autonomy in the workplace

Autonomy In The Workplace: 5 Tips to Strike the Balance as a Manager

Giving autonomy in the workplace can be either a pro or a con and often depends on the individual. As managers, it’s our responsibility to provide our employees with the right tools and resources to achieve their goals. The end goal for any manager is to meet the team’s objectives. But how do we go about doing this without undermining the team’s autonomy? It’s no secret that giving employees a high degree of autonomy at work can be a great way to motivate them and keep them focused on their work. Being able to decide the right amount of autonomy for the right people is the key to success as a good manager.

However, there are also some cons to be aware of. In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of giving employees work autonomy and discuss how to ensure that it’s a positive experience for you and your team members. We’ll further discuss how managers can create a perfect balance by giving out autonomy to employees effectively. Let’s start by discussing the benefits of providing employees autonomy in the workplace.

What is autonomy in the workplace?

Autonomy in the workplace refers to the extent to which employees are allowed to make decisions and act independently without direct supervision. In a workplace with a high level of autonomy, employees are given the freedom to choose how they complete their work and are not closely monitored by their superiors. They are able to make decisions and solve problems on their own, and are given the authority to take the necessary actions to complete their tasks.

It allows employees to explore their ideas and bring them to life, letting them build something of their own which creates an attitude of ownership towards work. For employees oriented to working independently and unconventionally, autonomy is a great mechanism to reach their potential.

Examples of Autonomy in the Workplace

Autonomy at work does not have a single facet. It can look different for different teams and workspaces. Let’s catch a glimpse of a few instances of autonomy in action with the help of some examples of autonomy at work listed below:

  • Project Selection: Allowing employees to choose the projects they want to work on based on their interests and strengths and allowing team members to self-assign or negotiate tasks based on their expertise and workload.
  • Flexible Work Hours: Giving employees the freedom to set their work hours as long as they fulfill their responsibilities and meet deadlines.
  • Decision-making: Empowering employees to decide about their projects or tasks without needing constant approval from higher-ups.
  • Budget Control: Giving teams control over budget allocation and spending for their projects.
  • Experimentation: Encouraging employees to try new approaches, ideas, and strategies, even if they involve some risk.
  • Professional Development: Let employees take charge of their career growth by choosing training programs and development opportunities that align with their career goals.
  • Performance Evaluation: Allowing employees to be part of the performance evaluation process gives them a chance to provide self-assessment and feedback.
autonomy in workplace examples

On the contrary, a lack of autonomy in the workplace looks like…

  • Strict Micromanagement: Employees are closely monitored, with managers involved in every aspect of their work, leaving little room for independent decision-making.
  • Top-Down Decision-making: All major decisions are made solely by upper management without seeking input or ideas from the rest of the team.
  • Fixed Work Schedules: Employees must adhere strictly to fixed work schedules, leaving no flexibility for personal preferences or work-life balance.
  • Rigid Task Assignments: Employees are assigned tasks without considering their interests or strengths, leading to disengagement and reduced productivity.
  • No Input on Company Policies: Employees are not given a say in creating or modifying company policies, making them feel disconnected from the decision-making process.
  • Performance Evaluation Dictated by Management: Employees have no say in assessing their performance, with evaluations solely determined by managers.
  • Communication Hierarchies: Employees must follow strict communication hierarchies, making it difficult for ideas or feedback to reach higher levels of management.

Do you need help building autonomous teams?

It’s easy to fall prey to micromanagement. The fear of repeated mistakes and delays in submissions keeps managers wary of building autonomous teams. Instead, they adopt strict checks and balances to keep everything up to date. If this sounds like you, then it’s high time to take action!

Micromanagement stifles creativity and growth big time. In addition, it keeps productivity stable – never letting it cross the boundary beyond which innovation happens, and minds run free. Breaking free from the shackles of micromanagement is essential to a successful management career. Ensure you are not getting bogged down by non-autonomous working styles by taking a free assessment now: Micromanagement self-assessment.

What are the benefits of giving autonomy to employees?

Employee Empowerment & Greater Task Ownership

Given that autonomy in the workplace is an essential ingredient for employee satisfaction, granting employees the freedom to manage their work and lives can be tremendously beneficial. This empowerment in the name of autonomy can help employees feel more in control of their work and their own work lives and enjoy a greater sense of control and ownership over their careers. In addition, autonomy at work can help employees feel more engaged and motivated, as they can take greater responsibility for their work. In turn, this can lead to greater productivity, happier employees, and higher levels of job satisfaction.

Read more: Taking Ownership: 10 Inspiring Examples Of Accountability In The Workplace

Boosts creativity and productivity

Giving autonomy to employees enables them to do their job the way they see fit and is one of the best ways to increase productivity. By letting them work without any micromanagement, you can expect them to be more creative and innovative in their work. In addition, autonomy encourages employees to take risks and try new things, leading to improved innovation and creativity. This can lead to better ideas, improvements in quality, and even cost savings.

