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Employee Empowerment: What It Is and Why It Matters To Your Workforce

We’ve all heard this response one time or another: “Let me go ask my manager.” It’s a frustrating phrase, isn’t it? It also creates a lose-lose situation in which the customer loses patience and the employee loses face, all because the employee wasn’t empowered to make a decision that would resolve the situation quickly and efficiently.

Employee empowerment is an essential tool for organizations to support and engage their employee base by giving them the autonomy to make their own choices. That said, empowerment is not as easy as handing over the keys and saying, “good luck!”

79% of frontline workers believe more frequent learning opportunities would help them feel more engaged at work. Learn how to boost your employee experience and productivity today.

Let’s take a deep dive into employee empowerment – what it is, how to build it, and how to better your business because of it by answering these nine essential questions.

1. Starting With an Empowering Definition: What Does Empower Mean?

Before deep-diving into everything employee empowerment, let’s start with the basics – what does empower mean? To empower is to simply give someone the authority or power to do something.

Also, according to BambooHR’s empowering definition:

“Employee empowerment is a management philosophy that emphasizes the importance of allowing employees to make independent decisions and act on them. Employee empowerment is the direct opposite of micromanagement.”

In essence, employee empowerment is giving employees the tools, resources, inspiration, and authority they need to have control over their own decision making when working with customers or other business-related actions.

Keep in mind, empowerment is not a simple delegation of tasks. According to Harvard Business Review, employees respond better in situations where they can trust their manager to delegate tasks that are driven from development versus not wanting to do the task themselves.

2.  What Is The Difference Between Job Enrichment and Job Enlargement?

At the core of employee empowerment are the fundamentals of two job design techniques: job enrichment and job enlargement. So, what exactly is the difference?

According to Human Resources Management Practice, the difference between job enrichment and job enlargement is that job enrichment expands the depth of the employee’s role, whereas job enlargement expands the tasks of the employee’s role.

Job Enrichment is the addition to a job of tasks that increase the amount of employee control or responsibility. It is a vertical expansion of the job as opposed to the horizontal expansion of a job, which is called job enlargement.”

Job Enlargement is the horizontal expansion of a job. It involves the addition of tasks at the same level of skill and responsibility. It is done to keep workers from getting bored.”

Job enrichment is a key pillar of employee engagement and empowerment, but given the definitions, it’s easy to see how sometimes the two can become intertwined. Either way, it’s important to know the difference when creating an empowered culture within your workforce.

3. What Are The 5 Types of Empowerment?

Employee empowerment is not just found in customer-facing situations. Let’s look at what are the five types of empowerment that your employees can benefit from.

  1. Decision-making – Decision-making empowerment is just as it sounds, giving employees the room to make their own decisions and taking their own actions when handling customers or other business-related tasks.
  2. Educational When empowering employees to make their own decisions, organizations are also responsible for equipping them with the tools and information they need to approach certain situations or tasks. Educational empowerment is providing access to and encouraging employees to develop new skills through trainings, courses, and other educational outlets.
  3. Financial Employees who are entrusted with their own budgets or funds for certain situations are financially empowered. For example, Netflix has an “act in Netflix’s best interest” policy when it comes to employee expenses.
  4. Time Management – Time management empowerment is when employees are given the freedom to make their own calls when it comes to scheduling, work hours, and at times, work location.
  5. Shared Information – This form of empowerment is driven by employees feeling trusted to be ‘in the know’ with the inner workings of their company. Shared information empowerment makes employees feel valued for being included in important discussions where their thoughts and ideas are welcomed.

4. How Does Employee Empowerment Work?

Empowerment is built from the ground-up in organizations that want to put the decision-making power in the hand of their employees.

Here are seven steps to consider when empowering employees:

  1. Set them up for success. Give employees opportunities to take on new tasks you know they are well suited for or have an interest in.
  2. Outline goals and boundaries. By having clear guidelines, employees have a good understanding of the parameters they are working in and where they have more autonomy.
  3. Give employees resources, tools, and technology to make their own decisions. More on this a bit later.
  4. Give employees full ownership and authority over the task. Once you’ve delegated out the new task or project, step away and let them show you what they can do.
  5. Keep communication open. The open door of communication is critical when empowering an employee to try something new. Be available for questions, comments, or to help them bounce ideas around.
  6. Be open to mistakes. Mistakes happen, but when the employee also knows they will be supported by their organization or manager when it does come up, they’ll be more encouraged to learn from the situation and do better next time, rather than fear the repercussions.
  7. Provide feedback, both positive and constructive. 4 out of 10 employees are actively disengaged when they receive little to no feedback. Empowerment drives employee engagement, which is proven to have many positive impacts on the organization, so be sure to spend time giving feedback when and where you can.

