What is Empowerment in the Workplace?
By Nai Kanell
Director of Marketing
Empowerment is a strong pillar of social conversation these days. We often hear about movements to empower different social groups—all of which have suffered some form of oppression, setback, or other disenfranchisement. In this context, empowerment involves giving these groups and their members the support, rights, and justice they deserve. Workers, as a social class, are also included in this conversation. But what is empowerment in the workplace?
Worker empowerment focuses on ensuring employees get the rights and respect they deserve in the workplace. This includes everything from protection against discrimination to forums for discussing injustices. But beyond bottom-line cases of treating workers with basic human decency, empowerment in the workplace has also taken on many other meanings.
Here’s a look at a few empowerment examples of modern workplaces and how they’re paving the way for a major shift in workplace culture.
The trust to work autonomously
As the workforce grows ever more mobile, the number of remote workers is also growing. Unbeknownst to many, this is actually a form of workforce empowerment. It shows increased trust by employers in allowing employees to create their own conditions for responsible working.
Jake, Amy, and Charles aren’t forced into the same rigid work environment and expected to produce the same results. Jake can start his day later, work through lunch, and close his laptop when his wife gets home from work. Amy can work in a social coworking environment, surrounded by resources. Charles can work from home a few days each week and come into the office periodically. They’re still held to the same standard, but allowed to meet expectations in their own way. Employer trust empowers employees.
The recognition of effort and excellence
Recognition of effort and excellence is a simple form of employee empowerment that requires no real change on the part of employers. It’s not about creating competition or putting down those who didn’t meet expectations—It’s simply the affirmation of employees who work hard to achieve results.
Recognition empowers employees by distinguishing them. Think of it in juxtaposition with reprimanding them. If they do something wrong, they’re reprimanded as negative reinforcement to dissuade future missteps. Conversely, they deserve accolades when they go above and beyond, to encourage that type of behavior. Employers who only reprimand teach their employees how not to get in trouble. Employers who award their employees empower them to do their best.
The support to learn and grow
One of the growing demands of Gen-Z workers is an opportunity to continue their education while advancing their career. Companies that support learning are empowering their employees to get better at what they do, which invites opportunities for personal and professional growth. It’s an important example of workplace empowerment.
With as fast as technology evolves and markets shift, continued education is essential for survival. Employers advocating continued education empower their employees to pace new innovations, so they don’t stagnate or fall behind on the skills that make them employable. Whether it’s the funding to go back to school or access to continuing education credits through industry organizations, employees demand the means to stay educated. Employers who deliver are employers who empower.
The ability to contribute meaningfully
A simple, straightforward example of workplace empowerment is giving every employee the chance to communicate meaningfully. It seems obvious, given that companies hire employees for their utility. But that doesn’t stop many employees from feeling alienated by a workplace that may not jive with their personality or abilities.
Bob is an introvert in an office full of extroverts. Linda is analytical in a meeting surrounded by emotional thinkers. Tina is a 19-year-old new hire in an office of 50-something career professionals. Despite their differences, these people should feel welcome, heard, and appreciated for what they bring to the workplace, beyond their ability to complete tasks. Empowering workplaces celebrate these differences and capitalize on diversity to create solutions beyond what’s possible in an echo-chamber. Not only do these employees feel appreciated and empowered, they lend their differences to a greater culture of inclusion.
Empowerment is a cornerstone of culture
Employees want more than a desk to work at and the freedom to earn a living in a safe environment. Today, empowerment in the workplace looks at a broad scope of examples. Empowerment is synonymous with concepts like trust, support, appreciation, and inclusion. Companies seeking to attract and retain top talent need to recognize the hallmarks of empowerment and engrain them into the culture of their company.
As more companies reap the benefits from an empowered workforce, ripples of change will become even more evident in the broader economy.
Keep reading: Four Workplace Culture Predictions