If you’re a Human Resources manager working in some aspect of public administration, it’s crucial to empower government employees. Your organization’s success and the public’s well-being depend on it.
Improved retention and productivity are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many benefits government entities stand to gain by engaging and empowering their teams. Yet organizations in the public sector grapple with unique challenges, including inflexibility, risk aversion, and a federated structure. These challenges put a damper on innovation, making it essential to craft empowerment strategies to counteract them.
Whether you’re a government executive or a training and development manager, you have the power to play a pivotal role in driving these strategies. Let’s dive headfirst into empowerment, why it’s important, and how to enhance your federal employee management skills to master it.
Why is Empowerment Important?
Empowerment is an employee management practice that gives them the opportunity and means to be autonomous, in control, and able to truly make a difference. It doesn’t mean shrugging off responsibilities to the nearest employee; it means taking the time to create a culture that fosters independence.
Empowerment is incredibly important. It carries many advantages for both the employer and employee, ranging from higher productivity and retention to a better reputation and increased growth.
Without empowerment, your workers may lack motivation and engagement, leading to high turnover, as well as a collective lack of creativity and problem-solving skills.
For these reasons, it’s necessary to boost government employee empowerment.
How Can Empowerment Help Engagement?
The Center for Creative Leadership noted that managing and motivating subordinates was one of the most significant challenges for government leaders. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, approximately 71 percent of federal employees were engaged in 2022, approximately the same level it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
So how can empowerment help here? Well, empowerment and engagement go hand in hand. You can use empowerment as a tool to enhance both employee engagement and morale. When empowered, an employee feels like they’re a valued part of the organization. They’re encouraged to take the initiative and become more engaged in the work.
Let’s look at some quick employee empowerment examples.
According to Forbes, an effective way to empower and engage employees is to delegate responsibility to them. Give them defined tasks that fit their skillsets, provide them with any necessary training, then send them on their way. Make sure that they’re the ones responsible for the delegated task, because otherwise, delegating work to them won’t be empowering.
Empowering leadership also gives employees what they need to be independent contributors to their team, reducing confusion and boosting engagement. In this approach, leaders provide employees with whatever resources they need to succeed.
Government Employee Empowerment Benefits
Empowering employees could be the one thing that keeps your firm afloat in a constantly changing economy. Government employees are often expected to adhere to strict standards within a meticulously defined scope. This is great for running a structured business, but it doesn’t guarantee that a government organization can thrive and overcome obstacles that threaten to derail its work.
Remember, empowering employees boosts engagement. These engaged employees will then commit to the organization and do their best work.
Better Company Reputation
Empowered employees are more motivated and show a commitment to their work. They tend to put their best foot forward when serving the public, which could change the organization’s public perception of government for the better.
Not only does this boost in reputation increase the public’s trust in the organization, but it also makes it easier to find quality candidates to fill vacancies. This makes sense, considering that people want to work at companies with good reputations.
Turnover is expensive, to say the least—sometimes costing upwards of 150% of an employee’s yearly pay to replace them. Excessive turnover can be enough to tank a company entirely. Relatively recently, the federal employee turnover rate was at 6.1 percent overall, and at 8.5 percent for those under 30.
Keeping employees engaged through empowerment reduces the chances that you’ll deal with this problem. Engaged employees tend to stay at their job longer than those who aren’t engaged. This means you’ll spend less money and time constantly replacing employees.
Government employees who feel empowered are known to be more productive at work. This means that teams will consistently meet their goals and bring more value to the organization.
When we use the term “productivity,” we’re referring to the amount of work produced with a given number of resources. With empowered employees working for you, you may notice that your team gets more work done with the same amount of input. This often results in an increase in profits.
It’s no secret that government funding can be scarce in some areas. Still, if you can empower your employees to the point that they do more with the resources they already have, you stand to significantly enhance the efficiency of your operations.
Free Flowing Innovation
Employees who feel boxed in aren’t as likely to contribute to innovation because they may not feel they have the means or permission to do so. On the other hand, empowered employees enjoy autonomy and are more likely to try new things to unleash their creativity and foster innovation.
So why is innovation important in governmental organizations? Innovative solutions may help to uncover new information that helps to inform future norms, policies, and programs. This puts your employees in the position to successfully tackle future challenges. Every organization needs to innovate to some degree to survive.
As times change and problems shift, solutions should be tailored to those issues. Without innovation, there’ll be more of the same. Take, for example, how Australia introduced a digital marketplace to make hiring digital specialists and receiving digital training easier.
