Artikel van Belle Beth Cooper op http://www.qz.com, mei 2016
The key to happiness at work isn’t money–it’s autonomy
When I was around 10 years old, my stay-at-home dad went back to work. For the next few years, he switched jobs a lot. For a while he took portraits in a photography studio; another time, he managed a bookstore. He told me more than once that he was looking for a job with plenty of autonomy. He was an independent spirit and liked to see his own ideas implemented–traits that I inherited from him. To this day, I know personal autonomy is an important factor when he’s choosing a new role.
“Autonomy is the antithesis of micromanagement,” writes Joan F. Cheverie, manager of professional development programs at the higher education and IT nonprofit EDUCAUSE. And it may be the best way to ensure your employees are happy at work.
In the workplace, autonomy essentially means having a job where you can make at least some of the decisions on your own. The degree of autonomy you have can vary dramatically, from having a say in your own goals or the projects you work on, to deciding when and where to do your work. For most people, it’s important to “perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions,” according to Cheverie.
This theory applies to groups as well as individuals. If a work team has the power to make decisions as a group—independent of higher management—that team is autonomous to some degree.
So what’s the big deal about autonomy? There are plenty of reasons why it’s worth caring about. One study in Taiwan surveyed 1,380 staff members from 230 community health centers. The more autonomy employees had at work, the more satisfied they were with their jobs and the less likely they were to transfer or leave their positions. Other studies have shown personal autonomy at work correlates to lower turnover among nursing-home workers, higher engagement at work for nurses, and increased job satisfaction among general practitioners in Australia.
The importance of autonomy becomes even more clear when compared to the deleterious effects of micromanagement. According to one research paper, the costs of long-term micromanagement can include “low employee morale, high staff turnover, [and] reduction of productivity.” In fact, the paper’s authors note, “The negative impacts are so intense that it is labeled among the top three reasons employees resign.”
Team autonomy also tends to decrease the levels of emotional exhaustion felt by individual team members. But in order for autonomy to work its magic, teams need to work as a cohesive unit. If everyone isn’t on the same page about what to do with their independence, the group finds itself uncertain about how to move forward, which actually reduces productivity and effectiveness. To ensure success, managers need to make sure there’s enough structure and leadership in place to keep everyone unified around the team’s goals.
All this suggests that managers and bosses would be wise to start loosening the reins on employees and express confidence in others’ abilities to make good decisions. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Finally, remember that the most important aspect of autonomy at work is a perceived feeling of choice. Whether employees are truly able to make their own decisions is less important than whether or not they feel that they are.
Employees who feel oppressed by their lack of autonomy may want to talk to managers about potential leadership opportunities on certain projects. If that doesn’t work, it could be time to search for a new gig. Thanks to my dad’s advice and the research I’ve covered here, I won’t take a role that lacks autonomy. It may seem like a small aspect of my work life, but if it can impact my happiness, my job satisfaction, and even my health, it’s not something I’m willing to compromise on.
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