Autonomy in the workplace: Are you holding back your top talent?

Three psychological needs must be met for employees to thrive in their careers

Autonomy in the workplace: Are you holding back your top talent?

Autonomy will be key in navigating the workplace of 2023, with more and more employees craving flexibility and compassionate leadership from their organizations.

Speaking to HRD, Meghan Stettler, director at the O.C. Tanner Institute, explained that autonomy and mastery in workplaces helps address an important psychological need for employees – one which could help them achieve personal success and entice them to stay with you for even longer.

“In our research, we found that we as human beings have an innate desire to satisfy three psychological needs,” says Stettler. “The need for autonomy, which is freedom of choice; the need for mastery, which is to develop our unique expertise; and connection, that feeling of closeness and belonging.

“We tend to channel our energy into activities and relationships that help us fulfil these fundamental desires.”

Six key elements of culture

When all three of these needs are satisfied, employees grow – they thrive and flourish, she says. When workers’ everyday experiences are full of positive emotions, that changes how they perceive their employer and their organization as a whole.

“However, when those needs aren't met, employee experience is deflated,” says Stettler. “Not only does that negatively impact how employees view their organization, but it diminishes how they view their value within that organization. That’s the big kicker.”

Data shows that when meaningful connections are made, employers will see a 430% increase in employee engagement. What’s more, research from O.C Tanner’s recent Global Culture report verified this intrinsic link, highlighting the importance of the six key elements of culture — purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, wellbeing, and leadership.

Autonomy as a leadership tool

By fostering autonomy in your culture, strong outcomes naturally follow. According to the data, companies that rank high on the “community index” are 785% more likely to have employees who feel like they belong at work – as well as boasting 58% lower turnover.

“To maximize this time for connection, recognition needs to move beyond a once- or twice-a-year transaction to a really integrated approach,” says Stettler. “[It’s] a natural response to doing great work; in short, it becomes a way of life in your organization and culture.”

Rewards, as Stettler tells HRD, is crucial here. A company that not only recognises great work but actively rewards it leads to enhanced mastery in an organization.

“It validates your employees,” she says. “When people feel as if they don’t have a value in an organization, they leave. Rewards help people feel valued and affirm their potential in the organization. You should also look at celebrating careers, which are commonly known as service awards. That’s about acknowledging somebody's full body of work all the steps, all the rewards — not just their work but their unique contributions.”

Recent articles & video

The Body Shop Canada to close 33 stores after filing for bankruptcy protection

Could gig workers be up for sector-wide organizing?

Province offering $5,000 'Alberta is Calling' signing bonus

Marked divides between Canadian men, women at work: survey

Most Read Articles

Western province announces minimum wage boost

Province offering $5,000 'Alberta is Calling' signing bonus

Change management times three: Novartis HR leader’s big lessons in transformation