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How to support employees in finding autonomy in the workplace

When workers feel micromanaged and their managers constantly over their shoulders, they feel overwhelmed. The inability to make your own work decisions or feel trusted by management can damage relationships and is why people leave their jobs.

Employees want autonomy. The opportunity to feel ownership over their job, be responsible for their tasks and feel free to perform at their best. So, this article can be your guide to creating a workforce capable of working autonomously and an organizational culture that supports their independence. We will explore:

  • What does workplace autonomy mean
  • What can a company do to cultivate autonomy amongst its employees
  • Alongside how employees can show that they are capable of dealing with more autonomy

What does workplace autonomy mean?

Workplace autonomy enables employees to control their work experience and actions. As a result, employees feel supported with flexibility and choice, and instead of work feeling compulsory, they feel motivated intrinsically to work.

With the freedom to do their job, be more creative, and without unneeded performance pressure, autonomy can increase feelings of wellness and improve job satisfaction. Conversely, a lack of independence can increase stress and dissatisfaction with their working life.

Today, achieving autonomy at work is taking on new importance. Workers today are two and a half times more likely to take a job that gives them more independence than they would a position that grants more influence

The ability of a company to offer their employees more freedom at work, and the chance to direct their own life better, is a growing consideration among top talent when surveying the job landscape. So, to stay ahead of the curve, businesses must consider creating more options for their employees to work autonomously.

Of course, it depends on the nature of a company's work or the type of organization you have. And with workforces made up of so many various components, all with different needs, there may be employees who require more guidance whilst others are more able to work independently and relish the trust afforded to them.

Nevertheless, if employees can achieve workplace autonomy, it can empower and create a sense of ownership for their job. Moreover, the freedom to choose and complete their work, within reason, can make them more conscientious and creative, improving productivity and performance.

How can you create an autonomous working environment?

To create a workplace that helps your employees achieve autonomy and feel ownership regarding their work, you can consider these ideas.

Hire the right individuals with the right traits

Not everyone is looking for autonomy at work. But if you are looking to move towards this working style, you need to focus your recruitment search on those who seek more independence and have previously delivered in such a workplace environment.

You need to hire those confident with autonomy, naturally engaged, and seek to push themselves beyond where they are today. Then these individuals can role model the sorts of behavior you wish the rest of your workforce to embrace. To build an autonomous organization, hiring the right people to guide the rest of the team is a crucial first step.

What do your employees want regarding autonomy?

You can only improve autonomy in your workplace by engaging with those living and experiencing work every day. So, talking with your employees can go a long way in broadening your understanding of their daily work lives and coming up with solutions that could lead to greater autonomy.

By staging individual and group meetings with your employees, you can gather their opinions and feedback regarding autonomy. These talking points are a valuable starting point:

  • How do they feel about their level of independence currently?
  • How much ownership do they think they have regarding their work?
  • How do they like to work?
  • What could help them to be more productive?
  • Discuss their aspirations and how you can support them to achieve these.

You can learn what your teams need to work autonomously from these conversations. The valuable insight you acquire can help you make the work environment more suited to their needs; consider whether you need to take a step back or offer more flexibility in the working day.

Establish a shared vision and purpose

Autonomy doesn't mean working without a net or figuring out a job with no input from management. Instead, it requires clear guidance, procedures, and defining the boundaries of employees' decision-making capabilities. Only within limits can autonomy flourish and empower employees to deliver excellence. 

The sharing of goals and the company's direction can lead to a more autonomous workplace. The workforce is clear about their role in achieving targets. A lack of guidance or knowledge can increase an employee's reliance on you for answers. But, when they know what they have to do, they can use their skills to support themselves.

When creating a more autonomous workplace, you must be your employee's guide to maintain focus. With benchmarks for performance and outlining each stage of a project, work can be more manageable. So, the individual knows your expectations, and they have clear points of progress to strive to deliver.

Ready to support when needed

On occasion, too much autonomy can result in disorganization. As a manager, without stepping on your employee's toes or micromanaging, you should know when your experience and know-how is needed. 

Depending on the situation, employees may require outside help, such as receiving feedback regarding a large project or offering direction to employees confused by a brief. Therefore, it is crucial to monitor the progress of your teams closely.

However, it doesn't mean that you are ready to take over at the first sign of any bumps in the road. Instead, your role is to support, offer guidance and help your teams get back on track. 

A manager's role is to offer clarity and be a source of knowledge for your teams. Through experience, we learn from our mistakes and improve our work and methods. To create an autonomous workplace, you must step back as your employees step forward.

To achieve autonomy, think beyond work

To build a culture of autonomy, you need to enable it in all aspects of your business's activities.

Install a flexible working policy where employees create their schedules or allow staff to choose from where they work. The provision of choice is an indicator of trust. Additionally, offering benefits gives employees more control or investing in workplace tools to help schedule their daily work rather than be told what to do.

These are all steps to improve the autonomy of your employees.

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