes them more productive, and can even strengthen employee loyalty. When employees are well-trained, they feel more motivated to take the initiative, have higher job satisfaction, and are better prepared to handle challenges. Investing in staff training is like planting seedsit can lead to long-term growth and success."