Autonomy, as it relates to productivity, often gets forgotten about completely. But it plays a strong role in stoking the productive fire and in a way that has positive effects all around. When managers understand this relationship between autonomy and personal productivity, they can help employees not only get more work done but also feel happier with their jobs.
Autonomy in this sense means workers have some amount of freedom to make decisions about their work and how to do it. It could be the process they use to get their work done, the tools they use, or their hours. One group of researchers (Kim et al., 2016) even suggests that people can feel a heightened sense of autonomy in deciding where to work, such as at home, in a cafe, in an open-office environment, or in an office with a door.
When employees are allowed to make decisions related to their work, we see a number of positive effects. In the case of choosing their work location, they might have greater overall work satisfaction (Van der Voordt, 2004), which can lead to lower employee turnover. Two studies (Gagne and Deci, 2005; Hackman and Oldham, 1976) have found that intrinsic motivation, or feeling driven to do one’s work, is tightly tied to autonomy.
Giving employees autonomy can also come across as having trust in their competence and dependability (Semmer, 2015). Again, the benefits that spinoff from employees feeling trusted are numerous: greater job satisfaction, greater independence, an increased sense of commitment, and so on.
We also know that feel autonomy is related to lower job stress (Dabbish, 2006, citing Hackman and Oldham, 1975). It makes sense. When someone else micromanages not only what you do but how, when, and where you do it, that’s stressful. Having some control and decision-making abilities is not only less stressful but also more gratifying.
For all these reasons, giving employees autonomy in whatever way it’s available to them, leads to better outcomes for workers, managers, and organizations.
Dabbish, L. A. & Kraut, R. E. (2006). Email Overload at Work: An Analysis of Factors Associated with Email Strain. Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work: 431-40.
Gagne, M. & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior 26: 331–62.
Hackman, J. R. & Oldham, G. R. “Development of the Job Diagnostic Survey.” Journal of Applied Psychology, 60 (1975), 159-70.
Hackman, J. R., & Oldham, G. R. (1976). Motivation through the design of work: test of a theory. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 16: 250-79.
Kim, J., Candido, C., Thomas, L., & de Dear, R. (2016). Desk ownership in the workplace: The effect of non-territorial working on employee workplace satisfaction, perceived productivity and health. Building and Environment(103) 203-214.
Semmer, N. K., et al. (2015). Illegitimate tasks as a source of work stress. Work & Stress 29(1): 32–56.
Van der Voordt, T.J.M. (2004). Costs and benefits of flexible workspaces: work in progress in The Netherlands, Facilities 22 (9/10) (2004) 240e246.
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[…] are more straightforward studies, too. For example, studies show that having increased autonomy makes people more productive. We also know that priming people to feel happy leads them to work harder and more diligently on […]