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Happiness at work: Autonomy & Flexibility

Pardis Samiee | 26th September 2019

Want to know one of my most shocking discoveries when I was studying business psychology? I discovered that autonomy is one of the main catalysts for job satisfaction, wellbeing, performance and happiness at work. This surprised me because none of my previous jobs had given me the flexibility to be autonomous! 

I didn’t know that the importance of autonomy & flexibility was common knowledge and there’s plenty of research available to support its effect on people’s professional and personal lives. It may be widely recognised but only a few companies empower employees to be fully autonomous.

Autonomy, in short, is to have the power to choose your own route to deliver a task!

Like everything else, autonomy (flexible approach to deliver your best performance) means different things to different people. For example, in a study of 20,000 female employees, flexibility over the timing and location of their work appeared to be what they have perceived as autonomy. For men, having autonomy meant to have a flexible approach in delivering tasks they are given, timing and task order. We have seen how people relate to autonomy in our own global workplace happiness study too, we learned that autonomy is in the top-10 list for factors which most impact workplace happiness for both employers (7/10) and staff (9/10).

Help your employees be “their best” not “the best”

We have all seen (or been) the person who was destroyed emotionally and physically by an unhealthy competitive environment. An environment with a set and defined expectation for every task and project, where everyone must follow the same route and reach the same place. A company with a culture of an unrealistic perfectionism. In which, the version of their perfect has driven employees crazy. With leaders who do not understand that superheroes, can only be found in movies and their definition of ‘perfect’ or ‘the best’ is completely subjective when it comes to humans. 

We’re all unique. Our skills are varied and each skill is needed for a specific task or project. That’s the beauty of human nature and the birthplace of innovation and creativity. By encouraging your employees to ‘be the best’ you are likely disengaging them and demotivating them. Plus it doesn’t make sense! Who can define the best” anyway? Challenging and empowering your people to be their best is the answer. Gareth Dunlop spoke about this at length at our Happiness & Humans conference back in September.

If their strength is creativity, let them get involved in a project which matches their strengths. Be clear about what you want to achieve. Answer any questions and offer guidance when required… then get out of the way!

In my previous happiness series, I explained that one of the things that make us happy is to do what we’re good at. Make a happier workplace today by helping your employees to be their own version of best.

Create choice within boundaries

Boundaries are still key to have success in business. Sit with your employee and define the boundaries of their control and decision-making power. Deadlines and targets should not always be dreadful. They can be the outcome of a collaborative, empathetic and realistic conversation between a manager and a less senior employee.

Decide on boundaries collectively, it will help you to meet your business objectives as well as individual ones. It’s an empowering activity for both parties. Not to mention that your staff will feel recognised/valued which was the top impactor for employee satisfaction, engagement & loyalty from our global Employee Net Promoter Score study.

Give employees ownership

Humans attach meaning and purpose to the things that are theirs! From childhood, a blanket, toy, or anything else sentimental will have developed identity and sense of belonging.

Having the ownership feeling raises another emotion which will lead to better performance… Care. If you want people to feel a sense of belonging, care about their job and find joy at work then give them ownership and purpose. This leads to advocacy, increased productivity and better output!

What does flexibility mean to you & your people?

Fortunately, at the happiness index, we believe in autonomy, so I was able to find my way to better performance. Usually in the mornings from 8-10, my productivity peaks. It’s rush hour in London, so instead of wasting these hours on the tube, I decided to work from home from 8 and head to work when the rush hour is over. This way, I’ll be in the office later that a normal working hour in the UK, but I am able to work on important tasks when I am at my best.

Just this simple adjustment on my working hours made a huge difference in my happiness at work. Ask yourself and your people, what you can do today to empower everyone to be their best and work in a way that supports it!

If you found this interesting, here are the other articles in my happiness series:

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