Tips to Help Your Employees Take Ownership of Their Work

If employees refuse to take responsibility for their work, it can endanger their productivity and the bottom line. Find out how to help your workers take ownership.

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Tips to Help Your Employees Take Ownership of Their Work

Here's what you need to know:

  • Taking ownership at work refers to employees assuming responsibility for their work-related performance and being accountable for the results
  • There are signs employers can look for regarding employees taking or not taking ownership at work
  • There are also notable advantages for both employees and employers when workers take ownership of their work
  • To help your employees take ownership, show them why taking ownership matters and clearly communicate duties and responsibilities
  • Trust your employees, deliver constructive feedback, and give your workers adequate resources

Although the term “responsibility” is often applied to personal development, it is equally relevant to professional development. In the latter case, responsibility means “taking ownership” at work.

Due to the high stakes involved in employee performance, taking ownership should be a non-negotiable requirement. Bottom line: If employees refuse to take responsibility for their work, it can endanger their productivity and the bottom line.

Read on to learn:

  • What it means to take ownership at work
  • The signs of not taking and taking ownership
  • The benefits of taking ownership
  • How to help your employees take ownership

What does “taking ownership” at work mean?

Taking ownership at work refers to employees assuming responsibility for their work-related performance and being accountable for the results.

While taking responsibility should be a given for everyone, it’s important to remember that each person has their own traits and values. Some may choose to shun responsibility instead of embracing ownership and accountability.

Note that taking ownership does not necessarily equate to working alone. As explained in a Harvard Business Review article, taking ownership “doesn’t always mean you have authority over a project. Nor does it mean that you shouldn’t involve others. But it does mean you own the obligation to take action and deliver results.”

Essentially, “The responsibility is yours, and it starts with developing a belief or habit of mind that you, as an individual, are accountable for the quality and timeliness of an outcome, even when you’re working with others.”

What are the signs of not taking and taking ownership at work?

There are signs employers can look for regarding employees taking or not taking ownership at work.

Signs of not taking ownership:

  • Not showing interest in their work
  • Blaming coworkers for mistakes
  • Missing deadlines
  • Not wanting to accept challenging work or take calculated risks
  • Victim mentality, such as engaging in self-pity or baselessly complaining about unfair treatment
  • Doesn’t care about the team’s well-being
  • Overly dependent on others when it comes to doing their work
  • Avoids taking initiative
  • Full of excuses for why they underperformed
  • Does the bare minimum; just enough to not get fired

As for why employees fail to take ownership, it could be for any number of reasons, including:

  • Laziness
  • Fear of failure
  • Easily overwhelmed
  • Does not want to be chastised for mistakes
  • Believes they will be viewed as weak if they admit their failures
  • Truly doesn’t think they should be responsible for the assigned work

Signs of taking ownership:

  • Gains satisfaction from their work
  • Ready to learn and improve
  • Among the first to volunteer for assignments they’re qualified for
  • Engaged in team meetings
  • Offers feedback and ideas willingly
  • Displays confidence and a healthy desire to achieve more
  • Demonstrates initiative, autonomy, self-sufficiency, and self-awareness
  • Takes calculated risks to enhance their and the team’s performance
  • Possesses a firm understanding of their duties and responsibilities
  • Seeks clarification when in doubt
  • Can work independently; does not need close supervision
  • Exhibits strong time-management skills
  • Is reliable and trustworthy
  • Admits their mistakes, and learns from them

The benefits of taking ownership

There are notable advantages for both employees and employers when staff members take ownership of their work.

Advantages for employees

The aforementioned HBR article gives 3 reasons why employees should take ownership at work.

  • Acknowledging the difference between fault and responsibility helps employees avoid the blame game and take ownership of tough issues. By being consciously aware of this difference, employees can more easily recognize (and take ownership of) their mistakes.
  • Taking ownership can free employees to deliver results. ”It’s only when we, as individuals, take full responsibility for a problem that we focus our full attention on it and feel the pressure we need to drive results.”
  • Owning the problem and taking action allows the employee to help others. By seeing how they failed (and the consequences), employees can work on developing solutions for the greater good.

