Empowerment in the workplace is more than just a buzzword—it’s a roadmap to employee retention, a more productive work environment, and happier workers.
Employee empowerment always comes down to autonomy and trust. When handled correctly, it should be as good for the bottom line as it is for company culture. This is typically accomplished by focusing on and improving the hybrid workplace and the employee experience.
In this article, we explore empowerment in the workplace, along with best practices to create more empowered employees.
Lessons learned from office reopenings
Employee empowerment is a cornerstone of company culture, directly tied into employee engagement and employee experience. In fact, engaged employees start with empowerment in the workplace, and not the other way around.
Empowerment in the workplace is essentially about giving employees the space, time, and resources they need to do their jobs. And then trusting them to do it to the best of their abilities.
It’s about providing guidance and mentorship, instead of strict and punitive rules, along with more opportunities for job enrichment and professional growth.
And it’s about allowing employees to take responsibility for their actions, which will sometimes involve fixing mistakes that inevitably arise.
In other words, empowerment in the workplace is about treating employees like adults. And trusting them to do their best work. This in turn gives them a sense of purpose. This is better for them, better for their fellow team members, and, as we’ll explore, better for their whole organization.
“Most people do the right thing,” workplace strategist Angie Earlywine, Senior Director in the Total Workplace division of Global Occupier Services at Cushman & Wakefield, reminds us in a discussion about the hybrid workplace experience. “They enjoy the work that they’re doing. The labor market is too competitive now to not be doing what you love. Or to work for a company that you don’t believe in.”
Empowering employees is essentially about embracing this reality and using it to everyone’s advantage.
“We have to trust and empower our people to make the right decision. And they will rise to the occasion.”Angie Earlywine
“We have to trust and empower our people to make the right decision. And they will rise to the occasion.”
Syneos Health®’s reaction to the pandemic is a great example of the positive impact a high degree of autonomy can have on employee satisfaction. A fully integrated biopharmaceutical solutions organization, Syneos Health caters to a wide variety of cross-functional teams across multiple locations.
Since their teams require in-office access, going fully remote simply wasn’t a feasible option. Instead, to respond to the ‘new normal,’ the organization gave greater autonomy to each office. By taking a jurisdiction-specific approach, each branch could take the steps necessary to keep employees safe and follow local health regulations. This included giving local Office Activation Teams new and improved workplace management tools and direct reports necessary to help employees stay engaged and connected.
Not only did implementing these new tools and strategies help Syneos Health weather the pandemic. They’ve also helped with ongoing employee motivation, while dovetailing with organizational goals as well.
“No matter what experts have suggested, no one knows how people are going to use the workspace on the other side of this,” says Patrick Hoffman, SVP of Corporate Real Estate and Services at Syneos Health. “And there’s no better predictor than letting people vote with their feet. Knowing who’s using our offices, having good data on occupancy, good data, and utilization, that’s going to be critical as we fine tune the portfolio on the other side of this.”
Empowering employees has never been more important, thanks to unprecedented employee turnover stemming from Great Resignation.
It’s now decidedly an employee’s job market. This means workers are more free than ever to consider factors like mentoring and workplace culture when deciding whether to stay or go. Or when assessing future job prospects.
This, coupled with the fact that younger generations in the workplace were expecting more freedom and autonomy in the workplace even before this ‘turnover tsunami,’ means that companies now have to seriously consider employee well-being and job satisfaction.
According to Forbes, when empowerment is high in the office, employees are 67% more willing to give an extra effort at work. This leads to a significant impact on productivity.
And according to the 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.”
In short, the most successful workplace teams are likely to be those with a high level of employee empowerment. The the benefits of this are far-reaching.
Specifically, benefits of employee empowerment in the workplace can include better communication, productivity, profitability, engagement, and retention. And companies that empower employees are likely to have a high employee experience index score.
A big part of empowering employees centers around providing mentorship, better training and learning opportunities, and professional development. This, of course, should support the goals of the organization as much as the worker.
And finally, trust is a two-way street, and it isn’t just good for employees. Namely, it also benefits workplaces and the bottom line.
“If you lead from a trust-first perspective, people will do the right thing,” says Earlywine. “You want managers for your hybrid workforce to have empathy and a trust-first mentality. Employee stress levels go down when workers don’t worry about always having the green light on in Teams. Work is still happening. We know that from that data. Companies still were successful all through the pandemic, and it’s because people were attending to their work.”
Plus, according to researchers, when employees feel empowered, they’re more likely to trust their leaders. This, in turn, can lead to more creativity and engagement.
Ultimately, feeling like they can trust their organization leads to a feeling of safety and security. This way, employees don’t feel too vulnerable to seek out and take on new skills and new challenges.
Empowered employees are more likely to be powerful, confident individuals, who are committed to meaningful goals and demonstrate initiative and creativity to achieve them. They typically have the freedom to generate novel ideas and the confidence that these ideas will be valued.Allan Lee, Sara Willis, and Amy Wei Tian, Harvard Business Review
Empowered employees are more likely to be powerful, confident individuals, who are committed to meaningful goals and demonstrate initiative and creativity to achieve them. They typically have the freedom to generate novel ideas and the confidence that these ideas will be valued.
