Promoting Independence in the Workplace

June 29, 2021 by Verified First

Promoting Independence in the Workplace

In light of the upcoming holiday, Independence Day, what better time to discuss independence in the workplace than now? The United States is built off of independence, yet, much of the workforce is still micromanaged — the antithesis of autonomy. Oftentimes, the micromanagement of employees indicates a lack of trust, eroding employee confidence and decreasing workplace morale. Not to mention, micromanagement can lead to learned helplessness, which stifles innovation. Promoting autonomy, on the other hand, sets the tone for an innovative, forward-thinking workforce. 

What does independence look like in the workplace?

Independence, professionally defined as autonomy, is the concept of giving people the freedom to make their own decisions. Promoting independence in the workplace is not necessarily a lack of guidance; instead, it provides employees a certain amount or specific types of autonomy in their day-to-day job duties. This level of trust empowers employees to be creative and motivated to produce work in the way they please and when they please.

A workplace that fosters autonomy could include:

  • Flexible work schedules
  • Freedom to determine how work gets done
  • Increased accountability
  • Empowered ownership

Workplace independence has many faces. Even the slightest bit of autonomy can have a significant (and positive) effect on employee morale and productivity. 

What are the benefits of promoting independence?

By building a foundation of trust and loyalty, organizations can experience one of the greatest benefits of autonomy: organizational alignment. People equal profit. In other words, when employees are empowered to take ownership of their work, they become more invested in the organization’s success and failure. This alone leads to a plethora of positive workplace outcomes.

Research has found, freedom in the workplace correlates to:

While micromanaging can lead to learned helplessness, autonomy can lead to the creation of self-starters and problem-solvers — something all managers love to see.

What independence looks like in action.

Let’s look at some workforce independence in action. Companies that have intentionally promoted an autonomous workplace have seen drastic benefits. Take Google, for example. 

Google engineers are allotted 20% of their time to explore passion projects. Want to know the results? Fifty percent of Google’s most remarkable ideas have come from that “20%” time slot. Without that time, we wouldn’t have Google Maps, Google News, Google Earth, and Gmail Labs. Thanks, Google

Not convinced? Take Post-it Notes for an example. Post-it Notes are yet another result of an autonomous workplace. Yep, that’s right! A creation that has resulted in (and continues to do so) a yearly revenue of $1 billion was an idea pursued during 3M’s 15% time. Genius!

Here’s one more example: Patagonia. While Patagonia has taken a different approach to autonomy, they still embrace and encourage employee independence in a plethora of ways, including allowing employees to: 

  • Create their own schedules. Creating your own schedule means you can control your night’s sleep, meal breaks, personal time, etc., making you that much more likely to be well-rested, motivated, and productive. 
  • Go surfing whenever they please. Allowing employees to exercise and blow off steam is an excellent way to increase productivity and decrease stress. Not to mention, exercising creates endorphins that produce a happy feeling in the body, increasing creativity and motivation.

As we know, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Take a page from one of these companies’ books and figure out how to implement autonomy in your own organization. 

How to promote independence.

Promoting autonomy in the workplace can’t happen overnight, though. It takes time to establish trust and make sure your employees are properly supported to handle an autonomous workplace. 

To start, consider:

  1. Defining clear goals and expectations. Support your team by (1) providing more coaching and less criticizing and (2) establishing rewards systems.
  2. Setting your team up for success. Equip your employees with what they need, including technology and other work-related resources.
  3. Promoting from within. Autonomous workplaces create a rise in leaders. Leaders engaged in an autonomous workplace are more likely to uphold the culture and trust their team to act independently.
  4. Building and refining your team to omit micromanaging tendencies. Search for signs of a micromanager on your current team and next time you’re hiring. Determine whether those tendencies can be unlearned. If not, see if there is another area/ assignment for them in the organization where more direction is needed. 
  5. Understanding your workforce. While some organizations have seen great successes in their autonomous workplace, it’s vital to get to know your employees and determine whether they would benefit from increased autonomy or increased direction. 
  6. Finding a balance. Too much autonomy can lead to a lack of control over your workforce. Not enough autonomy can lead to lower retention rates and a decrease in employee morale. Find a happy balance for you and your team. 

Key Tip: While the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the amount of independence in the workplace, it’s important to establish a sustainable plan for maintaining and encouraging autonomy.

Looking forward

Promoting employees to work on their own terms increases creativity and excitement. By hindering an autonomous workplace, employees’ true potentials are hidden — limiting possibilities for your organization.

To assess autonomy’s role in your organization, determine:

  • What does independence look like in the workplace? How can you apply autonomy in your own organization? What form of autonomy will do best with your population?
  • What are the benefits of promoting independence? Research the benefits you will see from autonomous initiatives. Determine how it will connect to ROI, internal career mobility, and greater productivity and retention rates.
  • What independence looks like in action. Understand what other organizations have done and how that can apply to your specific workforce.
  • How to promote autonomy. Don’t set your team up for failure. Make sure everyone is aligned on clear goals, expectations, and metrics.

For more thought leadership topics on the HR space, check out our HR at the Table webinar series and earn SHRM and HRCI credit while you’re at it!

About Verified First
Verified First is known for delivering streamlined background screening backed by the best client support, and for developing the easiest, fastest HR system integrations, for free. Our client support team is U.S.-based, answers calls in seconds, resulting in hundreds of positive testimonials and a 96% customer satisfaction. Verified First's patent-pending, award-winning integrations include over 100 applicant tracking systems, and provide clients a turn-key experience.

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