Why invest in employee engagement and empowerment?

A carton of eggs painted like emojis. The main egg in focus is painted like the love-heart eyes emoji.

Engaging and empowering employees has long been thought of as an ‘HR thing’, however research is now telling us that is not the case.

HR teams can send out employee satisfaction surveys and build metrics, but if employees don’t feel their feedback is heard or no action is taken, leadership is responsible for feelings of resentment, dissatisfaction, and disengagement within their teams.

We know that authentic leadership and the ability to understand strengths and weaknesses leads to better organisation structures, healthier management systems and more engaged employees.

So why invest in an employee engagement strategy? Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report found only 15% of employees are engaged in their jobs. As an organisation, this means you are only receiving 15% of the investment you make in your people.

This article will explore how leaders can better engage their employees and strategically work to build a team that is emotionally invested in committing their time, skills and energy into their work and the goals of the company. Specifically, we will look at:

  • What employee engagement and empowerment means to the Inkling team.
  • The true definition of employee engagement explained.
  • The benefits of investing in employee engagement strategies.
  • Strategies for creating engaged workers.

What is employee empowerment and engagement culture?

Gallup defines employee engagement as “the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace,” suggesting employee engagement is about being positively absorbed and committed to advancing the organisation’s interest.

At Inkling, we’ve found that when people are able to utilise their strengths at work, they are significantly more engaged. This is less about being calm or having a lack of stress, and more about investing energy, motivation and vigour into their work.

Whereas employee empowerment is a management philosophy that highlights the importance and value of an employee’s autonomy, support or resources required to work independently, as well as being held accountable for their decisions.

We can describe the relationship between the two concepts as employee empowerment creates employee engagement, which ultimately leads to a culture of employees growing into great leaders throughout every department of the organisation.

What are the benefits of investing in an employee engagement strategy?

Most leaders believe that employees are an organisation’s most important asset. However, that can only be true if employees are fully engaged in their work.

Gallup’s research reports that engaged employees produce better business outcomes than other employees. Put simply, to invest in employee engagement and build a culture of empowerment means companies get the most out of their existing investment in human resources.

Stronger job performance

When it comes to job performance research regularly demonstrates that when employees feel empowered at work, it is associated with stronger job performance, job satisfaction, and commitment to the organisation.

We recommend identifying the behaviours that underpin each of your company values for employees and leaders. Employee engagement is deeply connected to clear values that align to an individuals’ purpose with articulated behaviours that are lived out. By identifying behaviours and reporting on the lived actions of these values, not only does this empower employees to see what’s happening around them, but it also holds employees accountable to create the company they want to work for, feel supported by their teammates and ensure they are pulling their own weight.

This simultaneously creates strong job performance and job satisfaction or alternatively motivates employees to speak up and take action about what they want to be changed instead of wasting time, as they can see there is a system supporting and facilitating that change.

Improved leadership capability

Harvard Business Review found that “empowering leaders had more creative and helpful employees”. The research identified employees working for empowering leaders, offered more creative ideas, volunteered for extra tasks and willingly put themselves forward for stretch opportunities. The meta-analysis found “employees who thought their leaders were more empowering were indeed more likely to feel empowered at work – they felt a greater sense of autonomy or control in their work, they felt that their job had meaning and it aligned with their values, that they were competent in their abilities, and that they could make a difference”, as described by HBR.

Through both the employee’s work having meaning and feeling like they were meaningful to the company, employees feel invested in and give back by working for the results of the organisation.

This study found “by trying to provide employees with additional responsibility and challenges at work, empowering leaders burdened their employees and increased their level of job stress”.

As a leader, it’s important to consider how employees perceive your behaviour. This is where and why we can see empowerment culture and employee engagement as being about authentic relationships with employees and cannot be attained by “pulse check” surveys alone.

By genuinely connecting with employees, leaders have the opportunity to observe how their strategies or leadership styles are being received and perceived by their team and can respond and course-correct any new implementations that don’t return the expected result.

Empowerment as management

Gallup research has found that “70% of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager”. Leaders can have a great vision, but if their managers aren’t empowered and therefore don’t have the capacity and resources to empower their teams through trust or education, then no one is able to fulfil their capacity which will lead to further disengagement.

