Sunday, September 20, 2020
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On the job, autonomy brings positive rewards

As teenagers start to look for summer jobs or begin employment after high school, those jobs that will contribute best to their overall well-being are the ones that have at least some autonomy. The question is, Given a certain level of hands-off treatment from the boss, will they get their work done?

New research into workplace culture has found that employees with higher levels of autonomy in their work reported positive effects on their overall well-being and higher levels of job satisfaction.

Researchers at the business school at the University of Birmingham in the UK examined changes in reported well-being relative to levels of autonomy using two separate years of data for 20,000 employees from the Understanding Society survey.

The research, published in the journal Work and Occupations, found that levels of autonomy differed considerably between occupations and by gender.

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

Dr Daniel Wheatley, University of Birmingham Business School, said, “Greater levels of control over work tasks and schedule have the potential to generate significant benefits for the employee, which was found to be evident in the levels of reported well-being.

“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 study 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.

Dr Wheatley added: “The manner of work and control over work schedule was found to be more relevant to the well-being of female employees. Flexibility in work location, specifically homeworking, benefited women with caring responsibilities allowing them to better manage paid work alongside the household.”

Men were found to be more impacted by job tasks, pace of work, and task order.

The research also highlighted that despite the reported increased levels of well-being, 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.”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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