Why Employee Empowerment Is So Important

Creating a company culture that puts employee empowerment at the forefront allows for a dynamic workforce in which self-determination and innovation can drive higher performance. By using performance management software to engage with your employees and recognize their contributions to your company, empowerment can become an integral part of how your business operates.

Let’s take a look at how recognition programs and rewards can boost team spirit, demonstrate that you value great work, and empower everyone to reach for their true potential. 

Employee empowerment through recognition

Empowering employees through recognition systems is fast becoming the key to boosting performance and maximizing engagement, with each moment of recognition – whether this is a simple “thanks” or a big reward delivered with a fanfare – providing employees with a dose of dopamine, boosting job satisfaction and encouraging more of the same behaviour. Recognition enhances confidence, which in turn promotes a healthy enthusiasm for their role which is ultimately reflected in higher performance and a willingness to take on new challenges. 

There are three core types of recognition you can add to your arsenal for boosting employee empowerment. These are:

  • Manager-to-employee
  • Peer-to-peer
  • Social recognition

Let’s explore how you can apply these recognition techniques throughout your workflow to better engage and empower your employees, as well as some other principles you can put into practice to cultivate consistent, daily empowerment.

Goals of recognition programs 

Recognition programs come in a variety of shapes and forms, so understanding the different objectives both in terms of employee experience and the desired business results is essential to get right before you start to put together a program of your own. A study from World At Work in 2019 outlined a wide range of recognition program objectives, ranked by order of priority:

  • Create/maintain a culture of recognition (78%)
  • Create/maintain a positive work environment (77%)
  • Reinforce desired behaviours (71%)
  • Increase employee engagement (71%)
  • Support organizational mission/values (69%)
  • Motivate high performance (68%)
  • Increase retention or decrease employee turnover (60%)
  • Increase morale (58%)
  • Emphasize organizational values (53%)
  • Improve organizational culture (52%)
  • Enhance the employee experience (49%)
  • Support becoming/remaining an employer of choice (39%)
  • Encourage loyalty (36%)
  • Improve employee relationships (33%)
  • Encourage safe practices (26%)
  • Provide line of sight to company goals (26%)
  • Support a culture of change (24%)

Your own priorities will depend largely on the type of organization you’re developing the recognition program for, intrinsically tied to your strategic goals and the core values defined as part of your culture. Whatever these goals are, make sure you write down clearly your recognition objectives to help ensure consistent alignment as you move forward to implementation. 

These should also be goals that are measurable, and once you have defined the metrics by which you wish to track your recognition program, make sure these are inputted into your performance management software and shared with the appropriate managers and HR leaders tasked with supervising the program. 


A culture of empowerment through recognition

The first step to ensuring your employees feel empowered and can bring their A-game to the workplace is to embed recognition into your company’s culture. A culture of recognition as a bedrock of your organization, amplified through your branding and internal communications platform, makes it clear that your business values the process of empowerment as a primary motivating principle. 

As the aforementioned World At Work survey highlighted, creating and maintaining a culture of recognition is the most cited objective for businesses, so embedding these values within your company’s structure should be a top priority. Recognition and empowerment should be highly visible, so make sure your internal branding and feedback mechanisms amplify recognition to all employees.

Empowering with employee engagement

In their book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and her colleague Steven Kramer analysed employee motivation.

“We found that the most important indicator on employee engagement … was simply ‘making progress in meaningful work.’ If employees could find meaning to the work – even contributing value to the team or organization – this would make a difference.”

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Amabile and Kramer concluded that a satisfying “inner work life” was the key to progress, characterized by respect, encouragement, emotional support (in particular empathy) and affiliation. This matrix forms the basis on which employee engagement thrives, and managers are able to encourage this mindset with timely and specific recognition coupled with an appreciation of the progress made. 

Companies that use performance management software to track their employees’ progress are in the best position to promote timely feedback, encourage regular conversations and engage their workforce in a way that empowers everyone involved. Not only will staff find more meaning at work, but they will also take greater ownership of their role and be prepared to go the extra mile while taking greater initiative in the best interests of the company. 

Recognition for the “Mighty Middle”

Managers, leaders and HR professionals are often caught up channelling their efforts to deal with the extremes and the outliers within their company, whether this is addressing poor performing staff with corrective feedback or praising their A-players to encourage more of the same. While these types of feedback are certainly important, over-emphasizing recognition and engagement in such a way neglect the vast majority of the workforce: the “Mighty Middle”.

Raising engagement throughout your company means paying attention to the 70% of your employees who are solid performers but don’t necessarily stand out from the crowd. Through recognizing these consistently hard-working members of staff, managers and HR leaders open up new avenues for growth and performance improvements.

A study from Stanford School of Business titled Employee Recognition at Intuit studied the degree to which companies offered recognition to employees as part of their recognition programs, determining that a program goal of 80% reach was optimal, with 8 out of 10 employees receiving at least some degree of positive recognition during a given year in order for the work culture to truly embrace recognition and further empower the workforce.

24/7 recognition and engagement drives empowerment

There can be a temptation for managers and HR leaders to only focus their efforts on recognition once a year; when the annual performance review period rolls around, it’s all hands on decks to review an employee’s output and achievements and compensate accordingly. But this mindset is fast becoming a thing of the past, and businesses that fail to adopt a system of constant recognition and engagement are missing an opportunity for vastly improved empowerment. 

So how can you get to 80% recognition across your business? In what ways can managers and leaders build recognition into their daily lives to help guarantee the maximum impact on employee empowerment? Moreover, how can managers and employees alike offer these frequent moments of manager-to-employee and peer-to-peer recognition in an era when employees are increasingly working remotely, and otherwise spread across multiple geographical locations?

Integrating recognition into your company’s internal communications platform and giving everyone from the CEO down to the shop floor worker the means to offer positive feedback, aligned to development goals and other key objectives, allows everyone to give and receive recognition at the touch of a button. By using a multi-channel platform that can be used on desktop/laptops and mobile devices, recognition can be given immediately with high visibility throughout the company. 

As Eric Moseley and Derek Irvine explain in their book, The Power of Thanks, “Social recognition can – and should – be designed for use on mobile devices to increase participation. Employees should be able to share appreciation immediately, not waiting to get back to a desk, especially when that desk might be 1,000 miles away. A large portion of the global workforce is not chained to a computer all day. They are on the road, in the air, at the job site, on the floor. They don’t have laptops around their necks. But you can bet a whole lot of them are carrying smartphones.”

Badging and other “free” recognition rewards to encourage empowerment

One of the important aspects which set ongoing recognition apart from the more traditional methods of rewarding employees through remunerative compensation and other similar incentives is the lack of exorbitant costs. By using their employee recognition software, managers and peers alike are able to reward others for great performance at the touch of a button, without impacting the company’s bottom line. 

Implementing an effective reward system gives companies the chance to praise individuals for the right behaviour, honing in on what – and who –  matters the most in a way in which recognition will reach other employees immediately, encouraging them to up their game. At the same time, recognition programs need to be balanced carefully so that they are not gamed by employees, preventing users from awarding nominations in a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” mentality, but rather as a direct reflection of tangible results of great work. 

By aligning rewards systems with the broader data drawn from your performance management tools, managers can pinpoint the behaviours and results which they wish to see replicated.