Examples of Autonomy In The Workplace & How To Get More Of It

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Examples of Autonomy In The Workplace & How To Get More Of It 

August 6, 2019

Autonomy, in the context of Self-Determination Theory, can be defined as the need to be in charge of our experiences and actions – a slightly different definition from the traditional idea that autonomy equals independence. The distinction here is that autonomy, in this context, demonstrates an enthusiasm and eagerness to participate in various activities or behaviors because they are in alignment with an individual’s true interests and values. There is a sense of option and choice which allows individuals to engage in activities wholeheartedly rather than acting on something purely because they are “doing what they’re told.”

More and more, studies are showing that embracing autonomy in the workplace leads to positive effects on well-being and job satisfaction. And, increased autonomy at work is known to show an increase in the motivation levels, creativity and happiness of employees. Managers are also realizing that supporting autonomy is essential as it equates to optimal productivity from reports due to their willingness to perform and complete tasks. Other perks of autonomy fulfillment, in and out of the workplace, are feeling psychologically healthy, secure in relationships and the ability to perform to the best of one’s abilities while also feeling satisfied with the job at hand.

As with all of the three core needs (autonomy, mastery and relatedness) autonomy can either be fulfilled or thwarted. In the context of Self-Determination Theory, autonomy is broken down into two concepts, autonomy support and autonomy fulfillment. Read on to discover the distinction between the two as well as how you can take ownership of your autonomy at work.

Autonomy Support:

This is the feeling that one is supported in their work and given appropriate flexibility and choice, when possible, to engage in the activities that mirror personal values and interests. The role that managers play is critical in the context of autonomous working as they can either be an advocate or opponent for this core need. It is important for business leaders to consider autonomy support as underachievement can be attributed to a lack of support. Further, when organizations or managers neglect one’s values and control or pressure individuals to behave in a specific way, autonomy is thwarted, leaving people to feel dissatisfied, demotivated and pushed around. Methods for demonstrating autonomy support might include:

  • Adopting an individual’s perspective
  • Inviting employees to share their thoughts and feelings surrounding various work activities
  • Supporting autonomous self-regulation
  • Providing meaningful rationales and information about choices and requests
  • Demonstrating patience and providing time for self-learning


Autonomy Fulfillment:

This is the feeling an individual experiences when they are willingly engaged in the work they are doing rather than feeling forced or pressured to complete it. Autonomy fulfillment also refers to the sense that the work one is doing is actually valued and appreciated by their managers and colleagues.

Regardless of context or culture, everyone requires autonomy in order to feel satisfied. Methods for achieving autonomy fulfillment might include:

Acknowledging Negative Feelings About Projects

It’s unrealistic to expect each project or task to be met with excitement and enthusiasm. And, occasionally things, like fixing other’s mistakes or needing to re-work something, might lead to frustration. When this occurs, try honestly acknowledging the feelings in order to maintain autonomy and establish appropriate solutions.

Taking Ownership Over Organizing Tasks

Although you might not be able to choose which tasks you’re assigned, you likely have some control over your workflow and how you structure your time. Whatever flexibility you do have, it’s worthwhile to take ownership of your responsibilities and structure them in the way that works best for you. For example, write down your daily or weekly plan and schedule so you can easily refer to it and update as needed. Additionally, as you work through your tasks, stay flexible in making changes to your approach as you see fit. And, set up a meeting with your manager for updates and feedback on your strategy for completing projects.

Finding Practical Solutions For Better Work-Life Balance

Creating more space for personal priorities doesn’t mean that you must jeopardize productivity and performance. In fact, in a study conducted by the Corporate Executive Board, it was found that people who felt happy with their work-life balance worked 21% harder and were 33% more likely to stay with their organization. Speak with your manager about challenges you might be having, propose potential solutions and agree on a plan together. 

Talking To Your Manager & Asking For More Input

But before you do this, spend some time thinking about your current project workflow and where the challenges or growing edges are. Once this is established, set up a one-on-one with your manager and discuss the possibility of getting more of their input in your work. What are the specific changes you are seeking and why? Then, decide on a plan of action together. This will boost opportunity for more personal input and also demonstrates initiative and commitment to your work.

Emphasizing Interest In Your Tasks

We often demonstrate our most creative work when we can complete objectives in ways that are most interesting and meaningful to us. For example, if you have an interest in learning and development, immerse yourself in opportunities and conversations that provide the opportunity to explain information and educate your manager or coworkers in engaging ways. Although you may not be able to choose all your tasks, you can bring your interests into your assignments!

Take time to reflect on how you might be able to create a greater sense of autonomy in your own workplace by using these tips.

Read Also: 6 Unique Behaviors Of Highly Successful People

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