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How to create autonomy in the workplace?

18th Jan 2015
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As human beings we are naturally autonomous:  we crave having autonomy over how we work, live and play. Yet the workplace is full rules, guidelines, policies and time schedules, which restricts autonomy.

So it’s no wonder that giving employees autonomy in the workplace is a great way to motivate people. And it works! There’s a new philosophy emerging called results-only work environments, or ROWEs, and its helping businesses have more committed, loyal and motivated employees, because it treats people as the autonomous human beings that we are – or as adults as some might say!

What is ROWE?

A ROWE is a human resource management strategy co-created by Jody Thompson and Cali Ressler, where employees are paid for results (output) rather than the number of hours they have worked.

It’s much more than permission to work from home. ROWE’s slogan is;

“Work whenever you want, wherever you want, as long as the work gets done.”

In essence employees are allowed to work whenever they want, with no set schedules, and they are allowed to complete their work however they want, and wherever they want, as long as they get the job done, they do not cause a bottleneck, hold up other employees’ work, and they achieve their targets. And of course, your employees still need to be in a specific place at a specific time if that’s what it takes to get the job done (meetings for example).

ROWEs are on the rise according to AlterNet. And businesses that are implementing the philosophy are finding that job satisfaction increases, as does self-esteem,employee motivation and employee loyalty, whilst employee turnover decreases.

How to give your employee autonomy

You can’t just give your employee complete free reign, what you need is acreate management approach and some simple systems. These systems allow employees control over all or some of the following areas:

  • What they do
  • How they do it
  • When they do it
  • Where they do it
  • With whom they do it

However, it needs to start with managers learning to let go of a level of control, and give that control to their employees, which isn’t always easy. Other areas that might also need to be developed include:

  • Eliminating bureaucracy and restraints that stop employees from getting the job done, or slows down progress
  • Engaging in two-way feedback between managers and employees
  • Offering training and development to ensure employees have the necessary skills to do the job
  • Showing the employee the relationship between their role and the business’ bottom line

Get these things right and you’ll be able to trust your employees with greater autonomy and responsibility.

Getting it wrong

The culture of the organisation will play a large role in how successful autonomy can be. Giving employees a level of autonomy requires a level of trust, and that needs to start with recruiting the right people. If you’re recruiting employees that work better when their manager has oversight, or that need extra direction, then the philosophy can backfire, and you’ll end up with disorganisation and chaos, instead of freedom and motivated employees.

There’s an increasing body of evidence from businesses that have already implemented a results-only work environment they are finding it easier to attract the best talent, motivate their staff and have happier employees. The question is, do you have the courage to follow them?


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