Preparing Managers for Employee Empowerment
Government employee empowerment starts with managers. They have the power and opportunity to affect change, but it’s no walk in the park. Opting for this leadership style will require a concentrated and continual effort, but the potential rewards for the employee and organization are clear.
Here are several tactics that government managers can use to empower employees:
Rewarding employees who reach a certain milestone, complete a difficult task, or meet their defined work goals can help promote empowerment in the workplace. Incentives are among the most powerful factors for motivating public employees.
The rewards don’t have to be showy or over-the-top. You’d be surprised by how much an encouraging word or expression of gratitude can do to empower your employees. By rewarding excellence, you’ll cultivate a work culture where employees feel valued.
Listen Intently to Your Employees
Employees become empowered when they feel like their opinions matter and are heard. Listening doesn’t just mean looking at them and nodding when they come to you with an issue. It means actively listening and then taking some measure of action afterwards.
Listening doesn’t stop there. Depending on how your organization and team are set up, you may want to take specific measures to ensure that your employees’ voices are considered. Give it a try by:
- Gathering employees’ opinions on an ongoing basis via multiple surveys
- Keeping the lines of communication open whenever an employee has a question or concern
- Asking employees for their opinions on topics related to their work or the organization as a whole
Listening can be a good way to determine which employees are enjoying their roles and which employees need more support.
Utilize Smart Delegation Practices
Some managers believe that successfully delegating tasks is one of the requirements of good management. At face value, this seems to be the case. But if you want to push empowerment in your organization, it’s time to take things a step further. Instead of delegating tasks, ask employees to solve defined problems.
Sit them down, talk to them about a problem your organization needs to solve, and then ask them to devise a strategy to fix the issue. Give employees the resources needed to solve the problem. Otherwise, they may become frustrated and feel bogged down.
When delegation is done in an empowering way, your employee will feel a sense of responsibility and autonomy, both of which are essential to feeling empowered.
Ensure Your Employee Is Ready To Take On the Problem
Delegation without enough support and training is pointless. If the employee doesn’t have the means (through education and training) to solve a problem you present to them, they’re not likely to solve it. Instead of feeling empowered, they may feel overwhelmed and flounder instead.
Before delegating a problem, ensure it fits that specific employee’s skill set and abilities well. If it doesn’t, you can offer training, coaching, or mentoring as needed to elevate them to the appropriate level first.
Many people work for a boss with a tough exterior, and this can put a damper on their morale, or even inspire them to quit. When you act in a positive way as a manager, you can prevent this from happening. Leading without an iron fist can be challenging for some, but it’s possible.
Here are a few tips for acting positively:
Be empathetic when an employee comes to you with a problem, whether it be professional or personal.
Don’t be afraid to use humor to ease certain interactions or keep things upbeat. Just ensure that you’re not offending anyone in the process or damaging your authority.
Try to keep your temper under control when circumstances become challenging or frustrating. It can be tempting to release your frustration, but it’s not a good idea in a professional setting, especially if you want to empower employees.
Remember to look at things from a positive perspective rather than a negative one. There’s almost always a positive angle to explore, even if it’s not obvious.
Know How To Handle Employee Mistakes
There’s no way around it—employees are bound to make mistakes. It’s important not to embarrass them or overreact when they don’t get things right. Doing so may crush their spirit and render them unable to move forward. It’s also not a good idea to gloss over mistakes; doing so may encourage the employee to shrug off responsibility.
So, how do you handle employee mistakes in an empowering way?
Take on the role of a mentor—someone who’s in their teammate’s corner when they’re struggling. Speak with the employee about the mistake and try to get down to the root cause of it while giving them adequate space to come to their own conclusions. Every mistake is different, and some may require a specific course of action, but empowerment through mentorship is usually helpful.
Be a Relationship Builder
If you want to empower employees, you need to take relationship building seriously. Figure out how to develop strong relationships with your employees that are based on mutual trust. Not only should your employees feel like you have their back, but they should have the team’s best interests in mind as well.
Here are a few things you can do to get the ball rolling:
- Take ownership when you miss the mark as a manager
- Follow through on any promises you make to your employees
- Acknowledge your employees’ feelings and go to bat for them
- Always show respect to your employees
- Be clear in your communication with your employees
Creating an empowering work environment is essential in government organizations, and every manager can achieve this goal by prioritizing autonomy, communication, and trust. Just know that this isn’t something that you’ll accomplish overnight. You’ve got to be diligent and in it for the long-haul.
Empowering employees takes time, effort, and consistency. You may need to tailor some of these tips based on your personal management style and organization. However, if you put in your best effort, you can become an empowering manager and get your organization to thrive.
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