Have Some Control at Work? It's Better Than a Raise

It's no surprise.  Autonomy in the workplace makes us, well, feel better.

Now a new study is saying that having control over our jobs enhances our well-being and job satisfaction.  I've even read that it may help us to stay well!

I know you've probably read, like I have, how people who have to work under totally controlled situations (and sometimes at night) are more prone to frustration, anger, even cancer, in some cases.

The study, conducted by the University of Birmingham, reported that those working in management reported the highest levels of autonomy in their work, with 90% reporting ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of autonomy in the workplace.

Professionals surveyed report much less autonomy, particularly over the pace of work and over their working hours. For other employees, 40-to-50% of those surveyed experienced much lower autonomy while around half of lower-skilled employees experience no autonomy over working hours at all.

"The positive effects associated with informal flexibility and working at home, offer further support to the suggestion that schedule control is highly valued and important to employees 'enjoying” work,' the researchers noted.

Other studies have shown that the key to happiness at work is not money, but control.

In the workplace, autonomy essentially means having a job where you can make at least some of the decisions on your own. The degree of autonomy you have can vary dramatically, from having a say in your own goals or the projects you work on, to deciding when and where to do your work, Belle Beth Cooper at QuartMedia writes.  

"For most people, it’s important to 'perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions,'” she quotes Joan F. Cheverie, manager of professional development programs at the higher education and IT nonprofit EDUCAUSE.

Early in my career (and even later), I switched jobs frequently, long before it became the norm.  I often became bored and wanted something new.   So I looked around.  But the one job that has made me the happiest is the one I have now, public relations and writing technical and feature articles and blogs for my corporate clients.  Yes, there are stresses involved with this -- no work, no money.  But I've always enjoyed the flexibility to do the work when I want to -- up at 5 to get my son ready for school?  Great.  I have an hour to polish that essay.

In a corporation, not so much, though, when I was working for one of the largest US corporations, I did try to get in by 7 so I could get out by 2 or 3 (this, of course, before my son was born!).

Potential benefits include greater employee commitment, better performance, improved productivity and lower turnover, though some have noted that employers are now extending their ability to monitor us on our workplace computers or even on our phones in the car!

Hello, Big Brother. 

Interestingly, the study also  found compelling evidence to suggest that men and women were affected in different ways by the type of autonomy they experienced.

For women, flexibility over the timing and location of their work appeared to be more beneficial, allowing them to balance other tasks such as family commitments, while men were more affected by job tasks, pace of work, and task order.

The research also highlighted the fact that, even though the study pointed out the increased levels of well-being felt by employees with more autonomy, in many cases managers remain unwilling to offer employees greater levels of autonomy and the associated benefits, because their primary role remains one of "control and effort extraction."

Even though the study was conducted in Great Britain, many of the same tenets hold true in America.   Rick Rauert of psychcentrol.com notes that experts say that workers who believe they are free to make choices in the workplace — and be accountable for their decisions — are happier and more productive.

So let's hear it for a little hands-off, managers out there!


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