May 30, 2022

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    Do I get a say, or don’t I? How to give your people more autonomy.

    "The more you believe you have a choice over what you do the more likely you are to succeed. It is a bit like happiness. It is a choice; it is not a destination or an end point."

    Louise Otton, Executive Coach

    Blog contents

    1. What is Autonomy?
    2. What does the ‘Science of Happiness’ teach us about autonomy?
    3. 4 ways autonomy creates a happy organisation
    4. Seven ways to give your people the gift of autonomy
    5. Over to you…A quick quiz!


    How does it make you feel when you are being micromanaged or someone is constantly looking over your shoulder and repeatedly checking up on what you are doing?

    Have you been led by a manager that does this?

    If you have, you may understand how damaging this is to the relationship you have with them. It breaks down trust, hinders responsibility and stifles productivity and innovation. It certainly does not create a happy workplace.

    Autonomy is more important than ever as employees want to know that they have the freedom to work in a way that suits them and their lives.

    That is why A = Autonomy in HAPPY 365!


    What is Autonomy?

    Autonomy is the need to be able to direct your own life and work. To be motivated to do your best, you need to be able to control what you do, when you do it and with whom you do it. Businesses who create a culture of reward not risk, and that are psychologically safe environments where people feel free to speak up and make adult choices about their work, will thrive in the future.

    Dan Pink, the author of Drive, discusses how autonomy enables people to think more creatively without being restricted by too many fixed rules at work. Organisations that challenge the norm around traditional working hours, location, holidays, dress code and hard numerical targets are the ones that create a greater culture of trust, creativity, performance and where staff are happier.

    This however does not come without its challenges as now more than ever, people are working from home and having to juggle the encroaching boundaries of work and home life, which can impact motivation and productivity. Of course, this all has to be balanced within the context or what is best within your organisation and you will have to determine how much autonomy to grant your teams, but overall giving a level of autonomy improves performance.

    What does the ‘Science of Happiness’ teach us about autonomy?

    Researchers in the science of happiness, such as Dan Pink and Martin Seligman, tend to all agree on three common themes that enable happiness; 1) the need to be connected to a bigger purpose and find meaning in what you do, 2) the desire to have autonomy and be in control of your destiny and 3) to have the opportunity to improve, learn and grow. There are additional factors that are also important which we address in HAPPY 365; Health, Purpose, Progression and Your Connections, but autonomy is a fundamental element and if you pay attention to this you will benefit your employees and create a great company culture.

    Autonomy at work starts with setting clearly defined workplace goals which employees should have input and influence in creating. If employees help to create their own goals, they will be more meaningful and personal to them and they will feel invested in the outcome. How they choose to reach those goals is up to them, within the framework of the company. Individual goals should not be confused with selfish goals -- It’s important for employees to understand that having autonomy and freedom over what they do individually effects the wider team. Their personal successes and failures impact the whole organisation.

    Creating a culture of autonomy and personal responsibility connects everyone to your business purpose. Our HAPPY 365 team is on hand to help you to drive your people to give their best. It’s Law 365’s mission to help you to grow your business with less risk, and this is an important tool to achieve that.

    4 ways autonomy creates a happy organisation

    Autonomy empowers everyone in your workplace. It builds trust and a feeling of belonging so people become more confident in their abilities. It has multiple benefits for businesses like yours:

    1. It increases happiness, engagement, motivation, and productivity

      Employees who are allowed to make decisions and be free to find their own solutions, are more resilient, creative, and trustworthy. Allowing people to choose how they work increases performance by 40% according to a recent HBR study Rethinking Your Approach to the Employee Experience (

    2. It reduces attrition rates, saving you money

      Happy people (who feel in control over their work) don’t want to look for another job! In a world where retaining talent is a huge challenge, being able to give your people autonomy over their work will keep your recruitment costs down and reduce attrition. We also know that people value wellbeing as their number one priority when looking for a new job, and a large part of this possible by have flexibility over how they work. Imagine if you could reduce your attrition rates by just 10%, how much would you save in recruitment fees? LinkedIn Global Talent Trends 2022 - The Reinvention of Company Culture

    3. Creates a culture of trust

      If you create a culture of mutual trust and respect -- where employees feel trusted to achieve their work and trust their leaders to believe in them -- you will feed productivity. By building trust, you reduce conflict between people. Happiness and productivity also increase when leaders are more approachable because they are able to mitigate problems more quickly.

