The Value in Flexibility: How autonomy and accountability provide the best work environment

No one likes to be micromanaged at work. Not only does having a boss constantly looking over your shoulder cause frustration, but it also damages leadership trust in the workplace. That’s why autonomy at work is so important.

Autonomy in the workplace means giving employees the freedom to work in a way that suits them. Over the past couple years, companies and employees have been able to start practicing this, especially with so many people working remotely part time or fully. 

When working remotely, autonomy is engaged to a certain point, and employees get to decide how and when their work should be done to some extent. However, autonomy needs to be carried through to the office to help foster a flexible and empowering workflow from home to office. 

What is autonomy in the workplace?

Autonomy at work refers to how much freedom employees have to do their jobs. Specifically, it relates to the pace at which work is completed, its order of completion, and a person’s freedom to work without micromanagement.

Sometimes rules stifle creative thinking and create unneeded performance pressure. If giving freedom sounds potentially chaotic, let’s look at the situation from a different angle. 

Increased workplace autonomy embraces the concept that not everyone is the same. They don’t work at the same pace, they don’t respond to the same incentives or guidelines, and they don’t compartmentalize their flow in the same way. And just because they don’t all have the same approach, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are doing their job incorrectly. Trust is given to each employee based on the notion that they will get the job done. 

Job autonomy is defined by working toward a set goal. How employees reach that goal may be open, with certain timelines in place – the employee won’t just be answering to themselves. They will also have to answer to their workplace team they have let down.

Why is autonomy in the workplace important?

A workforce feels less pressured and more confident when given autonomy. Here are some of the benefits:

  1. Increases job satisfaction

Some companies struggle to increase job satisfaction because they take the wrong approach. They often overlook removing strict predetermined rules. The simple act of granting employees autonomy increases job satisfaction. 

  1. Creates employee engagement and motivation

Workplace engagement and work motivation naturally increase when team members have to make their own decisions. Learning a set of strict rules and sticking to them is a tedious way to work. This is even more true when employees are punished for deviating from the rules.

  1. Improves employee retention

Increased job autonomy results in happier employees. Happy employees do not feel the need to seek out other work. Job turnover is, therefore, significantly reduced, saving time and effort in recruitment and onboarding.

  1. Encourages creativity and innovation

Free thinking people come up with unique and creative solutions. In turn, this gives rise to innovation.

  1. Builds a culture of trust

A workforce based around trust works efficiently, thereby boosting productivity. When employees understand that they’re trusted to achieve tasks, that same trust is extended back to leaders. The resulting workplace culture of mutual trust is a setting for true innovation.

  1. Boosts productivity

An employee that is allowed autonomy is self-motivated, inspired to achieve, and more likely to engage with work. The inevitable result is a boost in productivity. 

  1. Employees feel valued

Little makes an employee feel as valued as having freedom. When goals are achieved via personal thinking and innovation, successful results mean praise. Since it was their solution that produced results, they are deserving of recognition and credit.

  1. Develops leadership qualities in employees

When employees have autonomy in the workplace, they develop self-reliance and resilience. These are two of many important leadership skills. 

  1. Promotes skill development

When creativity is allowed, innovation is inevitable. Innovative solutions often require new skills, and with increased responsibility, employees feel encouraged to expand their skill set. The result is a workforce that strives to improve itself based on personal goals.

Empowered employees are happier, and happy employees are productive and motivated. Empowerment helps employees and their managers grow and develop faster, professionally and personally.