Employees who are free to make their own choices about how they go about their responsibilities are happier, committed, productive and loyal. Autonomy may also be the most important factor when nurturing a culture of engagement within a company.

autonomous employeeAutonomous businesses don’t spend time scrutinising how things get done, they know that getting those things done is what’s important. Autonomy improves the employee experience and overall business productivity while reducing turnover and its associated costs.

How can anyone feel engaged and inspired if employees are always looking over their shoulder? A good leader will know that micromanagement isn’t conducive to a happy employee, in fact, the opposite is true.

Where appropriate people should be free to choose how to complete a task but know that help is at hand if needed.
That’s not to say that there are no guidelines. Boundaries should be clearly defined, to all employees, within which they can choose how to work.

Every employee will have a slightly different way of working, varying skills and attributes and personal preferences when it comes to when, where and how they complete their duties.
Understanding and capitalising on these diverse attributes is key if businesses wish to adapt, innovate and ultimately succeed.

As long as things get done, and get done well, that’s what counts.

What are the advantages of employee autonomy?

  • Employees are happier and more engaged
  • Accountability lies with the employee
  • Employees feel a greater sense of value
  • Employees have more motivation to learn new skills
  • Work/life balance benefits
  • Productivity increases
  • Company culture improves
  • Leadership qualities are encouraged

How can you encourage autonomy?

Business Team Busy Working Talking Concept

Start at the beginning

 people with the right mindset and attitude will make things far easier when encouraging employee autonomy.

Some individuals require detailed direction and supervision, whilst others prefer, and thrive, being their own boss and using their own initiative and innovation to complete their work.

While engaging with potential employees, both during the interview stage and as part of your onboarding process, autonomy should be pivotal to your messaging and employer branding.
Building a company culture with autonomy embedded at its core requires suitable messaging from the very beginning of the employee/employer relationship.

Learn from mistakes instead of playing the blame game

Allowing individuals to adapt their approach to their responsibilities will give them an increased sense of control over the tasks they’ve been charged with, which will benefit their performance.

Leaders that are overly critical of employees when mistakes are made kill initiative and creativity and, consequently, employee engagement. If your workforce is fearful of the repercussions should they make an honest mistake, engagement will diminish and, as a result, company success.

“Giving your employees more control over how they do things can make a huge difference to employee performance, productivity and commitment.”

– Investors In people

Regular ‘catchup’ meeting to track progress and discuss how things can be improved moving forward will give both employees and managers a chance to raise concerns but also celebrate and reward successes.

Build a culture of trust

Leaders willing to trust their employees to perform the work delegated to them need to accept the risk that may accompany their subsequent actions.
When managers resist delegating, for fear of the risks which may be included, employees interpret this behaviour as demonstrating a lack of trust in them. This leads to a culture of mistrust and one lacking in autonomy and initiative.

Speaking with and asking employees their opinions and advice encourages both trust and innovation from individuals. If they are then allowed to follow through on their own advice it will clearly demonstrate that they’re trusted by the business.

Loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquire equivalent gains: it’s better to not lose £5 than to find £5. Some studies have suggested that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.
Stifling an employee’s ability to be autonomous should be avoided at all costs. Start small and increase an individual’s responsibilities and freedom to work as they see fit.

Move aside (but be available)

Young people sitting in a cafe and talkingThere’s little point allowing autonomy if leaders continue micromanaging and setting overbearing restrictions.
Providing employees with the freedom to complete tasks as they see fit, using their own preferred methods, but remaining on hand to provide support and advice is essential to the success of employee autonomy.

Autonomy doesn’t mean leaving employees to complete tasks in isolation, quite the opposite. Often autonomy involves a team collaborating to achieve a common goal.

Often more casual chats about how things are going can produce more honest and open feedback from employees. Very official, board room style conversations can be overwhelming and make individuals feel unnecessarily anxious about reviewing their performance. This can be enough to put them off taking charge and being autonomous.

Acknowledge and reward successes

Recognising employees for stepping up, taking ownership and completing a project well will encourage them to take on more responsibility moving forward. A thankless culture will only serve to dissuade individuals from wanting to assume the additional accountability that is synonymous with autonomy.

“7 out of 10 employees who received appreciation for their good work said they’re happy with their jobs. But among employees who hadn’t received recognition, only 39 percent say they’re satisfied at work.”


Not only does effective recognition make your employees happier, but it also encourages continued engagement in their work. When there is an incentive, employees work harder to achieve their goals to get that reward.