According to recent research, more than 70 percent of executives identify employee engagement as one of the keys to a successful business. Indeed, engaged employees can achieve much higher levels of productivity and have been shown to double a company’s annual net income. Unfortunately, only about one-third of workers in the United States say that they feel engaged in their positions, which amounts to a significant amount of lost productivity each year.
One of the secrets to employee engagement that often gets overlooked is empowerment. Researchers found that employees who feel empowered in their positions rank in the 79th percentile in terms of engagement, while those who perceived themselves as disempowered were in the 24th percentile. This supports the theory that people are more likely to have a vested interest in what they do when they feel like they have some level of control.
Business leaders need to understand that empowerment is different from engagement and both have an important role to play. Empowered employees are more likely to take creative risks, drive growth, and put in the extra effort.
Some tips for making employees feel more empowered include the following:
Provide new and exciting challenges to employees.
While giving employees a challenging task is a great way to get them more engaged with their work, it also helps them feel empowered by letting them show their full potential. Providing space for employees to move outside of their comfort zone allows them to grow and realize their own abilities. Leaders may also want to think of special projects that emphasize employees’ particular skillsets so that they have the chance to take the lead on a new initiative that aligns with their personal strengths. When leaders are at a loss as to what kind of challenges an employee may want, it makes sense to sit down with the person individually and ask what kind of experiences he or she thinks would help him or her grow professionally. Putting the ball in the employee’s court gives individuals more control over their professional development.
Avoid micromanaging and display more trust.
Because their behavior shows that they have very little trust in an employee’s abilities to handle a task, micromanaging leaders quickly make their employees feel disempowered. Often, this issue relates more to the insecurities of the leader than to the shortcomings of the employee. Great leaders understand the importance of letting go, even when it is scary, and giving people space to do their best work. Often, leaders are pleasantly surprised by the results of relinquishing control. Giving someone a task with minimal instruction and oversight demonstrates trust in the employee’s abilities, which often pushes this person to perform at the highest level to make a good impression and justify this level of trust. Employees understand that delivering on these kinds of projects means they will get more freedom in the future, therefore they strive to go beyond expectations.
Ensure that employees have a voice in the office.
One of the most important aspects of empowering employees is providing them a voice. Communication is a two-way street. Leaders expect their employees to listen to them and follow their directions. To reciprocate, leaders need to take the time to listen to the various ideas and concerns of their employees and respond to those comments. Responding is critical. When leaders only hear but do not truly listen, morale drops and employees feel like they really do not have any influence. Good leaders have different strategies for giving their employees a voice. Some establish open-door policies, while others prefer to have more formal meetings with their employees. The important thing is for individuals to figure out what works for them.
Offer opportunities for advanced training.
Workers who lack access to training in the latest skills relevant to their industry will feel disempowered because they don’t have the tools they need to perform at their peak. To boost employees’ feelings of empowerment, organizations can give workers what they need to perform at the highest level possible. Connecting employees to training has the added benefit of placing the company on the cutting edge of technological advancements in its industry. Organizations can only maintain their strategic advantage when they take steps to stay current on new developments. Furthermore, by sending employees to training sessions, organizations show that they are willing to invest in these individuals’ futures.
Communicate a sense of purpose to employees.
No one wants to feel like an automaton. Thus, leaders should be sure that each employee has a sense of purpose in the office—meaning that individuals know exactly how and why their work matters to the success of the company. While employees should have a clear sense of the goals and vision of the business, they also need to understand how they contribute to the mission. Often, this sense of purpose comes from adequate training. However, it is important to revisit the conversation regularly, especially as the vision for the company evolves over time. Companies are naturally in a state of constant flux, and it is the leader’s responsibility to show the employees how they continue to fit into the larger picture. When leaders fail to address employees’ purpose during times of significant change, these individuals may start to feel like the company is outgrowing them.