The Importance of Autonomy Support in the Workplace

How important is autonomy support in the workplace? A favorable working environment can have a significant impact on employee well-being. But what factors contribute to these favorable conditions? Recent research by Mokgata et al. (2022) shows that the degree of autonomy employees experience in their workplace is essential for their work performance and engagement. This article discusses the results of this important study, explains how different forms of support contribute to perceived autonomy and illustrates how these factors influence work behavior.

Autonomy Support: The Research

The research had two main goals. The first aim was to investigate whether different sources of support, such as supervisors, colleagues and personal actions, uniquely contribute to the feeling of autonomy. The second aim was to analyze whether these forms of support indirectly influence job performance through their impact on autonomy and job satisfaction.

A cross-sectional study was conducted to investigate autonomy support and autonomy crafting in the workplace. This was conducted on 278 South African workers, mostly women, with an average age of 29.30. Data were collected on demographic factors, perceptions of autonomy support, autonomy crafting and psychological need satisfaction. Work engagement and performance were measured and self-deception for improvement was controlled in the analysis. The data was analyzed by means of descriptive statistics, confirmatory factor analysis, correlation coefficients and relative weight analysis, and mediation analysis.

The Role of Managers and Colleagues

The research found that managers play a crucial role in promoting employee autonomy. When managers understand their employees and offer them choices and options, employees experience a higher sense of freedom and a stronger alignment between their actions and interests. Colleagues can also contribute to the feeling of autonomy, but their influence is smaller than that of managers.

Self-reliance and Autonomy

Employees who are actively involved in activities that align with their interests and desires – a process known as crafting for autonomy – also experience a heightened sense of freedom. However, this influence was not significantly greater than the support received from colleagues and less influential than the role of managers.

General Results

The research showed that different sources of support do not equally contribute to employees' sense of autonomy. Managers had the most influence, followed by colleagues and then personal actions. In addition, it turned out that autonomy is indirectly related to performance through its effect on work experience. In other words, employees performed better when they felt more autonomous, which also made them more energetic and committed to their tasks.

Summary and Implications

The research emphasizes the importance of autonomy in the workplace and the way different forms of support contribute to this autonomy. Remarkably, managers have the greatest influence on employees' sense of autonomy, followed by colleagues and personal actions. This highlights the importance of effective leadership and the critical role of managers in promoting autonomy, which in turn improves employee performance.

The research also emphasizes the importance of a work environment that enables employees to take initiative and act autonomously. These findings provide valuable insights for organizations to consider their efforts to improve employee well-being and performance. Promoting autonomy can be an effective strategy to improve employee engagement and performance.

Questions for Consideration

Given the importance of autonomy in the workplace, it is useful to translate this knowledge to your own work situation. How do you rate your current experience of autonomy at work? Do you receive sufficient support from your manager and colleagues to take decisions and develop initiatives? How would you describe your ability to tailor tasks and activities to your own interests and desires? Could more autonomy improve your work experience and performance?

These questions can be a starting point for reflection on the role of autonomy in your professional life and how you can improve it for a better work experience and performance.

Practical Steps to Autonomy

One way to achieve more autonomy at work is to communicate openly with your manager. Share your needs and wishes and ask for more space for personal decision-making and initiatives. Since leaders play a vital role in supporting autonomy, open dialogue can be a valuable first step.

In addition, you can proactively try to better align your activities with your own interests and wishes. This process, also referred to as 'crafting', can include, for example, adjusting your tasks, starting new projects or looking for new ways to perform your current tasks. However, make sure you take the organizational context and objectives into account.

Finally, don't underestimate the role of colleagues in supporting your autonomy. Collaborate, share ideas and support each other. A positive work culture in which colleagues help and motivate each other can be a strong stimulus for your sense of autonomy. Autonomy is a valuable element in the working environment. These steps can help you increase your autonomy and thus improve your work experience and performance.