Empowered employees lead to an empowered organization. Simply put, employees that feel secure enough to take risks and be creative, fulfilled enough to be good citizens, and inspired enough to go the extra mile, are going to be the same employees that fuel a great company culture.
Word of job satisfaction always spreads, too. Having a great culture can also help in branding, retention, and attraction efforts. Think of the great reputations enjoyed by organizations like Google or LinkedIn.
Remember, the end goal and result of empowerment in the workplace should always be a collaborative workspace accompanied by a great work-life balance and great company culture.
Empowerment in the workplace requires the right combination of space, time, and resources to allow best work to happen.
This will look a little different for each organization. And it is increasingly challenging, given the new realities of hybrid working. Especially when managing a hybrid workplace experience and/or a distributed workforce.
To ensure they’re empowering employees, workplace leaders should strive to provide the highest amount of autonomy and flexibility possible. But companies still must provide guidance and support. This should also include providing opportunities and/or funding for professional development.
With more employees working from home, companies need to get creative in how they’re creating the right conditions for best work. At the start of the pandemic, Shopify famously kicked off a new trend of offering stipends to allow employees to better outfit their new home offices. Even if this is not possible due to budget, IT should work with employees to provide safe and adequate tech solutions for remote employees.
Finally, leadership style matters. Top management needs to walk the walk. Executives should consider whether any new initiative will hurt or help cultivate more autonomy.
Beyond this, workplace leaders should follow good empowerment strategies in the following areas.
We all know the saying: a carpenter is only as good as their tools. Employees today can only truly ‘step up to the plate’ when they have the tools they need to do so.
This looks like good digital workplace solutions for all workers, since so much of work and communication now takes place online.
Request management should be easy, even when you’re working remotely.
And companies should be provided with tools like a Visual Directory that make it easier for them to connect with colleagues. This is whether they’re in the office or not. When employees have more visibility, they’re able to make better decisions around their own schedules.
In fact, data from OfficeSpace room bookings and desk bookings shows that employees are actively using workplace tools to make decisions around when to come into the office. We’re seeing a sharp rise in people booking conference rooms, signifying a desire for more in-person collaboration. We’re also seeing over 100% growth in employees actively looking to see which of their colleagues are in the office, in order to boost collaboration.
This clearly shows that employees who can make their own decisions and have the ability to plan for and build in collaboration to their workdays will do so.
Finally, work doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
How you feel about your office space matters—whether that’s your kitchen table, or the best conference room in your building.
Companies and facility managers (FMs) should therefore endeavor to carefully track their workplace analytics. They should use this data to make better workspaces that are fit for purpose and tailored to needs of their employees.
This will mean providing the following technology solutions, ideally through single sign-on (SSO) cloud-based software, as well as via mobile app:
In order to reap the full benefits of working remotely, employees also need the right hybrid work schedule.
This will certainly look different from company to company, depending heavily on the hybrid work model they’re using.
Regardless, the more employees can be involved in the decision-making process here, the better.
Like Earlywine reminds us, it’s very easy for a schedule to be technically ‘hybrid’ but still far from flexible. As is the case when employees are always required to be in the office on the same day and time each week, set by the company.
It’s much better for employees when they have the freedom to set their own work schedule. Or work according to their own needs for their work-life balance.
In fact, according to Cushman and Wakefield’s industry-leading Experience per Square Foot™ workplace experience survey, employee experience scores jump from just 45% to 74% when employees have complete choice and freedom of their work schedule.
“That’s a significant finding that shouldn’t be ignored,” says Earlywine.
Finally, companies need the right workplace strategy to fully empower employees.
Since autonomy is the name of the game, it’s no surprise that agile working—which gives employees complete control over when, where, and how they work—is on the rise.
Beyond this, there are a variety of work environment types that can support the hybrid workforce, including activity-based working and Office Neighborhoods.
Regardless of which strategy they implement, FMs should again carefully track their analytics. Flexible working is liable to get unwieldy fast without proper guidance and oversight. The more FMs are able to use real-time data to see what’s actually happening—and actually working—the more they can make better decisions to support their teams.
Better collaboration in the workplace between human resources and IT can also help FMs develop and communicate workplace strategies that support employees.
And FMs should also gather as much employee feedback as possible before making any changes to workplace design or strategy.
“It’s best to conduct employee surveys and focus groups regularly to check in with everyone in real time,” says Earlywine. “Then adjust based on that feedback.”
Almost by definition, you can’t empower an employee who is overworked.
Ultimately, the goal of empowering workers is to reduce stress and burnout. I.e.: you want to empower employees so that they don’t burn out in the first place.
It’s also important to bear in mind that fostering more employee autonomy is not the same thing as piling on additional responsibilities.
That’s why workplace leaders and FMs need to get employee sentiment right and ensure their organization’s culture stays focused on the right things. You can’t empower an employee who is overworked. But you can put guardrails in place so they don’t get overworked in the first place.
Gone are the days of micromanaging—if that ever worked. And gone are the days of paying lip service to employee empowerment.
Companies that don’t create a culture of empowerment are setting themselves up for overworked, unengaged, and disengaged workers.
Learn how Syneos Health safely managed key locations throughout the pandemic
Photos: jacoblund, Anna Shvets, Mikhail Nilov, Paperkites