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29th December 2014

Who will you empower this year?

Who will you empower this yearOne of my favourite proverbs is an old Arab one: “It is easier to make slaves of free men [sic] than free men from slaves.” When I came across it I was reminded of one of my first jobs on a site of 13,000 employees. The majority of these people were brought up with following instructions, whether the instructions were sensible or not (ours is not to reason why, but to do and die!) Initiative was frowned upon, even subject to discipline, and yet employee “participation” was the buzz word of the day.

My job was to get supervisors to buy-in to the idea that they could influence decisions being made by managers, and to persuade shop stewards to accept that the status quo was not necessarily always in their members’ interests. The site closed in 1980 so you might surmise that I was not particularly successful.

Today, engagement, happiness and well being are the buzz words...

…and, of course, we have had “involvement” and “empowerment” in the meantime as I am sure the cynics will point out. But there is real progress in all sectors and there are enough engaged and happy workforces today to provide research, that in turn provides compelling evidence of the benefits. Some studies show that happy employees perform up to three times better than average.

Are people in the health care sector happy and productive?

An international study suggests that they are. The broad healthcare/medical sector came in with a “time happy” (at work) percentage of 47 per cent compared to an average of 41 per cent for all sectors and a “time on task” (productivity rating) of 64 per cent compared to an average of 59 per cent. So a small pat on the back is in order, but:

What more can be done?


Much more difficult than it sounds. From a personal development viewpoint it is worth giving attention to developing this skill rather than assuming we have it. From a business viewpoint, evidence from the “Best Companies to Work For” list confirms that employees regard this as a key leadership skill. It is also worth remembering that employees are often “closer to the action” so they may even know more than you!

Develop employees

Returning to my own management training, Peter Drucker was the Guru of the day and his philosophies are still worth a read. Developing employees was seen by him as one of the most crucial of managerial responsibilities. We’ve come a long way since, not least via the NVQ and QCF frameworks. And I personally have learned more from the people who have managed and supervised me in my career than from tutors (and I’ve been a management tutor myself).

Know and communicate your values

Why are you doing your job? What is it you want to achieve? Are you passionate, or at least enthusiastic about it?

Sometimes when buffeted by day-to-day obstacles, when things go wrong and when we find other (supposedly supportive) parties working actively against us it is easy to forget why we are doing this at all!

Yet it goes without saying that the right message needs to go out to employees. Perhaps there are times when we need to step back, take a break ourselves or engage some support of our own.

Release the command-control model

Many studies show that happiness has much to do with the amount of control individuals have over how they do their jobs. The do and die philosophy is probably inherited from war-time experience and current generations will not accept it. Recognising such provides an opportunity to move forward. Yet delegating is not easy. There is invariably the feeling that mistakes will be made; (and they will) so there is risk involved. But no matter what managerial job we may occupy we need to ensure we train people to do their jobs well and then judge just how far we can relinquish control. That way individuals can learn to make sensible decisions for themselves and feedback non-sensible instructions rather than following them blindly. A leap of faith would be inappropriate but incremental release of control makes great sense.

Consider well being

There is evidence that increasing employee well being at work improves productivity and, for our sector, that primarily means quality of care. It is a valuable first step to consider an employee survey as it provides a good benchmark for the future and should prompt a plan of action. Many blue chip companies conduct surveys because they consider their employees’ well being is crucial to their customers’ well being and hence, in their case at least, profits. Whether profit is an underlying motive, or not, the well being of service users must be our “raison d’etre”.

So, in 2015, are your going to make your employees freer men (and women) or are you going to take the easier option?

Malcolm Martin of Employer Solutions – QCS Human Resource Expert.

Topics: Human Resources

Sarah Riley

Senior Customer Care Executive

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