What is this thing called workplace empowerment?

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

It’s clear that empowerment is one of today’s great positive buzzwords in management and HR, and creating an empowering culture is near the top of every HR professionals’ agenda. And there’s good reason for that.

Empowered employees are highly engaged, productive and keen to share their ideas and talk about what they do with colleagues by default. There’s a growing body of academic evidence which shows that empowered employees are also more loyal, committed and productive at work. They are more satisfied with their work and they stick around longer, which helps to make the business more agile and responsive.

How do you create a culture of empowerment?

Empowerment in any workplace starts with leadership. It has to, because at its essence, empowerment is a transfer of power from a leader in authority to someone lower down in the organisation chart. Truly empowering leaders give others a degree of autonomy and responsibility for decision-making in their daily work without a need to be constantly checking or micromanaging them. So in this sense, empowerment is about accountability and trust.

But empowerment is more than just that. Leaders who are serious about creating a genuinely empowering workplace cultures are ok with handing out responsibility. They encourage individuals and teams in their organisation to step up, make their own decisions and pave their own path to success. They enable, inspire and encourage people to take steps to improve their work experiences.

Empowering leaders listen, offer support, welcome and value all ideas. They are focused on removing barriers that limit individuals and teams’ ability to act in empowered ways, and they make sure essential tools and resources are available so that people can successfully manage and lead their own projects, work towards their goals and drive their own careers - and this is exactly how you start building better workplace cultures.

Genuine cultures of empowerment can only come about when leaders realise that empowerment isn’t an act of benevolence toward those lower down the pecking order than them. Empowerment is an act of collegiality on the part of leaders that involves relying on others to make up for your own weaknesses and restrictions. 

How can I help you to do your work better?

The most effective way to understand whether teams and individuals within your organisation do or don’t feel empowered, is to ask them. Do they feel that they are empowered? Which departments feel the most disempowered and why? Do individuals and teams feel that they have control? Do they feel competent? How about connected? It’s normal and ok that you don’t have all the answers.

So if you’re serious about changing the culture of your organisation to emphasise empowerment there’s one more important thing to remember. Empowerment isn’t a set of management practices – it’s a state of mind that lives in the heads of your front-line workers, and you as a leader have an important part to play in whether empowerment flourishes or doesn’t in your workplace.

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