New statistics have shown that a whopping 68% of the UK workforce feel disengaged in their workplace. That’s over two thirds of the entire workforce in the UK who feel disconnected or uninvested in the work they’re doing every day. There are a whole host of reasons why people might feel disconnected from their work: perhaps they feel they’re not in the right occupation, or that their work culture doesn’t suit their personality, or perhaps they’re dissatisfied with their pay grade.

But what that study also revealed was that a significant majority of people - 74% - said they were satisfied with their jobs. The problem, then, might not be what people are doing in their jobs, but how they’re doing it. And if it’s the way we’re working that’s causing the problem, what can companies do to change that?

Just a side note, before we go on: having disengaged and unmotivated employees can seriously impact a company’s productivity rates and overall profits.

man unpacking desk

What does autonomy at work mean?

Increased autonomy at work for employees could be an easy and practical solution to the widespread lack of engagement that people feel from their work. Autonomy might be something you’ve heard of before - but what does that actually mean?

Don't get this confused with remote work or working to rule. Autonomy at work means giving employees the freedom to work in a way that suits them: whether that’s deciding the pace of their work, the order of task completion and having more control over job tasks, or even the freedom to decide when and where they do their work. 

Increased employee autonomy is based on the understanding that individuals work differently, and giving people the responsibility of knowing the best way to work that suits them. So long as the work gets done on time and to the expected standard, it’s up to the individual employee to decide how to carry it out.

How does autonomy improve employee engagement?

Granting more employee autonomy could be a solution to this widespread feeling of disengagement in the UK workforce. Studies have shown that work environments that grant more autonomy to their employees have both higher levels of job satisfaction, as well as better productivity rates. And it makes sense: when you’re given a greater level of personal responsibility for the outcome of your work, you’re incentivised to do it better and therefore more engaged with the work you’re doing.

It encourages a genuine feeling of personal investment in your work, and in the company or organisation as a whole. Moreover, increased employee autonomy can have huge benefits for your entire team and organisation - higher rates of motivation and job satisfaction have been proven to decrease levels of employee turnover.

What does autonomy at work look like?

Employee autonomy looks like letting employees work in a way that’s right for them. There’s no single method or framework for enabling employee autonomy - and that’s the beauty of it! Encouraging employee autonomy in the workplace can be done in a way that suits your organisation’s structure best, with wider limits in place.

It’s all about understanding your employees as individuals, with unique strengths and needs. It’s about adapting the workplace to your individual employees, in a way that enables them to do the best work that they can.

Some people associate employee autonomy with an empty office and chaotic, unpredictable work outcomes; but it doesn’t have to be. Positions with more responsibility, higher pay and increased power often hold an increased level of employee autonomy, while lower-level employees are typically given less freedom and more supervision. Employee autonomy looks like taking those same responsibilities and freedoms that higher-powered positions often enjoy, and spreading it so that all employees are able to work in a similar way.

The benefits of granting autonomy in the workplace

1. Employees become more engaged and more motivated

When organisations grant employees the freedom to work in ways that suit them and allow them to be responsible for their own work, engagement levels naturally increase. That, in turn, increases motivation to work well and efficiently. Having your employer trust that you’re capable of doing your job only encourages you to prove they were right to grant you that freedom!

2. There are more opportunities for creativity

Having the freedom to approach your work in unique and independent ways breeds creativity and independent thought. It’s no secret that creativity leads to innovation, and innovation is key to keeping any organisation moving and developing.

3. Employees feel valued

Increasing autonomy makes employees feel valued as individuals, rather than simply as a workforce. Our research has proved how crucial it is for employers to show their employees that they value them beyond just their role in the company: a huge 90% of companies who use our Celebration hub platform said that say their employee recognition programme positively impacted their employee engagement.

4. Decreased employee turnover

This one is simple. When employees enjoy their job, they don’t want to leave it. All the benefits that employee autonomy offers to your workforce can massively reduce employee turnover, saving you the time, energy and cost of recruiting new members of your workforce.

