Updated: Nov 2, 2020
Although many organizations choose to support the idea of employee autonomy, this turns out to be an ambitious goal for many.
If you are a manger your angle on this perhaps involves understandable worries such as would employees finish their assignments, or would they be done properly, maybe even thinking it is better to control more and make sure everything is done as it is expected.
Many employees, on another hand, believe that autonomy is just what they need to feel less stressed, more progressive with their work and that excessive supervision is what puts unnecessary pressure, added to long working hours and heavy workloads they have.
The question here is not if you can give employees autonomy with their jobs, but how you can do it so that it is useful and helpful for everyone in your organization. Here is what research says.
1. Share the big picture with everyone
What research shows as crucial for job autonomy is sharing the big picture from the top leadership with the rest of the team. Not sharing the vision of the future and certain steps that leaders are going to take on the road, creates a potential for many blow-ups across the organization, on different levels
What employees need to is to relate their daily tasks and duties with the overall goal, and if they cannot see how their efforts are contributing to it, they will lack the motivation and will not be giving their maximum to it.
Instead of delegating tasks to your mid-level managers, who in turn just delegate it all further down the hierarchy line, share your vision with your team as you surely want everyone engaged fully and giving their best in what they do when they come to work in the morning.
2. Involve everyone into it
Even better than just sharing your vision would be involving employees in goal setting. One way of doing that is making yourself approachable so that employees can share with you their ideas, knowledge, or experience, knowing that you will listen to them. And if your final your decision does not involve all of their ideas, knowing that you were working on something as a team had already set the ground for mutual understanding, showing employees respect and thus avoiding conflicts, employees feeling unappreciated and disengaged furthermore.
By involving them in this process, they know that you are on the same side and, creating that kind of connection with them while working on your bigger picture is what brings you all together and what makes your way to success more powerful.
3. Delegate without micromanaging
Every job role comes with its duties and responsibilities. Being clear with job responsibilities is essential before delegating tasks to any employee. By doing so, it is easy to keep everyone accountable for their jobs and understanding that allocating tasks is necessary, however, employees need to have a clear picture of what they are accountable for. Your respect can be expressed by leaving them the autonomy in choosing how they can deliver their tasks. That means giving employees autonomy, but appreciating that this is a give-and-take situation.
This can result in mistakes, certainly, but how many of our jobs are death or life situations, and how many professions are as such? Managerial roles involve much more than delegating tasks. They are about support, coaching, and giving constructive feedback to team members, as well. Employees need their supervisors’ feedback to develop further and reach their full potential in all job aspects.
4. Provide resources and tools to reach goals
Giving deadlines, expecting the work to be done in time, and having standards is proven to contribute to employee motivation. You can also encourage your team members to solve something on their own and make them feel trust that they will not be punished if mistakes happen, but also acknowledge what are the resources they need in that way. There are some questions to consider here: does it involve any technology investment, fixing broken printer that consumes a lot of everyone’s time, is it training for some departments, or whatever it is that can be done to support teams in what they are doing and that is on the management to deliver.
Higher Autonomy Creates Greater Resilience
Employees need to know that their learning is supported and one day you will need to be able to count on their autonomy, like in a recent period when our lives have been changed radically overnight and the work itself has been transformed for many. If there is a common thing leaders have recognized during this period is that they want their employees to be independent and able to bounce back and work their way through it all, without feeling overwhelmed. When that day comes again, you can be ready for it.
Holding everyone accountable, from mid-level managers for developing their teams, support, and coaching provided, to employees that deliver the tasks, by showing them respect and providing them tools is what creates a resilient culture of high-achievers. Expect the best from everyone, but make your employees feel valued and supported on your way to the top.
Resilience is a powerful characteristic for employees, and autonomy done well raises it. 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 setting, employees simply passively wait for direct orders. This is not a situation that’s contributing to growth or innovation. What makes employees resilient in the workplace is when they feel they have a say and that is when they also respond better to change and challenges. Resilient workplaces include all of that: a compelling vision shared with the team, great leadership, and communication on all levels that creates strong cultures, embracing change, and hiring resilient employees. These are not just a trend now, but a necessity for companies today.
Promoting an autonomous workplace should be a priority for businesses that care about results. If you don’t trust your employees to handle their responsibilities, they will not have trust in you and that you are making decisions that have their best interest in mind. And what is more valuable to any company than its employees?
Instead, be a workplace where everyone wants to stay by making autonomy part of the culture of your business and create a culture of high-achievers and high-collaboration.
Author: Ana Smiljkovic
Ana is a certified HR and L&D professional, focused on growth and education, helping people develop their potential through learning key soft skills for career building, with a particular interest in resilience in the workplace. Currently living and working in the UAE.