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9 Min. Read

Understanding the Influence of Power Dynamics at Work

Understanding the Influence of Power Dynamics at Work

For any organization to function effectively, there has to be a well-structured chain of command. This is especially critical when there is a wide range of experience levels among different teams and individuals. Yet, this does not mean management should ignore those with less experience. This would be an unhealthy dynamic.

The idea of a power dynamic often comes with a negative connotation. But there is such a thing as a healthy balance of power, and this is what a business should strive to build. Information can freely flow up the chain of command when the dynamic is a healthy and positive one. The idea is for the decision-makers to have the final say, but they should first consider employee input.

Have you ever been in an important meeting where a manager asked for comments throughout? When this occurred, how many people actually offered their thoughts? How many sat in silence, even though you knew there were concerns among co-workers? Chances are when a request for comments brings silence, the power dynamics at play are not as healthy as they could be.

Let's get a little more in-depth on the idea of healthy power dynamics. We'll also consider how a business can foster this type of environment.

Here’s What We’ll Cover:

What Is a Healthy Power Dynamic?

How Does a Business Foster Healthy Dynamics of Power?

How to Make Employees Feel Appreciated

Key Takeaways

What Is a Healthy Power Dynamic?

In an organization with healthy power dynamics, not a single individual feels left out. Every employee feels as though their opinion matters and they get a say in decisions. Even those without any formal power can play a key role in the decision-making process.

Now, just because there are healthy dynamics of power does not mean that everyone is on the same level. Every organization needs to have a hierarchy to function at optimal efficiency. There needs to be a structure in place with differing levels of responsibility. Experience and ability determine these levels. There are employees with decision-making power, and those that do not have this power. At least, they don't formally have this power.

Still, an organization needs to foster an environment where the dynamics of power are healthy, despite this hierarchy. This means that while there is a hierarchy, the power imbalance between management and subordinates shrinks. There is a give-and-take between management and employees. Common ground is sought when opinions differ.

It is critical to maintain this dynamic at work. Employees who do not feel heard will not contribute to success. To get the most production from every single employee, he or she needs to know that their opinions matter. The loyal employee is the one who feels they are an integral part of their company.

For example, in an organization where the dynamics of power are off, meetings will be less productive. For a meeting to solve any issue, there needs to be input from employees of all levels and from all departments. If the power dynamic is such that the employees do not feel their opinions matter, they're unlikely to speak up during meetings. They will instead remain silent for fear of management ignoring their ideas and opinions.

In a workplace with a healthy and positive power dynamic, employees feel their input has value. During meetings, they will share their opinions and ideas. The flow of information between individuals of all levels will be free and uninhibited. This environment is where you make progress and achieve results.

This all sounds like a great work environment, right? But how does an organization make its employees feel empowered even if they don't have formal decision-making power?  

How Does a Business Foster Healthy Dynamics of Power?

When it comes to developing healthy power dynamics at work, the first step is simple. Show your employees you value them. Employees need to know that they matter. They need to feel valued for their contributions. Above all, they need to feel respected by management and the organization as a whole. Employees who feel disrespected do not become loyal employees, and they are likely to leave for better opportunities.

If you treat your employees with respect, though, then they will treat you with respect. If you show them that you value their input, then they will respond accordingly. This creates an environment where everyone feels empowered to voice their opinion on business matters. Employees will feel free to speak up, and management respects the employee's opinions enough to consider them. The decision-making power still stays with management. But, their decisions may change based on employee input.

Power relations are a delicate component of the workplace, and a positive environment needs to exist. The power imbalance can never grow too great. It must always remain in check, and this starts with leadership ensuring that those with formal power are listening to employees. 

Listening to employees does not mean taking orders from them. It simply means listening to what they have to say and considering their input. Thank them for their ideas, whether you intend to use them or not. In the end, if an employee is giving suggestions on business activities it is because they want to help the business. This is commendable and any business should always encourage this.

In an unhealthy environment, a lower-level employee may feel discouraged from giving input. Management may tell them, directly or indirectly, that making decisions is "not their job." This is an unhealthy power dynamic and only leads to resentment and poor results. 

The bottom line to create healthy power dynamics is to always ensure that employees of all levels feel appreciated. This means both their day-to-day contributions as well as their extra efforts. How exactly does an organization create this environment of appreciated employees, though?

How to Make Employees Feel Appreciated

So we know it's important to make employees feel appreciated, but how does one go about this? Management treating employees with respect is a good first step, but a great organization needs to do more.

Giving people raises based on performance is of course one way of showing some appreciation. This should always be part of the process because it's the right thing to do. But, it won't solve the goal of generating a sense of feeling appreciated. Financial rewards alone aren't motivators for people. What motivates your employees is when you give them a positive feeling.

Here are a few ideas you can use to make your employees feel motivated, appreciated and empowered:

  • Encourage feedback. Encouraging employees to offer feedback is essential to creating a culture of empowerment. When employees feel that their input makes a difference, they're more prone to provide their ideas. This is one of the keys to healthy dynamics of power.
  • Give credit where credit is due. To encourage employees to provide feedback, managers should be sure to acknowledge their efforts. Acknowledge their hard work, and thank them for their contribution. When a particular employee steps up and does something exceptional, publicly acknowledge them for it.
  • Reward employees for accomplishments. - People who put in extra effort to achieve success deserve recognition. Give out small rewards when employees exceed expectations for performance. You can also give out larger rewards when they achieve higher-level goals.
  • Hold Employee Appreciation Day. - Each year, consider holding an appreciation day for all employees within the company. The idea behind this event is to make every single contributor to your company's success feel appreciated. What the event looks like is up to you, but it's important to single out every individual, if at all possible. Have contests. Give out gifts. Make sure everyone has a great time.

The main idea here is that in order to show employees you appreciate them, you need to take the steps to acknowledge them. Giving public recognition for great work and encouraging feedback cost nothing. Rewards for accomplishments and meeting goals can be fit within your budget. The same is true for an appreciation day. In fact, the act of finding room in the budget for these employee-focused initiatives is a way of showing appreciation.

Making employees feel appreciated will increase productivity and maintain a healthy power dynamic. It may start with a few employees beginning to feel empowered and speaking up. Then their co-workers see the positive results and they too begin to share their ideas. Before long, it's a chain reaction of employee empowerment that will serve to bring a business to the next level.

All this is possible when you make a concerted effort to develop positive and healthy power dynamics. Remember, a business needs its people far more than people need their company. There are other opportunities out there for employees. But the employer can't afford to lose a good employee they've invested in.

Key Takeaways

Developing healthy power dynamics within an organization is critical to success. A business is best run with some form of hierarchy, but there should still be a sharing of ideas across all levels. This means making every employee know that their contributions matter. It means letting them know you take their opinions and viewpoints seriously. Whether an employee has decision-making power is irrelevant when it comes to asking for their feedback and input. 

Showing appreciation can come in the form of a company-wide employee appreciation day. You could also give rewards for high performance, and encourage feedback. These are ideas to start with, there are plenty of ways you can show employees you appreciate them. The primary goal is to show them that they are being seen and heard.

Keep in mind that an entire work environment cannot change overnight. If the current power dynamics within the organization have grown to a negative place, then change will take time. Employees won't immediately forget about how things used to be. They won’t forget all the times management made them feel as though their contributions were important. But, over time, you can repair these damaged power dynamics with positive changes.

All it takes is some humility and a newfound appreciation for employees.

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