In general, taking ownership helps employees:

  • Build trust with their boss and colleagues
  • Enhance their self-confidence and self-esteem
  • View their work as meaningful, instead of as just a paycheck
  • Welcome learning and development
  • Approach their work with integrity
  • Take on more responsibility
  • Advance in their careers

Advantages for employers

When employees take ownership at work, it can help you:

  • Foster a healthy work environment and culture
  • Promote respect among team members and management
  • Establish appropriate career goals for employees
  • Create a happy, motivated, and satisfied workforce
  • Decrease employee turnover
  • Nurture creativity, innovation, and idea sharing among employees
  • Assist employees in their personal development journey

How to help your employees take ownership

Here are several ways you can go about helping your employees to take ownership of their work.

Show them why taking ownership matters

Some employees may readily display responsibility, while others may not. For those in the latter group, you may be able to instill a sense of responsibility by demonstrating why it matters.

When people understand why they should do something, they are likely to at least consider it.

When explaining the why, illustrate your vision for the company along with key long-term and short-term goals that will help you get there.

Articulate where the company is heading, develop the employee’s work goals around this destination, and show them how their performance is imperative to this journey.

Understanding why taking ownership matters also helps employees remain committed during challenging times at work, such as busy seasons.

Clearly communicate duties and responsibilities

To tackle their role responsibly, employees need to know what is expected of them. This includes not only essential duties but also any additional tasks.

Make sure they have an updated job description at all times, and provide details of all responsibilities for the role.

For team projects, be very clear as to who should do what, to minimize team members casting blame or saying they were not aware of their responsibilities.

Trust your employees

It’s important to trust your employees to do the jobs assigned to them, unless they give you reason not to. Avoid micromanaging them, as this could make them anxious and afraid of failing, which will not bode well for their performance.

Avoid micromanaging employees, as this could make them anxious and afraid of failing, which will not bode well for their performance.

It may also signal that you lack confidence in them, and this could negatively impact their self-esteem. By trusting your employees, you inspire them to assume ownership of their work and perform at their greatest ability.

Deliver constructive feedback

Taking ownership does not mean an employee will not make mistakes. It means that they will put in optimal effort, and will take responsibility for any errors they happen to make.

It’s crucial that you provide constructive feedback (not criticism) regarding their performance, including where they excelled and where they fell short.

Cultivate open communication by urging employees to freely inform you of issues they are struggling with. This allows you to forge a stronger relationship with them while helping them to improve.

Don’t forget to praise them for taking responsibility, as this can incentivize them to keep taking ownership.

Note that employees should know the consequences of not performing according to company standards.

For example, they should be aware of the ramifications of unacceptable behavior in the workplace. In this case, the type of discipline may depend on the severity of the offense and whether the employee takes ownership of their conduct.

Give your employees adequate resources

Employees cannot complete their work as required if they lack proper resources. This will also make it easy for them to avoid responsibility.

Access to training, technological tools, supplies/equipment, and coaching/mentoring are keys to motivating employees to do well and take ownership at work.

Keep in mind people want to feel as though they have some level of control over their lives, including at work.

By giving your employees a say in how they approach their work, you afford them a sense of control over their work, thereby encouraging them to take ownership.

Taking ownership is good for you and your employees

In a perfect world, all of your employees would take responsibility for their performance at work. But this is not a perfect world. Therefore, you’re likely to encounter employees who evade responsibility — ultimately jeopardizing their and the organization’s productivity.

You cannot force an employee to be responsible. But there are things you can do to help them, such as:

  • Illustrating why taking ownership matters
  • Effectively communicating their job requirements
  • Trusting them to do their jobs
  • Offering helpful feedback
  • Providing sufficient resources

When your employees take ownership, it’s a win-win for you and them. It enables them to take pride in their work, learn from their mistakes, and become more productive employees and conscientious human beings.

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