You’re likely familiar with the term “Employee Engagement.” It’s been a buzzword in the corporate world for years now, and companies have spent collective billions on programs, culture shifts, and process changes designed to engage their workforces. At iProv, we’re all about employee engagement—jumped on that bandwagon years ago! But there’s a deeper level of employee engagement known as “Employee Empowerment” that’s starting to be discussed amongst leaders of major organizations like Disney, Google, and Four Seasons.
But what is employee empowerment? How do you go about cultivating empowerment in the workplace? And what are the benefits of employee empowerment for your organization? We’re glad you asked!
What Is Employee Empowerment?
Employee empowerment is often mentioned in conjunction with employee engagement—and many people and publications have started using the terms interchangeably. However, while empowerment should be a vital component of your engagement strategies, it is a completely unique concept that can—and should—be implemented on its own.
Employee empowerment is the way in which your organization provides its employees with a specific degree of autonomy and authority over their daily decisions and tasks. This may include, but is not limited to, being involved in the creation of their workflow processes, running smaller teams with less direction and oversight from leadership, and having a voice in the creation and implementation of new systems, products, or strategies.
The foundational principle of empowerment in the workplace is giving your employees the tools and trust they need to make important decisions on their own—and to give them the training and support they need to make sure those are the correct decisions.
When employee empowerment, and empowerment in management, are implemented properly, your organization should see record levels of productivity, a higher quality of work, and an increase in employee engagement across the board.
How Can Employee Empowerment Work for My Organization?
How empowerment in the workplace looks will vary from organization to organization. Your unique workflow, management structures, and company culture will influence how you think about and deploy employee empowerment initiatives. For instance, if you work in finance, you are subject to many federal regulations and oversight requirements that may not allow employees to make certain decisions without layers of authorization. However, there is room for further empowerment in some shape or form in every organization.
Let’s go over the two major concepts that employee empowerment is based upon to help you develop a fundamental understanding from which you can draw inspiration for your own organization. Namely: Job Enlargement and Job Enrichment.
Job enlargement is what we’d call a “horizontal” expansion, meaning we’re widening job descriptions. Traditionally, most businesses follow the “specialization” and “division of labor” principles.
These work philosophies aim to increase productivity by breaking work into small units or tasks which are repeated over and over, day in and day out by the employee. This way of working was developed based on the assembly line principles of automation and streamlining—it’s meant to increase efficiency. But it doesn’t take into account the human element.
Recent studies have found that this way of working creates boredom, a lack of motivation, and encourages departmental silos, all of which contribute to a decrease in productivity overall. Job enlargement seeks to increase the scope of a job by extending its responsibilities and duties. You do this by combining various activities at the same level within the organization.
For example, instead of a bank teller only depositing or cashing checks, now they also open accounts and take loan applications.
This involves your employees in the true scope of their work, gives them a variety of work to stimulate their minds, and encourages critical thinking. It also improves their resume and their earning potential by widening their areas of expertise.
Job enrichment is more of a “vertical” expansion, meaning you’re trying to increase the depth of your employees’ jobs. This often means giving them responsibilities that were traditionally completed by senior employees or higher-level management. Essentially, job enrichment means giving employees the ability to self-manage.
Having more autonomy and control over the decisions made at work makes people feel more invested in and responsible for their outcomes. Higher accountability leads to higher levels of confidence and self-worth, both of which are intrinsically motivating. And motivated employees make fewer mistakes, produce a higher quality of work, and are less likely to leave your organization. Job enrichment also reduces the destructive and demoralizing effects of micromanaging because certain decisions are now made without the need for direct oversight.
Training and Support Are Critical to Employee Empowerment Success
Now that you understand the basics of employee empowerment, it’s important that we emphasize how important education and support structures are to the success of your future initiatives. Both your employees and your management and leadership teams are going to need time, training, and very clear guidelines and expectations to help them adjust and thrive.
Obviously, if your employees are going to be taking on new responsibilities (job enlargement), they will need to be trained in how to carry out those duties. Consider setting up a formal training curriculum as well as a mentorship program that allows employees to learn from one another.
Access and Expectations
You will also need to ensure that your employees have easy access to information about what decisions they are capable of making and what necessitates kicking that decision up to a higher authority. This may vary between departments, but try to be as detailed and clear as possible about when employees should seek counsel or permission from management.
Employee empowerment is a lovely concept, but for it to work, your employees must take the initiative and develop the confidence required to take on these greater responsibilities.
There may be employees who don’t want their job to be “enlarged” or “enriched”—in fact, you should expect resistance. You are redefining your organization’s hierarchical structure, after all. Eventually, you will have to make decisions based on your company culture and work structure. Maybe there are some positions or departments that will remain unchanged. Or you may have to start hiring—and firing—for different qualities moving forward.
Real change takes time and effort, and your employees—including management—will have to invest both to develop the mutual trust required for these process changes to work.
This concept makes an organization more productive overall, freeing up time for leaders and managers to work on bigger things. If you are ready to implement an empowerment initiative in your workplace, or you’re interested in creating an empowerment initiative in your workplace, contact iProv.
We specialize in helping companies redefine their stories. We offer organizational strategy sessions as well as company workshops designed to help you define your mission and restructure your brand.