University of Minnesota
Office of Human Resources

Self-responsibility in the Workplace

By Donna Bennett, consultant, and Jeff Stafford, consultant
Organizational Efffectiveness

Organizations are changing at a whirlwind pace as globalization, technology, partnerships, mergers, and economic factors drive the need to keep up. This all filters down to the workforce, and the ways we manage and are managed. There is less time for autocratic, micromanaged workplaces and more emphasis on self-responsibility.

Jennifer James, university professor and author of Thinking In The Future says, “Many specialists now preach the gospel of worker empowerment. It is a rejection of the corporate hierarchy and paternalism of the past—and for good reason: empowerment increases energy. When workers are permitted to invest their energies in a personal process of learning and discovery while on the job, the increase in productivity, quality, and efficiency is phenomenal.”

When managers and employees work together to create a respectful, self-motivating environment, there is potential for better results for both the department and the larger organization. Managers and supervisors have high demands on their time. Influencing self-responsibility in their employees can benefit the manager’s workday. This style of management/supervision can create an environment for building trust with long-term benefits towards achieving goals.

What can managers and employees do to facilitate an environment of self-responsibility? Following are some tips to help you get started:

What Can Employees Do?

  • Take responsibility for the relationship. It’s no longer the sole role of the supervisor to develop the manager-employee relationship. Be active in communicating with your manager. Don’t rely on waiting for him or her to initiate the contact.
  • Make it personal. Great work environments allow each of us to bring our whole selves to work. Connect with your manager in ways that don’t always circle back to work.  It can be as simple as asking about a family photo on their desk or what they did during the holiday weekend. This may seem trite; however, it’s the personal investment – and initiative – that creates a better work environment.
  • Create growth goals. Outline a series of steps you can take to enhance your current skill set.  Share these with your manager and initiate ways in your daily work for these skills to be developed.

What Can Managers Do?

  • Give timely feedback (both positive and negative). Give praise when it is unexpected. Let employees know immediately when they have made a mistake and jointly discuss the best way to follow up.
  • Delegate. Communicate expectations; ask for agreement and understanding when new responsibilities are added. Start small and reiterate expectations with each new task.
  • Development. Suggest ways for employees to develop and/or build skills. Work on a plan together to get it done.

E + R = O

Managers and employees alike can try the formula below as cited in “Case Studies with Established Learning Cultures” by Johnston & Hawke (2002).

Event (E) plus Response (R) = Outcomes (O). With this equation in mind, empowerment takes over where blame and a victim mentality may have been present. Empowerment occurs when there are options. You may not be able to change E, but you can change R and ultimately change O. When you recognize you’re not stuck, you can begin to take control of the potential outcomes you would like to achieve.

Individuals who use this formula start to see things differently and, as a result, start to experience things differently. Language changes from “should,” “must,” “got to,” to “get to.” This is a true indicator that you are practicing 100% responsibility. Give it a try over the next few weeks. Be conscious, take note – where can you take even just 10% more responsibility for your actions?