Engaging Employees with Autonomy


In the book “Drive“, Daniel Pink describes three key factors to motivating employees. Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. In this post, let’s focus on Autonomy.

Autonomy is having the freedom/flexibility to do something on your own. Freedom can come in many forms.  Creative freedom in how the employee solves the problem. Location freedom in where the employee can be while solving the problem.  Time freedom in when the employee can solve the problem.

Creative Freedom

One of the worst things a manager can do is dictate what the solution should be.  This removes the creative process from the work. Instead, managers should provide clear expectations on the problem to be solved.  Allow the employee to engage their mind in the mental jiujitsu required to solve a challenging problem.

Time Freedom

The jury has been in for quite some time.  There are indeed night owls and early birds. Why still do so many companies expect their employees in by 9 am?  

Flexible schedules don’t only provide employees with job satisfaction, better health, increased work-life balance, and less stress, they also benefit employers. Through higher productivity levels, less turnover, and reduced absenteeism, employers are able to retain qualified employees and save money as well.”
Jessica Howington

Location Freedom

While the work from home debate still rages on, I’ll suggest there’s more to it.  Some people like being at work just not at their desk. Employees should be allowed the flexibility to work in locations that work best for them.  For some, that’s a nearby coffee shop, an outside courtyard. For others, it’s a naturally lit conference room or even an empty cube farm in another building on campus.  Changing sceneries can provide needed insights to unlock stubborn challenges.

Freedom can certainly seen as a spectrum based on the situation and the employee. The flow should always ebb toward the employee getting enough autonomy needed for them to feel productive.  

The benefit of autonomy is that autonomy instills trust and loyalty in their staff.  Employees develop confidence in their skills and abilities to know that they can do the job. Managers are then able to focus on proactive process improvements. In addition to coaching and their own personal and career development.