5. Increased motivation and productivity

Not only does employee autonomy increase the motivation and productivity of individual employees, but it can have hugely positive impacts on management, too. Without having to micromanage others, or be constantly deciding exactly how work should be carried out, those in managerial roles can take a step back and ultimately take more time for their work.

6. It encourages leadership qualities

Giving employees the freedom to manage themselves grants the space to develop invaluable skills that are crucial to leadership. Employee autonomy encourages independent thought, problem-solving, creative thinking and productive teamwork – just the kinds of skills you need to be a good leader.

7. Increased work/life balance

When working environments are able to adapt to their employees’ personal needs, it enables a more productive work/life balance for everyone. We all know how frustrating it can be when you have to choose between a personal commitment and letting your work team down or feeling like you can’t take time off for something important. But what if you had the choice to make up those hours at another time, and didn’t have to miss those important events that life throws at you?

8. Encourages an environment of trust and personal responsibility

Increasing employee autonomy can make a more productive overall working environment as well as a personal one. It encourages an environment of trust between employees and managers, and an understanding that employees are individuals who work well in many different ways.

How to encourage autonomy at work

1. Ease into it

It’s important not to rush into implementing an entirely new frame of working. Suddenly telling your employees that they can work whichever hours they like, and from wherever suits them, might cause people to feel confused or without direction. Boundaries should be clearly defined to employees, and autonomy should be gradually introduced, bit by bit, with frequent meetings and conversations to monitor how well it’s working for everyone.

2. Build a culture of trust and responsibility  

You can start to foster an environment of autonomous working by increasingly delegating tasks around the workforce. This proves to employees that they’re trusted, valued and capable of doing things independently. Make sure that if someone makes a mistake that they aren’t punished or blamed, which can prevent people from feeling confident to take initiative or think creatively in the future.

3. Acknowledge and reward success

It’s important to positively encourage and reward employees for their work, particularly when you’re thinking of increasing employee autonomy. Without positive reinforcement, employee autonomy can feel a little unstructured - it’s important to back up that newly engaged and motivated work with some appreciation and support.

Fist pump

Encouraging autonomy with Celebration hub from Perkbox

Celebration hub does exactly what it says on the tin: it helps you celebrate the successful work of your people.Whether it’s ensuring everyone is recognised for a job well done, incentivising behaviours that match your company’s goals, or rewarding outstanding achievements, Celebration hub is an engaging platform that makes it easy to give recognition - wherever in the world someone is. If you’re thinking about implementing a more autonomous workplace and reaping all the benefits that come with it, then Celebration hub could be the perfect resource for helping you get there, and keeping every employee motivated.

What’s more, Celebration hub lets employees reward each other’s good work, rather than just from the top down. The poll function lets employees show appreciation for each others’ skills and personalities, which helps raise company morale - and even gets employees recognition for their quirkier attributes. How about a poll to decide who's the snazziest dresser?

Employers can also set polls to align with their company’s goals and values, providing the structure and organisational framework that is key to developing a more autonomous working environment.

In summary

Autonomy at work is letting employees work in a way that’s right for them, but this can often feel unnatural when you are used to stricter work routines. 

But as employee autonomy can greatly boost employee engagement, provide more opportunities to be creative and leaves your employees feeling more valued - it's something you want to encourage. 

How to encourage autonomy at work: 

  1. Ease into it - boundaries should be clearly defined and autonomy should be gradually introduced.
  2. Build a culture of trust and responsibility. 
  3. Acknowledge and reward success - important to back up that newly engaged and motivated work with some appreciation and support. 


Let's solve your employee engagement challenges

Perkbox helps you engage your employees by helping you care for, connect with, and celebrate them.

  • Offer over 9,000 benefits and discounts to your employees – wherever they are
  • Enable peer-to-peer recognition on a company wide-feed
  • Send reward points to employees that they can claim on anything they want
man working