Giving employees more autonomy pays huge dividends

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

WASHINGTON - Workers who feel they are free to make choices at workplace and be accountable for them are happier and more productive, suggests a new book.

The book, ‘Human Autonomy in Cross-Cultural Context: Perspectives on the Psychology of Agency, Freedom, and Well-Being,’ co-authored by Marylene Gagne and Devasheesh Bhave from Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, stated that there’s no universal cross-cultural definition of autonomy.

What people from one culture perceive as workplace freedom, those from another may view as simple disorganization.

“The perception of autonomy has very positive effects on workers. However, managers can’t simply export North American methods of granting autonomy anywhere and expect them to work,” said Gagne.

“Even in Canada, approaches to giving workers more autonomy need to be constantly rethought as the country becomes more multicultural. People don’t always react the same way to management initiatives as they did in the past,” she said.

No matter how autonomy is defined, when people feel they have latitude the results are impressive. Potential benefits include greater employee commitment, better performance, improved productivity and lower turnover.

“Autonomy is especially likely to lead to better productivity when the work is complex or requires more creativity. In a very routine job, autonomy doesn’t have much impact on productivity, but it can still increase satisfaction, which leads to other positive outcomes,” said Gagne.

Paradoxically, some employers are now actually reducing workers’ autonomy by monitoring behaviour on workplace computers, or even on the phone or in the car. It’s another reason why cartoons like Dilbert are so popular, says Gagne.

“They strike a responsive chord in many people because they show what the work environment has become for some individuals,” she added. (ANI)

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