    4. Develop resilient and emotionally intelligent leaders

      If your people feel in control of their work, they’ll be more resilient when faced with future demands and challenges. The best leaders are those who can see the value in giving their employees freedom to be creative in solving problems and role model effective delegation, while at the same time demonstrating empathy and understanding of how to balance autonomy and managerial support.

    7 ways to give your people the gift of autonomy

    For some businesses, moving to autonomous working may require a shift in the way you manage, delegate and lead. Here are some tips for making the necessary changes:

    1. As a leader you need to give up your need to control

      Relinquishing control is the first step to give your team more autonomy:

      Encourage people to set their own goals and objectives

      ...rather than telling them what they are. People will be much more likely to engage in their work if they are connected to their goals that mean something to them and they have helped to create.

      Use more inclusive and empowering language.

      Instead of saying telling people you must or should do something, think about how you can phrase it to get them to think about what they need to do – e.g. ‘can you consider x’ or ‘could you suggest x’.

      Be available

      As a leader it is important to be available for your employees to be able to talk to you in an open way without fear of any retribution. If you can’t do this, set your team up with leaders who can.

    2. Create a culture of trust and care

      Trust takes time to establish and build and yet can be broken down in an instant and so it’s vital to invest time in it consistently. By giving your employees responsibility and freedom to succeed and take on tasks that stretch them, you will help them to feel trusted.

      Over time this will increase their confidence to step up, offer creative ideas and to perform better. As a leader this can be hard to do to begin with as you want to be in control of your business. We understand this, but the more you trust the people who you’ve chosen to do the job, the quicker they will learn and do the same for their teams.

      Autonomy must be delivered within a culture of care, where people feel safe to run with their tasks without fear of failure, and where they feel listened to and empowered to have a go, knowing that they are supported.
      Your staff handbook and employment policies will be essential for building trust and transparency and fairness in your business. Get your employment policies in good shape so you have clear and easy to understand guidelines for employees to make informed choices in their working life, knowing that they are being treated equally.

    3. Invest in support and professional development

      to empower your employees to be autonomous and step up into their best selves. Professional coaching can be a key platform in enabling this process.

    4. Be thorough and careful in your recruitment.

      Not everyone wants a high level of autonomy. Not all roles require it. Some people prefer a more rule-based environment. Understand what is needed.

    5. Encourage people to talk about their mistakes

      so that you can all learn from them and then move on without fear of judgement and blame. Mistakes should be seen as learning opportunities, sharing them will allow everyone to benefit from at the experience so they can avoid making the same mistake. If people live in fear of being reprimanded, they will not be as creative, and productivity is impacted.

    6. Allow employees to work flexibly and be an outcomes-based culture.

      A diverse workforce has diverse working styles, patterns and needs. Celebrate this! Ask your employees, “Are you a lark or an owl? “How do you prefer to work?” “How can we manage expectations and communication around your preferred working pattern?”

    7. Allow employees to decide their deadlines

      So they take responsibility for owning their workload and tasks. Leaders can help guide and prioritise here, but the more you are able to put the control back into their hands, the more likely they are to meet their deadlines and progress. This also frees you up as a leader to focus on the vision and strategy.

    Over to you…A quick quiz!

    • If you were to ask ten of your employees, how much autonomy they have over their work, what would they say?
    • Where do you need to make improvements?
    • What will it do for your organisation if you change how you give autonomy?

    Let us help you achieve your goals.

    Get in touch to let us know how we can help work towards your HAPPY workplace.


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