Team Dynamics

How to Create Autonomy in the Workplace

By Beth Osborne for RallyBright

January 29, 2020

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If you’re a manager or team leader, empowering your employees to be self-starters and problem-solvers begins with autonomy. Micromanaging your team sends that signal that you don’t trust them and can be a leading reason for disengagement and poor job satisfaction. Autonomy in the workplace is critical for your company’s ability to grow and produce exceptional leaders. Although many businesses may claim to support employee autonomy, if it’s not part of your culture, then this may be a blind spot for your organization.

Employee Autonomy Benefits All

There’s a lot of research that looks at the benefits of workplace autonomy. According to a recent study, autonomy is one of the driving motivators in life and in the workplace. People inherently value having control over their own work, much more than control over others

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Research shows that autonomy reduces turnover and keeps employees engaged. Overall that leads to higher profitability and reduced costs. But how can you effectively execute a more autonomous environment for employees? There are several approaches that can help you do just that.

What Is Workplace Autonomy & What Is It Not?

First, it’s vital to define workplace autonomy. Autonomy means allowing employees to shape their work environment so they can perform to the best of their ability. Autonomy is not working in isolation, doing what you want whenever you want, or lack of guidance. An autonomous workplace is based on trust, respect, dependability and integrity.

Follow these best practices to boost and encourage employee autonomy.

Offer Flexibility, Ditch Rigidity

If you make an employee’s working conditions so rigid that they have no choices, they won’t be happy. It’s time to let go of the 40-hour workweek and 8-to-5 mentality. That’s not how the world works anymore.

Rather than measuring an employee’s effectiveness based on how many hours they worked, give them the freedom to make their own schedules and work remotely. What matters most is that they do their job well and complete tasks on time. Offering them the ability to choose how they work shows you trust them, and demonstrates your commitment to autonomy in the workplace.

Create an Accountable Culture, Not One of Fear

Mistakes happen. No business is immune to this, and hovering over your employees won’t reduce or eliminate them. While it’s important to have a culture that holds employees accountable for mistakes, don’t respond with anger. If you do, then everyone will become paralyzed by fear, essentially ending innovation. Find a balance that helps employees learn from mistakes so that they can improve.

Grant Employees Ownership

If you want your employees to be on board with a project, you need to give them some ownership. If they don’t feel that part of the initiative is theirs, then they are likely to go through the motions, simply doing the bare minimum.

For example, if you know an employee has a specific skill or experience that would be valuable for a new project, then encourage them to share their knowledge and lead. This kind of employee autonomy can jumpstart a project and lets the employee know their input is valued.

Ask Employees for Their Opinions, Then Listen

Lots of managers send out engagement surveys and 360-degree assessments. By doing this, you are telling employees you want their honest feedback. However, if you don’t do anything with what you collect, it’s a great way to show your people that their opinions don’t matter.

You should, instead, listen to what they have to say. Pay attention to what they are saying, as they have a different – and valuable – perspective on where the gaps and weaknesses are. Then develop plans to change processes, communications or anything else that can improve your company and lead to greater successes.

Give Employees the Tools They Need

One way to zap the passion out of your team is by giving them goals they can never achieve because they don’t have the right tools. They may need technology, training and input from subject matter experts. Autonomy in the workplace has as much to do with access as it does trust.

Without the right tools, frustration and disengagement will build. However, ensuring your people are set up to succeed by providing them what they need is a pathway to stronger employee autonomy.

Higher Autonomy Can Drive Greater Resilience

Resilience is a powerful attribute for employees, and autonomy done well fosters this. If your workplace is extremely controlled and doesn’t offer individuals the opportunity to think for themselves, it creates an atmosphere of “learned helplessness.”

In this scenario, employees don’t bother to add ideas or opinions. They merely passively wait for direct orders. This is not a situation that’s conducive to growth or innovation. Resilient employees can handle the demands of the workplace better because they feel they have a say. They’ll also respond better to change and challenges.

Cultivating an autonomous workplace should be a priority for your business if you care about results. If you don’t trust your employees to handle their responsibilities, then they’ll figure it out quickly and seek a better environment. Don’t be a short stop on their way to a fulfilling career. Instead, be a workplace where everyone wants to stay by making autonomy part of the culture of your business.

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