Editors Pick

Why you need to have a happy workforce

27th July 2023

Stuart Thomson on unleashing the power of autonomy in the workplace

Stuart Thomson

In any role, one essential question to ask is: ‘How much autonomy do I have?’ That will tell you a lot about your role, prospects and the type of organisation you work for. That one question can set you on an important future path.

The question of autonomy in any workplace will tell you about the level of independence and self-governance that you can enjoy in your role. It is also provides an indication about your role in decision-making processes.

The challenge

Any employer should be able to give a good answer about autonomy. If they can then it says a lot about the consideration that has been given to granting employees the freedom to make choices. How much they are allowed to exercise their judgment and under what circumstances. How much ownership they have over their own work. It demonstrates that they know and understand how autonomy works at all levels and how it can benefit an organisation as well as an individual.

Are you there to play a role in a system or a process or are you able to push boundaries? There will, of course, be limits but if an organisation is looking to deliver a service to clients, develop new products or seek to be innovative then a role for autonomy is critical.

Autonomy allows individuals to have some control over their tasks, schedules, and approach to their responsibilities.


A more autonomous approach means that line managers are not constantly keeping a check or exerting high levels of micromanagement.

It is the type of question that should be asked in any interview. It can help you decide whether it is an organisation you really want to commit to.

The benefits

What does it deliver for you and the organisation you work for?

1)    Increased motivation – a higher level of autonomy increases personal accountability and also motivation among employees. There is a feeling that ‘we are all in this together’.

2)    Delivery of new ideas – autonomy provides the space to enhance creativity and innovation. When an individual knows that they are not going to face criticism for exploring new ideas or taking risks then it builds an environment that supports innovation.

3)    Improved job satisfaction – having control over work tasks and a working day can lead to higher levels of job satisfaction. An individual is often better able to recognise their own strengths, and weaknesses, so can align their work with them.

4)    Building your own path – going a step further, recognising those very strengths and weaknesses, fosters a path of continuous professional development and learning. That helps individuals and organisations.

5)    A thirst for new challenges – with the skills in place, individuals feel better able to face new challenges and take on more responsibility. The path is one towards building and equipping the leaders of the future.

There are studies that have shown that autonomy delivers improved productivity. Many organisations have a productivity challenge so autonomy is one way of addressing that.

What do you need?

Autonomy in a role is beneficial but always consider the support mechanisms that go with it. You will still need guidance, feedback, and a supportive work environment. Can you rely in a line manager to provide that or is there a risk of being cut adrift? You also need to think about how much autonomy you feel comfortable with at the stage of your career. There is no one fixed level, it can vary over time. With autonomy comes responsibility that you need to take ownership of.

You may wish for a work environment in which you are respected enough to enjoy autonomy and that should be on offer. But autonomy can increase over time and a supportive environment is needed. Autonomy can help you to use your unique abilities to contribute to the success now and in the future of an organisation

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