5. What Does an Empowered Organizational Structure Look Like?

In empowered organizations, gone are the days of a top-down approach. Empowered organizational structures are usually decentralized, flexible entities where the power starts with employees, rather than solely with the top management team.

According to ASQ, empowered organizational structures are more customer-focused and follow an inverted triangle of organizational power.

6. What Are The Techniques for Building Employee​ Empowerment?

Pulse check time. Which of the following is not one of the techniques for building employee​ empowerment?

  1. Start with delegating the employee tasks that you don’t enjoy doing yourself
  2. Check-in on employees to make sure they are working on the right task at the right time
  3. Stop employees in front of a customer if they present something incorrectly
  4. All of the above

In terms of which of the following is not one of the techniques for building employee​ empowerment – if you guessed all of the above, you’re correct! There are plenty of techniques to foster empowerment in your organization, but here are our favorite dos and don’ts.

  • Do: Build trust with your employee
  • Do: Create communities in your company that include all levels of employees
  • Do: Present a new task or action as a development opportunity
  • Do: Encourage employees to stretch themselves into new areas or situations
  • Don’t: Block your employee’s progress with micromanagement
  • Don’t: Overreact at the first mistake
  • Don’t: Leave them in the lurch for necessary information or feedback

7. How Can Employee Empowerment Benefit Organizations?

There are so many ways an empowered workforce can have positive impacts on its organization, and according to Harvard Business Review,

“Research has regularly demonstrated that when employees feel empowered at work, it is associated with stronger job performance, job satisfaction, and commitment to the organization.”

The top benefits of employee empowerment in the workplace include:

  • More quality customer relationships
  • Increased productivity
  • Improved quality of work
  • Highly motivated workforce
  • Lower employee turnover

Each of these benefits has the potential to positively impact the company’s overall business performance and objectives. Who doesn’t want that?

8. What Is an Example of Empowerment?

New examples of empowerment in the workplace pop up every day. Here are a couple of our favorites:

  • At the Ritz-Carlton, employees at all levels are given a $2,000 maximum spend per guest, per incident, but according to the company, the maximum amount is rarely used. Employees are both trusted and well-equipped to deal directly in resolving any situation with a customer, and usually do so in a creative, memorable way to leave the guest with a positive, lasting experience.
  •  Google, and many other technology companies, are known for innovation, which is why they constantly come up with new ways for employees at all levels to have the opportunity to share their ideas. At Google, employees are encouraged to interact with different teams and spend 20% of their time on things that interest them to create new innovative ideas.

9. How Can Technology Boost Employee Empowerment?

We’ve talked a lot about employee empowerment – what it is, how it works, and how to build it within your organization. The final, but also critical, element of creating employee empowerment is by providing access to productive employee technology.

Did you know employees waste roughly 2.5 hours per day looking for information to get their jobs done?

Here are three reasons why technology should be included in your employee empowerment practice (and will help you get some of that time back):

  1. Mobile technology helps create digital workspaces that empower employees to work when and where they can, while also connecting employees no matter if they are frontline, remote, or behind a desk at the office.
  2. Employee apps build a community with your workforce by making information easy to find so employees can make their best decisions.
  3. Ultimately, frontline workers impact your bottom line, and with access to real-time data through mobile technology, customer satisfaction, employee productivity, and overall service quality vastly improve.

Ready to build a more productive and empowered workforce? Download our eBook, “How the Employee Experience Affects Team Productivity (And What to Do About It)” today!

Most Frequently Asked Questions

How can employers empower employees?

1. Set them up for success.
2. Outline goals and boundaries.
3. Give employees resources, tools, and technology to make their own decisions.
4. Give employees full ownership and authority over the task.
5. Keep communication open.
6. Be open to mistakes.
7. Provide feedback, both positive and constructive.

What does it mean to empower employees?

Employee empowerment is a management philosophy that emphasizes the importance of allowing employees to make independent decisions and act on them. Employee empowerment is the direct opposite of micromanagement.

What are the different types of empowerment at work?

We distinguish between 5 types of empowerment at work: decision-making, educational, financial, time management, and shared information empowerment.