• Opinion: Why employee autonomy is the new command and control

  • 19 Jan 2016
  • Comments 1 comments

A lack of choice and control at work is deeply threatening, warns Susanne Jacobs, and results in inefficiency

Ever felt like there is just too much to do? The house work, that tile that’s fallen off and needs repairing, the play date you owe?

Then there is the deadline at work, the presentation you need to prepare, and the emails breeding before your eyes.

How does this make you feel? Overwhelmed, out of control?

What should you do? Procrastination is a pretty normal response. This is certainly true for me.

Now add to this, being micromanaged at work by a line manager intent on controlling every aspect of your work. Or not being able to give your family and friends the attention you would like to or not having the time for exercise and hobbies outside of work. It’s the good old challenge of work-life balance.

Now how about putting yourself in the position where you are accused of something you didn’t do. You are arrested and imprisoned. No-one listens to your pleas of innocence. What’s going through your mind now? How do you feel?

This last example is extreme, but it demonstrates my point, as our sense of control diminishes so does our perception of choice and autonomy and to our brains this represents danger.

If the neurological perception is of limited control then our brain’s interpretation is that our safety is in the hands of others and the outside world. And as with any perception of threat our performance suffers.

I have lost count of the number of people I’ve worked with who feel they have little say in how to juggle their workload.

There are some who feel beholden to a pay packet that provides significant sums and purchasing power at the price of all consuming work, while others have little choice but to work all hours to make ends meet.

Whether it is a chirruping smartphone, a controlling boss, financial concerns, workload or simply our own thoughts, a lack of choice and control is deeply threatening and leaves us floundering in inefficiency.

At work, providing an environment that includes perceived choice, autonomy and control is a necessary function for high performing teams. When people are allowed to function autonomously they are more deeply engaged and productive.

Think about a recent change at work. How often did you hear, or use, words along the lines of: “They told us,” or, “It’s come from above.” Who ‘they’ are is immaterial, although it can be assumed to be people at an undefined leadership level. The important bit is behind the words.

Try replacing these phrases with: “I’ve been told,” or, “I haven’t been asked,” or “No one gave me a choice.”

You could argue that it’s not always possible to offer people a choice or hand over control, particularly during change. And I’d agree to a certain extent.

But there are always ways of supporting a sense of control and choice even if they happen to be smaller parts of the whole. The rewards will come in the form of higher employee engagement and motivation.

Add Comment
Comment List
Comments (1)
  • Totally Agree that Autonomy is one of the crucial parts of the new world of thinking on how to best motivate employees - reference Dan Pink model. Control over WHEN- HOW - WHOM IT IS DONE WITH AND WHAT WE DO contribute greatly to motivating employees. This is so true as more millenials join and move up the corporate ladder as it is this that they demand form organisations.