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Cultivating an Autonomous Workforce

Cultivating an Autonomous Workforce/ Environment

In the work environment, it is important to empower and autonomously motivate your employees to optimise performance as well as the employee’s well-being and self-development. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) defines the basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) has demonstrated that when people are more autonomously motivated, their performance, their wellness and their engagement are affected. All of those things are greater when you are working autonomously. Compared to working in a controlled motivated environment. In contrast to being autonomously motivated, there is controlled motivation. Controlled motivation refers to completing tasks or doing something to get some reward or to avoid some sort of punishment.

Read more on SDT

Why is autonomy so important?

There are many reasons to take note of autonomy. Autonomy is a basic human psychological need and is when you have a full sense of willingness, volition and choice of whatever the activity is. If you are doing it with a real sense of enjoyment and if you are interested and invested in the activity, valuing it for your own reasons then, you are autonomously motivated. When people are autonomously motivated they feel competent, related to others and when they feel volition then the positive consequences will follow from that.

The more autonomy employees have at work, the more satisfaction they receive from their job and improve employee retention and engagement.


How do I create an autonomous environment?

Give choice & independence – cut out micromanagement.

Giving employees more control over their daily tasks. The most important aspect of autonomy is the perceived feeling of choice and empowerment. Giving the framework, it allows employees to make their own decisions and choices. Define the end result clearly and outline the boundaries of what is okay and let them create within this frame. Within boundaries, people are empowered to determine how they will accomplish the tasks. This eliminates micromanagement and creates a healthy work environment.

Encouraging your employees to set their own goals. Self-chosen goals create intrinsic motivation- the desire to do something for its own sake.

It is important to find a balance between autonomy and micromanagement. Stop telling them how to do it, set clear deadlines, boundaries and direction and then allow them to determine how they will accomplish the task.  You need to stop micromanaging your team, it is an unhealthy way of leading your team. Stop hovering over your team and trust them to complete the task.

Build Trust – two-way process

Without trust autonomy is impossible, you need to trust your team to deliver. But this works both ways, your employees need to trust you as their manager. When trust is apparent, an employee is more likely to be engaged when they feel that they are trusted compared to when trust is not present.

Provide for your employees – Tools and Resources

Give your employees the tools and resources they need to reach their targets and goals. You need to be willing to invest in your employees to aid them in completing their job. This could be training, technology, resources etc.

Not investing in your employees can affect both, the business and the employee. The employee won’t be able to meet their tasks, affecting the productivity of the team and then may become frustrated as their workplace is not assisting in their needs – becoming a huge demotivator. This will directly affect the business as the movement of the business has stopped from targets not being met.

If you are not willing to support your people, why should they invest themselves in you? When companies fail in investing in their employees, they fail in maintaining their success and they experience a high employee turnover rate. Employees would feel undervalued and unsupported when they are not invested in causing their engagement and motivation to decline.

Employee retention is also a direct link to how they are being provided for. If an employee is not getting the tools and resources, they need, you will find your employees leaving for better jobs where they would be offered opportunities and development. You need to give your employees the tools necessary to make their current job the better job, to retain your employees and talent.


“Train your people well so that they can leave. Treat them well so that they would not want to.”

Listen to your employees – Feedback & support

To promote autonomous motivation, communication is key. However, it is a two-way system, you need to listen to your employee’s points and concerns. This could be check-ins and reviews where you communicate with your employees to offer them support and guidance. Your job is to have a duty of care to your employees. If there is no communication between both party’s doubt and anxiety can grow becoming an unhealthy work relationship and routine. Your employee needs to feel valued and relevant as this is a basic psychological human need. If this need isn’t met this can develop into an unmotivated and undriven employee.

Set Goals and targets – Empower your team

Autonomy is the antithesis of micromanagement. To create an autonomous and healthy work environment you need to banish micromanaging your team and take a step back. Do not focus on every single detail on every task you set. You need to set the target for your employees and let them complete it, this relates back to empowering your employee and removing the micromanagement culture. Set the clear deadlines and boundaries to work within, people are then empowered to take control and ownership of their work.

When employees set goals and targets they are motivated to meet these and are able to track their progress over time. Empowering your team to set their goals makes it relevant to them. When they do this and recognise the value of the activity, they will be autonomously motivated and the outcomes would be positive

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Jessica Ross

Written by Jessica Ross

As a cadet, I was rock climbing in Scotland to running around Longmoor with cam cream and a rifle beating most of the boys. There were endless opportunities and memories that was made with the ACF that I carry today. I studied photography and graphics throughout college for over 3 years. Working with my photography around college I have assisted professional photographers on location and in studio, with clients and professional models. I explore all types of photography such as portrait and landscape photography being my favourite along the south coast.

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