Four ways to promote employee autonomy — and why it matters

As the modern workforce becomes more flexible and asynchronous, employee autonomy is as important as it’s ever been. Cloud platforms and communication systems allow employees to work from anywhere at anytime they choose. And this remote economy is only growing.

Whether or not you can immediately embrace flexible organizational structures, it’s time to embrace employee autonomy, making the bigger questions like why — and how?

“What we really want in our jobs,” writes Inc. magazine, “is autonomy, the chance to get better at what we do, and a purpose that connects us to something larger.” Simply put, employee autonomy builds purpose and trust. It creates an atmosphere of mutual respect, empowerment, and accountability. It also enables employees to have more flexibility and better work–life balance.

There are four ways business leaders and managers can promote employee autonomy to empower the next generation workforce.

1. Empower trust between managers and employees.

First of all, trust begets trust. The more trust you show in your employees — even, or especially, by allowing them to fail — the more trust they’ll have in you. This in turn makes employees more engaged and more committed to their performance at work.

Building trust comes not only through great communication, but also through operational systems that empower trust: systems with employee self-service, flexible schedules, and cloud technologies.

Of course, you have to give employees autonomy by carefully giving up control — you don’t have to micromanage everything, so give clear boundaries, allow room to fail, and let your employees know you trust them.

2. Create choices, even if those choices need to occur within boundaries.

The second piece of autonomy is allowing employees to make their own decisions. Flexible work schedules, for example, force employees to choose priorities — often choices around when, where, and how work gets done.

Modern HR platforms put a lot of power in the hands of the employee, like requesting and scheduling their own PTO, accessing benefits and compensation documents, or survey and reporting tools that allow for employees to have closer relationships with their managers.

All this power communicates, “I trust you.” When employees feel they can make their own decisions, they’re more engaged and satisfied, more committed to their performance, and they feel like they’re a partner in the decision making process.

Let your employees take some ownership, and watch what happens.

3. Provide opportunities for personal ownership.

Managers and HR leaders have better things to do than be the gatekeepers of employee information. When employees have the freedom to find their information and make their own decisions, and leaders have the time to connect and respond to employee needs, you create an atmosphere of accountability.

The modern workforce needs access to their information. When you provide access to the right documents (with the right permissions), employees can communicate what they need to their managers. Their managers, through this self-service, can spend more time on their employees — not their employees’ paperwork.

Not only does this promote personal ownership through trust and empowerment, but it also creates a logbook for compliance, creating accountability at an organizational level. An employee can find their documents, for example, and the system can keep a record of when and where information access or changes occured.

4. Clearly communicate objectives and align goals.

We talked earlier about how trust empowers employee performance and increases engagement. But trust is established on good, clear communication.

People need to know what they’re working toward. By communicating what they need to know when they need to know it, they’re able to do what they need to do without much intervention. Through message centers, notifications, and access to documentation, employees feel they have what they need to do their work, thus giving them a sense of true autonomy.

The autonomy of having everything at your fingertips with live, granular data allows your team to build trust by seeing clearly what they need when they need it, by creating choices and providing opportunities for personal ownership, and by clearly communicating objective and aligning goals.

Our dashboard allows you to empower trust, create choices, provide opportunities, and communicate clearly so you can get stuff done. And your employees will love you for it.

Greg King
Greg King

Greg leads the Enterprise Experience Department at ExponentHR.