Good leadership comes first and foremost through greater employee autonomy

Good leadership is characterized by all kinds of practices and qualities, but giving employees greater autonomy is certainly one of the key elements. New studies suggest that autonomy has significant effects on several aspects, from performance and culture to loyalty and well-being.

However, autonomy does not mean being totally free or giving up all responsibility. Rather, it is the opposite: autonomy must be accompanied by productive limits and significant constraints in order to be more effective.

So, giving employees more freedom and control over their work is a great idea, and new studies prove it. These studies show that autonomy should be a priority for leaders.

The performance

According to one Gartner studywhen employees have the flexibility to decide their working hours, they are 2.3 times more likely to achieve excellent performance than those with less autonomy.


When given more freedom, 83% of employees had a positive view of their company’s culture, compared to 47% of those with less control, according to a study. Atlassian study.


According to data from a Gartner study, employees who have more freedom are 2.3 times more likely to stay with their company.


Greater work flexibility also has a positive effect on innovation, according to data from an Atlassian study. Specifically, 71% of employees said they were more innovative, compared to 57% of those with less freedom.

The well-being

When employees have greater autonomy in their work, they are 1.9 times less likely to experience fatigue, according to data from the Gartner study. On the other hand, when workers in high-stress jobs have less control over their workflow, their health and longevity are negatively affected. In contrast, workers with greater decision-making autonomy do not experience the same negative health effects, according to two separate studies conducted at the Indiana University.

According to one study of the University of Illinoisemployees who are more in control of work-life boundaries and able to manage the influence of their smart devices tend to be less stressed, less worried, and sleep better.

Furthermore, with greater autonomy, only 14% of employees reported feeling burnt out, compared to 36% for those with less freedom, according to the Atlassian study.

Limits and leadership

To achieve good results, you need autonomy, but that does not mean that you have to grant it without restraint.

While we all constantly receive a lot of information, clarity can help reduce the effect of saturation. Neurologically, people tend to avoid ambiguity and prefer certainty, so clarity of goals and expectations can be particularly empowering.

Too much autonomy can leave employees adrift, not knowing what to do, when, and why it matters to the business. Instead, wise leaders give direction, direction, to employees and connect their work to a larger goal. They explain how their work influences that of other employees inside and outside the company. Finally, they set expectations for the quality of work and the results employees are expected to achieve. This clarity helps reduce ambiguity and stress.

Good leaders are also empathetic, and when they show empathy, it positively impacts employees and the business, including performance, engagement, innovation, and well-being.

Empathy is also related to autonomy, as employees value different kinds of freedom. Some employees may thrive on having more control over their working hours, so they can leave earlier to attend a child’s game or care for an elderly family member, and then return to work later to complete their task. For others, freedom in the type of work they do is most important: the freedom to focus on development or to take initiatives outside of their usual responsibilities. For still others, having influence over the team members they invite to participate in their project may be the biggest benefit.

Adopt an empathetic approach by focusing on everyone’s needs and asking your employees what they value: this will give them the type of autonomy that best suits their priorities and their role. Of course, every job has its constraints, but when you manage to balance the needs of the job with the unique desires of the employee, it has a positive impact, whether it’s giving your employees greater choice in when, where, how and with whom they work.

  • Autonomy and responsibility

It is a myth to believe that autonomy does not come with responsibility. If you want to provide more freedom, it is also necessary to hold employees accountable for results. It’s also a myth that employees don’t want to be held accountable. In reality, responsibility is linked to value and recognition.

When leaders hold their employees to account, they make them understand that they value their work, their participation and their contribution. When the work of employees is up to par, it is an opportunity to show them recognition. And when they don’t, feedback from leaders shows they care about employee improvement and development.

Great leaders pay attention to the work of employees, give them feedback, and reward them when they excel.

A flexible future

The future of work will certainly be flexible and will offer more freedom to employees. However, for an optimal work experience, the autonomous will have to come with limits. As the world of work evolves, more needs to be learned about how employees stay engaged and connected, and the balance between flexibility and results.

Article translated from Forbes US – Author: Tracy Brower

<<< À lire également : Autonomy of teams and individuals: the challenge of hybrid management >>>

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