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