Reduces Stress of Following Orders

Giving employees autonomy in the workplace can have several benefits, chief among them being reducing stress levels. When employees feel in control of their work and destiny, they are less likely to experience stress and anxiety. This is especially true when the autonomy in the workplace they get is meaningful and relevant to their job. Further, giving employees freedom can positively affect the way they act in stressful situations. In other words, allowing them to handle their work is beneficial psychologically.

Building Pride in Work

Much like the way exercising leads to reduced stress and improved mental health, giving employees more control over their work can positively affect workers’ daily mental well-being. Having the clarity of how they are responsible for their outcome will motivate these employees to put their best work and best practices forward. For example, giving an employee autonomy to decide how to communicate with coworkers is positively correlated with their sense of self-worth.

Innovative Decision-Making

When employees get the workplace autonomy to make decisions without interference, they are usually better-informed and more likely to arrive at the best possible solutions. This is because they can draw on their own experiences and observations and not rely on others to provide them with the information they need. As a result, their decisions are usually more effective and efficient than those made by someone who does not get autonomy at work.

Highly Engaged Teams and Low Turnover

When employees feel autonomous, they are more engaged in their work and less likely to leave. In essence, autonomy to employees is characterized by a sense of control and freedom over one’s environment. Autonomous employees work with a sense of purpose and motivation to achieve results. According to Gallup, when employees feel autonomous, they are more likely to be passionate about their work, take pride in their accomplishments, stay committed for longer tenures, and give their best effort. When employees feel autonomous, the team as a whole is more productive and successful.

What are the disadvantages of autonomy in the workplace?

It Can Cause Confusion and Chaos

Giving employees a lot of autonomy in the workplace can be a great way to reward them and give them a sense of ownership over their work. However, it can also cause confusion and chaos if not handled correctly. This is because employees may not understand the team’s expectations or the parameters of their job and may try to take advantage of the situation. This can result in mismanagement, wasted time, and lost revenue.

Breeds Complacency Without Adequate Supervision

Giving employees too much autonomy can be a huge downside. When workers do not get adequate supervision, they may take on more risks and become complacent. This can lead to them making careless decisions that could harm the team or even themselves. In addition, workers who have too much autonomy may be less likely to take advantage of team training and development opportunities, which could ultimately result in the team losing out on valuable talent.

Leaves Scope for Corruption

If employee autonomy is unchecked, employees may be tempted to exploit or corrupt the system to meet their agendas. When autonomy in workplace is used without proper supervision, it can lead to dramatic changes in how an organization is run. Employees will become more focused on their interests rather than the collective good. This could lead to unethical and illegal work practices and decreased productivity and morale of the workforce. This can further result in disastrous consequences for the team, such as financial losses and a communication breakdown.

Autonomy May Not Work for All Employees

Giving employees autonomy in the workplace is a great way to motivate and reward them, but it may not be the right decision for all employees. Some people may not respond well when they get the freedom to make their own decisions. They may lose focus or become unproductive. Some employees may feel overwhelmed and uncertain when given too much freedom, while others may not have the skills or knowledge to handle it. Further, some may see autonomy as an opportunity, and others may see it as a burden.

Read more: Is Micromanagement At Work Good? 5 Scenarios Where It Works

pros and cons of autonomy in the workplace

How to create a perfect balance?

Assigning autonomy to employees at work can seem like a risky venture. Hence, if you are a manager just stepping into it – start slow! Autonomy does not have to mean complete freedom on tasks and deadlines. Instead, it can be a balanced approach that takes care of the team’s and the employees’ needs together. For managers, it is critical to understand that there are multiple dimensions of autonomy. It aids in reinforcing authority and creating a more productive team at the end of the day.

The five dimensions of autonomy at work can be:

  • What: The team members can choose their tasks and assignments. It is simply control over the scope of the role and associated responsibilities
  • Where: The team members can at least partly choose their work location and mode.
  • How: The team members can design the workflow and process independently.
  • When: The team members can work on an independent schedule. They can set independent deadlines as well.
  • Why: The team members can create their mission and vision independently. Their causes of motivation can be free from the organization.
dimensions of autonomy at work

Balance employee autonomy with the “need for performance”

Giving employees the autonomy to do their job the way they see fit is one of the best ways to motivate them and ensure they perform at their best. However, make sure to balance this level of autonomy in the workplace with the need to maintain optimal employee performance. Too much independence can lead to chaos and confusion, while too little can cause employees to feel disengaged and unappreciated. Opt for a sweet spot that balances autonomy with guidance and oversight so that your employees stay motivated and productive.

Check for an employee’s need for autonomy

The need for autonomy in the workplace is an essential factor to consider when giving it to employees. While some employees may not need a lot of autonomy, others may need more. To determine whether an employee needs more or less autonomy, it’s essential to assess their needs and how to direct and manage them. To do this, ask yourself or even the employee a few questions about their preferences.

For instance, does the employee have experience working independently? Are they comfortable taking on new responsibilities? Do they feel supported when making decisions? If the answer to any of these questions is no, it might be best to provide more guidance and support. However, if the employee feels confident and capable when making decisions, granting them some autonomy in the workplace is good.

