Decades ago, the word “autonomy” was reserved for upper management. In traditional workplaces all over the world, it was hard to imagine that a regular employee would have any sort of independence or ownership of their projects.
In the modern workplace, however, it’s hard to imagine a job without a certain degree of autonomy. Letting your people take charge of their own work improves trust, engagement, and ultimately, employee retention.
There are several definitions of job autonomy but let’s focus on the most general one.
Job autonomy can be casually defined as the ability of employees to have control over their work situation. Depending on the field you work in, this can mean different things. For example, job autonomy as an employee in a marketing agency might mean the ability to choose clients, take ownership of the creative process, and/or set client budgets.
Job autonomy is about independence and decision-making.
A lack of job autonomy can leave your employees feeling disenfranchised. There’s no better way to make your employees feel useless than to rob them of autonomy and leave decision-making only to upper management.
It’s not isolation. The fact that your employees should be confident and take ownership of their work doesn’t mean they should work alone. Job autonomy doesn’t eliminate the need for collaboration and brainstorming.
It’s not working without guidance. Autonomy allows your people to make important decisions but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t respect the overall direction your company is taking. You need to provide a general strategy and let people execute on projects.
It’s not complete independence. This means that your employees still have responsibility and are a part of the company with its culture, tradition and identity.
Focusing on job autonomy can benefit your business in several ways. Not only will it create a strong culture that encourages initiative and responsibility, but it will have a lasting impact on your company as a whole.
Here are some positive outcomes of increasing your people’s autonomy:
Increased employee engagement. If you give your employees more responsibilities and trust them to do their job conscientiously, they will be more engaged.
Happier employees. Research shows that job autonomy can affect multiple measures of employee happiness, including increased job satisfaction and less stress.
More efficient workforce. Having upper management trying to micromanage every employee is a ticket straight to inefficiency. A company that relies on micromanagement can experience low employee morale and a reduction in productivity. Give your employees more freedom and more responsibility instead.
Development of leaders. Giving people more responsibilities is one of the best ways to ensure their development and personal growth and make it possible to promote leaders from within, rather than hiring from outside. Give people a chance to show you they can lead.
Turnover reduction. As of August 2019, almost half of all employees were thinking of quitting. That’s a wild statistic. Yes, some amount of turnover is normal (and even healthy), but increased turnover can lead to serious instability. When you trust your employees and give them more autonomy, they’re more likely to have a positive relationship with your company and each other and stay put.
Now that we know what job autonomy means and how important it is, let’s get into what you can do to give your employees more of it.
One easy way to increase autonomy is to use different tools that allow more transparent information sharing and project management.Transparency is really key to building trust and letting people take ownership of their own work.
For example, Pingboard is a tool that can help you transform your company culture and increase transparency in a matter of weeks. It allows your employees to know each other better – from things like important work info (email, phone, Slack) to favorite bands, favorite Netflix binge, and other interests and skills.
With Pingboard, you can build communities, support employee networks, and make sure everyone feels appreciated. Empowering your people and building community is one of the best ways to promote job autonomy.
Of course, there are other tools that can help. Project management tools like Trello, Teamwork, and Microsoft Teams can help your employees manage their projects and create small tiger teams dedicated to specific projects. Trusting your potential leaders with such tools can give them more organizational freedom and make them feel valued.
Tools that help your people learn new things (like DevSkiller) and improve technical skills also show you care about their development and count on them to handle even more in the future.
Strict policies like 9-to-5 working hours and complicated corporate procedures can create an atmosphere that inhibits freedom and creativity.
Measuring employees’ success shouldn’t be done by analyzing how many hours they’ve put in each week. What matters is the quality of those hours – is their work done well and on time?
Flexibility demonstrates trust and shows that you’re committed to promoting autonomy in the company.
Mistakes are, unfortunately, an unavoidable part of any workplace.
You should never create an atmosphere that sees mistakes as tragic. When you create a culture of more autonomy, be comfortable seeing mistakes as an opportunity to learn. People need to take risks in order to grow, and shouldn’t be afraid to make decisions and work at the edge of their potential.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t strive for accountability. The key thing is to emphasize improvement and a culture of learning.
Finally, let’s take a look at what you as an employee can do to ask for more job autonomy and empower yourself.
Organize tasks. You may not be able to choose your tasks but you can take ownership of them and organize them as a leader. That means setting deadlines for project phases, having agendas for each meeting, keeping notes, and giving feedback to other team members involved.
Be direct when talking about projects. If you take on a leadership role on a new project, speak up from the start. Voice your concerns, express your enthusiasm and share ideas on potential challenges you’ve identified.
Ask for feedback. If you aren’t getting feedback, be proactive and ask for it. This will show your manager you’re serious about your job and you’re looking for ways to improve.
Proactively communicate. Even if your boss isn’t overseeing your project directly, give them a brief project update every week via quick email. It’ll reassure your manager that you’re on top of things.
Promoting job autonomy can do great things for your organization. Not only does it empower employees and create a pleasant working environment, but the top management will be relieved and the whole business will be more productive. Also, people on the ground often see things leaders miss—we all bring important perspectives.
So, start by assessing your current levels of job autonomy by positions – ask your employees for feedback and see how empowered they already feel (or don’t feel).
After that, take steps we described in this article and make it your priority to focus on job autonomy as a key part of your company culture.