When it comes to managing employees, it can be tempting to watch your workers like a hawk. However, new research shows that granting a degree of autonomy to your employees tends to boost their job satisfaction and overall sense of well-being.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham Business School found that workers given more autonomy – in the form of work from home privileges or the pace of work and deadlines – were far more likely to report feeling valued by their employers.
"Greater levels of control over work tasks and schedule have the potential to generate significant benefits for the employee," Daniel Wheatley, senior lecturer in business and labour economics at the Birmingham Business School, said in a statement. "The positive effects associated with informal flexibility and working at home offer further support to the suggestion that schedule control is highly valued and important to employees 'enjoying' work."
When it comes to autonomy, the disparity between management and worker is apparent: 90 percent of those employees working in management reported "some" or "a lot" of autonomy in the workplace, while just 40 to 50 percent of non-management professionals surveyed reported experiencing autonomous working conditions. The remaining half of employees reported no autonomy in their workplace, researchers found.
Autonomy also comes in different shapes and sizes for different employees. The study found, for example, that men and women tend to enjoy different aspects of autonomy and were affected by it in different ways.
For women, Wheatley said, the type of work and level of control over scheduling and location was often more important, while men typically found control over job tasks, the pace of work, and the order of task completion to be particularly important.
Despite the benefits reported by those employees that experience greater autonomy in the workplace, researchers also found that managers tend to be skeptical of extending more autonomy to the workers they oversee. Researchers hypothesize that the reluctance on the part of managers stems from a desire to keep productivity levels high, and the stigma that greater autonomy might undermine their role of "control and effort extraction" from employees.
The data examined by University of Birmingham Business School researchers includes responses from 20,000 employees over two years. The research was first published in the journal Work and Occupations.