Create a system of checks and balances

Giving employees the autonomy to act is an essential strategy for organizations, as it allows them to make the best decisions for the team. However, employees should exercise autonomy at work responsibly and appropriately to avoid misuse or abuse. To ensure that this happens, it is vital to create a system of checks and balances, which will help monitor and track the employees’ activities.

There should be multiple metrics to measure different examples of autonomy given to employees to figure out which one goes the best in enhancing their performance. This way, you can ensure that they take all necessary steps to preserve their assets and protect their interests.

Guide and Assist Your Teams

Supervisors should always be available to help employees with questions or problems. This ensures that employees feel comfortable and confident asking for help. It will also ensure that they can resolve any issues quickly and efficiently. Supervisors can also provide guidance and support when making informed and responsible decisions and helping to meet team goals. By providing the right level of autonomy in the workplace and support from supervisors, managers can help employees fulfill their potential and contribute to the team’s success.

Get the Culture Right

The secret to building autonomous teams that do not fall into complacency and keep growing lies in setting the right culture and context for such work. For managers, this could mean adopting healthy habits and acting as role models for accountable usage of autonomy.

The process needs to start with hiring the right people that align with your team’s core values and demonstrate the ability to work autonomously. Further, incorporating these ideas during the onboarding and training sessions would help reinforce good practices. On the other hand, for managers, it is an exercise of building trust in their teams – so that they are sure of task completion and not riddled by anxiety. Freely delegating the right areas is the key to creating workplace autonomy.

How can a manager ensure that employees use autonomy in the workplace in the best interest of the team?

There are a few ways to ensure that employees use their autonomy in the workplace to their fullest potential for creating best results for the team.

  • One way is to provide them with clear goals and objectives.
  • Another way is to provide them feedback. These should allow them to see how their decisions affect their and the team’s performance.
  • Also, it is vital to allow them to learn from their mistakes and grow as professionals.
  • Suppose managers resort to micromanaging their employees instead of creating a culture of trust where they take the initiative and make choices based on what they know best. In that case, the chances of success will be significantly less. Therefore, they should avoid it.
  • Finally, managers can also encourage employee self-organization and participation. They can do this by providing them with opportunities to involve themselves and contribute their ideas.

How to hold employees accountable for their use of autonomy?

There are a few ways to hold employees accountable for their use of autonomy in the workplace.

  • One way is to set clear expectations at the beginning of the year/quarter. Managers should also make sure to communicate these expectations to all employees.
  • Another way is to create performance appraisals that take output into account instead of input. When you focus on output, employees feel responsible for driving that output.
  • Finally, managers can also hold employees accountable by taking action when they see them making bad decisions or not working to their best abilities.
  • You can also use questions to create autonomy and accountability in your teams.


Giving working autonomy in the workplace can be a great way to foster creativity and innovation and improve communication and teamwork. However, there are a few drawbacks to consider before implementing such a strategy. As a manager, it’s essential to be aware of the pros and cons of giving autonomy to employees. Moreover, you need to guide the employees to ensure that they make use of autonomy in the workplace positively to bring success for the team.

Grab a free effective delegation toolkit to start building autonomous teams today

Download the free effective delegation toolkit to access frameworks and templates curated by experts

Autonomy at Work FAQs

How to encourage autonomy at work?

The first step to encouraging autonomy in the workplace is building a culture of trust. It includes trusting your team members to achieve goals set for them independently. Setting SMART goals and recognizing efforts in teams is also an essential step to ensuring that employees take charge of their work.

What does a lack of autonomy at work mean?

Lack of autonomy at work binds team members into routine tasks that do not provide motivation. It can happen due to micromanaging managers or a lack of trust between managers and team members. Resultantly, employees are demotivated and put in the bare minimum effort.

How do you measure autonomy at work?

You can get an idea of the level of autonomy at work through signs such as employee motivation, the extent of task ownership, and performance on team goals. An openness to adopt innovative solutions and seek help also signifies autonomy and support from the management.

How does autonomy affect job performance?

Autonomy generally has a positive impact on job performance. A manager’s trust in their team member and the freedom to act independently translates into higher job satisfaction. The autonomy to pick schedules and make decisions empowers employees to achieve more.

Other Related Blogs

Overwhelmed Employees

7 Ways To Help Overwhelmed Employees On Your Team

7 Ways To Help Overwhelmed Employees On Your Team Your team’s productivity is built upon the efforts made by your team members. With the valuable assistance of their managers and…

5 Things Every Team With A Culture Of Winning Does

5 Things Every Team With A Culture Of Winning Does What differentiates a winning team from the rest? Winning teams are not lucky teams. They are a team that has…

Marketing Managers: 7 Essential Skills and Growth Guide

Marketing Managers: 7 Essential Skills and Growth Guide What does a marketing manager do? Is it social media management, tracking huge data, or building a brand voice through unique initiatives?…

Getting the Best Results with Leadership Mentors: A Complete Guide

Getting the Best Results with Leadership Mentors: A Complete Guide As a manager, you know that leadership and managerial skills are essential for success. But developing these skills can be…

Comments are closed.