Employee engagement is based on leaders who are perceived as more empowering. “[Employees] had greater faith in their leaders and were more likely to put in effort without feeling that they would be exploited”, Harvard Business Research reveals, “this is because trust reduces uncertainty in the environment by instilling a sense of safety, which enables employees to take on more risks without feeling vulnerable”.

In this way, we can see how important psychological safety is as a foundation to employee engagement and as a priority for managers looking to empower their employees. 

The bottom line

When it comes to the bottom line, the facts are clear. Towers Perrin research found “companies with engaged workers have 6% higher net profit margins”. Gallup research shows us that employee disengagement costs the United States alone over $550 billion a year in lost productivity while businesses with highly motivated employees are 21% more profitable.

Now that we can see employee empowerment and engagement are well worth the investment, both for culture and profit, let’s explore how we can create it within an organisation.

How can organisations create a company culture to empower employees and boost team engagement?

1. Effective communication 

Regular feedback is essential for efficient and effective leadership. It creates trust and greater opportunity for speedy course correction when new systems or projects are implemented. Both formal and informal check-ins are valuable for employees. Gallup found that employees are three times more likely to be engaged when receiving daily feedback from their managers than those who receive feedback once a year.

Try setting up processes for automated employee engagement surveys or regular opportunities to give feedback.

2. Clear expectations

The core of clear communication is understanding employees’ expectations and ensuring employees understand what is expected of them.

Recent research has demonstrated that “employees have their own expectations of how much leaders should try to empower them. When the leaders’ empowering approaches do not align with [employees] expectations – for example, if they grant too much or too little autonomy and decision-making responsibilities – [employees] may perceive this behaviour negatively”.

The words of Marine Brett Gleeson provide brilliant insight on how to navigate this: “Successful managers are transparent in their approach to improving engagement — they talk about it with their teams all the time. They hold state of engagement meetings and engage everyone in the discussion — and solutions.”

Through transparency, authenticity and creating a psychologically safe space for everyone to be heard, feedback can be given and clarity can be found for all members of leadership and employees.

At Inkling we recommend a few practises to facilitate these conversations and clarity:

  • Create a culture of coaching, feedback and managing poor behaviour and performance.
  • Solution-focused thinking and language to sustain an open conversation and help to shift mindsets.
  • Utilise monthly team connection days, sharing meals and learning together
  • Review your diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and practices.
  • Ensure good employee job fit. One of the most important things that people need to feel fulfilled in their jobs is a sense of self-efficacy, where employees feel they can do their job well.
  • Consider the person’s values, preferences and skills are aligned to the work that they are doing so that when they do the work, they know they are doing their best work.

3. Collaborative projects

Collaborative projects provide the opportunity for teams to identify their strengths and feel empowered through being valued for the role they have to play within the team.

Research shows “people want purpose and meaning from their work. They want to be known for what they’re good at”.

Collaboration also provides opportunities for managers and leaders to observe and engage with their teams and see for themselves where employees are engaged. This also helps managers gain a richer understanding of what is working or motivating employees, as well noting particular strengths and evaluating the cost to the organisation.

4. Collaborative performance goals

Gallup research shows that “[employees] want relationships, particularly with a manager who can coach them to the next level. This is who drives employee engagement.”

By leaders and direct reports working together to create goals and milestones, individuals are motivated to improve their job performance and feel empowered through encouragement and accountability from their manager.

5. Career progression and rewards

These collaborative performance goals provide a greater opportunity to celebrate teams’ achievements and build employee engagement through genuine relationships and pride for what the organisation has achieved, individually and together.

The development of a company strategy to engage and retain staff must be designed for the employees and the organisation, not just ‘left to Human Resources’.

Take time to work out what your employees have been asking for and get clear on what you can take action on how to build trust, and what can be built into a plan to give a sense of stability and safety. Then what are the barriers? What are the recurring issues or areas of disengagement and do you need to bring in some fresh insight to revitalise and empower your organisation?

Improving employee engagement and empowerment in the workplace

We hope this research and discussion has given you some insights and ideas to ​​develop your employee engagement and prioritise empowering the people within your organisation.

Get in touch with the Inkling team if you would like to find out more about our tailored employee empowerment and leadership training development experiences.

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