Autonomy cited as key factor in improving job satisfaction

MC&A November Newsletter - Autonomy cited as key factor in improving job satisfaction

Autonomy cited as key factor in improving job satisfaction

Autonomy cited as key factor in improving job satisfaction

While external motivators, such as a promotion or employer-paid benefits, can be successful in encouraging employees to perform well, the intrinsic need for autonomy can be even more powerful, researchers have found.

“There is strong evidence that having more autonomy at work is associated with higher job satisfaction across most jobs,” says Harjinder Gill, a professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Guelph.

The comments follow an article in New York Magazine recently on the value people place on autonomy over authority. The article followed a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and based on an experiment in which participants broke off into two groups. It asked half of them to imagine themselves in an autonomous position at work and then offered them the chance to trade it for a highly influential role in which they’d manage a team of subordinates. As for the other half of the participants, the study asked them to imagine they were already managing people but had the chance to trade their authority for independence.

In both scenarios, the majority of people chose autonomy, according to the New York Magazine article. Of those participants who already had autonomy, 74 per cent turned down the promotion to manage others, and of those who already held influence over others, 62 per cent accepted the trade to a position with more self-governance.

Read: Which careers have the highest level of employee satisfaction?

Gill points to several psychological models and theories that indicate that independence plays an important role in motivating people at work. In fact, Gill says autonomy is a basic need and its importance is even evident in children. Studies demonstrate children respond better to requests when they’re able to make simple choices, she says, noting that having some autonomy makes children feel more empowered.

And for creative professionals, freedom and flexibility over their work can be especially helpful in producing better results.

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After graduating in 2012, graphic designer Daniel Francavilla was unable to find a job that gave him a significant degree of independence. So he decided to freelance as a professional, eventually creating his own startup business, Now Creative Group. Today, he works with other creative professionals in offering clients design, digital, marketing and media services.

“We don’t like to work within crazy confines because we’re not able to operate best that way,” says Francavilla. His team members determines their own schedules and have a degree of control over their projects as long as they meet deliverables.

“You don’t want to always be told what to do non-stop, especially if you’re creative. We’re a lot less effective if we’re totally confined to a process that’s not our own.”

Read: 71% would turn down a job that offered no flexibility: survey

Autonomy is applicable to other roles as well, says Lisa Kay, president and lead consultant at Peak Performance Human Resources Corp., noting managers can give employees independence through their schedules, work environments or even their daily tasks as long as they accomplish their goals.

Offering this style of working improves employee engagement and retention, she adds. “I know throughout exit interviews that I’ve conducted . . . if they’re in a more old-fashioned work environment where they’re getting micromanaged and not allowed to have that autonomy, people leave.”

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Inevitably, there are some jobs that don’t allow that kind of freedom, says Gill, citing sales and retail roles as examples.

Even so, providing autonomy isn’t as simple as letting employees have full control over their work. Kay says managers should still clarify performance expectations and provide support if needed. “Although most prefer it, some people may not. So it’s making sure whomever you’re giving that autonomy to is comfortable with that level of independence,” she says.

excerpts provided by: Benefits Canada, September 2016

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