Currently, the supply of jobs in the American workforce far outpaces the lower unemployment rates. Simply put, there are more jobs than there are workers available in the job market. People are looking for more competitive pay scales and benefits, better work cultures, sustainable growth within their companies, and leadership opportunities, making engagement and retention tangible problems. This is costly to companies in terms of loss of talent and the cost of resources in hiring new employees. All signs point to one issue that needs immediate attention: the idea of employee empowerment.
Employee empowerment involves the ability and freedom that employees have to make their own decisions regarding their job tasks and roles, while also being a part of larger teams. Being empowered changes employees from being faceless cogs in a machine to being active participants in the development and success of larger teams and the overall organization. There is a considerable amount of research that provides evidence that empowered employees are more engaged, more likely to develop long-term loyalty for their companies, and are far more likely to contribute more of their skillsets to the benefit of their organizations. The vastly diverse modern day millennial employee wants to feel empowered in their workspace; when they don’t feel this amidst outdated corporate culture restrictions, they have no problem looking for a better fit for themselves. Because the job market favors those seeking employment, employees can be pickier about the positions they hold, making retention and engagement more competitive for the employer.
Clearly, focusing on employee empowerment is imperative for the success of any organization. As a society, we are well on our way to recognize the importance and value of creating safe spaces that foster employee wellbeing so that they can thrive. Especially as the workforce is starting to become a millennial majority, the ideas of mental wellbeing, social connectivity and responsibility, belongingness, and other employee-centered concepts have become crucial factors to consider. This is because these are things that millennials don’t want to keep hidden or separated, unlike the previous generations of the workforce. Their idea of work-life balance is the interconnectedness of work and life rather than their separation. In addition, as automation and artificial intelligence is changing the terrain of the professional landscape, addressing and bolstering employee empowerment is critical for the robustness of the job market and economy.
This is precisely why I developed the LEGupward framework of inclusion after extensive research. At its core, this framework pushes for:
- the destigmatization of mental health conversations,
- a focus on mental wellbeing to empower employees to thrive and grow, and,
- a shift in current power dynamics.
It pushes the needle toward more balance – toward employees being able to take back their agency over their lives, careers, growth and development.
From a big picture perspective, the LEGupward framework facilitates the process of creating an entire organizational culture and space of mental wellbeing and personal empowerment, across all levels of employees and throughout the entire employee lifecycle. It does this by making individual employees the center of their own focus and spheres of influence. When employees can show their whole selves at work without judgment and negative consequences, they can then appreciate coworkers and colleagues as whole people who may have more things in common with them than they realized. This creates belongingness, connectivity, empathy, and, it eradicates the compartmentalization and silo cultures of disconnect that we currently operate under.
The LEGupward framework promotes employees’ personal empowerment by allowing them to thrive, grow, cross-collaborate, and practice their leadership skills in an environment of increased connectivity and empathy. Because it creates belongingness and connectivity, it enhances communication and an understanding of the common purpose of the organizational culture. This then translates to better collaborations towards organizational goals. But, this is only the bird’s eye view.
With this overall perspective in mind, here are three actionable strategies from LEGupward that will help you empower your employees:
1.) Revisit your policies to see whether the policies are dictating the culture or vice versa; also explore policies that might be remnants of outdated structural and process requirements, and determine which ones are truly necessary.
This strategy actively pushes back against the two most common practices in organizational operations that get in the way of individual employee empowerment: the lack of alignment of culture and policies, and, the lack of involvement of all the personnel required.
It is easy to let the policies and operations dictate the organizational culture. But, the truth is that in order to have a healthy work environment, this pathway should be reversed – organizational culture should determine policies and procedures. This pathway is what the LEGupward framework creates, with benchmarks that streamline the process of checking and updating the impact and effectiveness of the organizational culture and policies quarterly. It also builds in the natural involvement and engagement of employees beyond top-level management leaders. As a result, the organizational culture, policies and change management, are by default, intentionally inclusive. They regularly and consistently involve those who are directly affected by all of these factors – the employees.
Most companies also don’t update these structures and policies unless there is either some type of a major restructure, or unless they are under threat of a lawsuit. We saw this play out when companies across the board had to change policies in the wake of the recent #MeToo movement.
When updates happen because of threats, the results are usually reactive to the immediate threat, instead of addressing sustainability and long-term impacts holistically. Those in the c-suite usually make the decisions along with legal teams, behind closed doors, before other personnel get involved for the purposes of information distribution. True inclusion has to start from the very first breath of these conversations by including all departments and personnel in conversations that move from checking diversity boxes toward actual inclusion.
2.) Leadership has to engage with employees in safe, judgment-free growth and decision-making conversations from the time they are hired.
This LEGupward strategy of engagement creates empowerment for employees from the point of their hire, throughout the entirety of their lifecycle in the organization, ensuring loyalty and increased retention. Creating a safe space where the employee can talk about their growth, and knows and believes that their engagement won’t lead to any negative repercussions for them is absolutely crucial for this to work. This empowers individual employees to be able to voice their opinions, and add their contributions to benefit the growth of the organization.
Research shows that when employees don’t feel safe and empowered, they actually withhold crucial information, especially during knowledge transfer operations and processes. By involving employees in these decision-making conversations from the point of hire, organizational leadership can create belongingness. This then empowers employees to engage more, create a community, and align themselves with the common purpose and goals of the organization.
3.) Leadership has to be trained in practicing empowering, inclusive leadership skills every single day.
This LEGupward strategy is a powerful way to create a culture of empowerment and authentic inclusion. It is up to the management team of the organization to create this, by training all leaders in empowerment techniques and inclusive leadership skills..
Leaders have to be able to connect with their employees so that they can actively model interconnectedness and autonomy, and, create belongingness while dismantling outdated silo culture operations, and micro-management. They have to be seen engaging either one-on-one or in groups with employees, in conversations about the employee’s growth needs and alignment with organizational goals. They have to be the role models for best practices of the common purpose of the organization.
This strategy empowers employees to be able to voice their concerns, or any special needs they require to thrive. By also seeing all leaders model this engagement cohesively, employees feel safer and more empowered knowing there is no space or need for office politics, or personality clashes.
When implemented intentionally, with true inclusion in mind, these three strategies empower employees exponentially. They also empower the organizational leaders and top-level management to move beyond token representation, to truly see the strengths of the employees, and to leverage the strengths and leadership skills of their diverse employee population. At AJ Rao, LLC, we offer a variety of custom tailored services to help you implement these strategies so that they are maximally impactful in a positive way. Our services include overall empowerment climate surveys and assessments, inclusive leadership training seminars and e-courses, one-on-one executive coaching packages, one-on-one career coaching packages, and more. Please schedule a consultation here to find out more about how we can help you create a healthy, inclusive culture of empowerment.