Autonomy: The FREE and Powerful Employee Benefit
Google is one of the most innovative and successful companies of our time. Google sets itself apart by thinking outside the box in all arenas, including employee management. One of the smartest things they’ve ever done is allow their employees to work on whatever they want 20% of the time. (This does not mean that they can work on a song for their band or anything like that. It must be something for Google of course.) Not only does most of their product innovation stem from that 20%, but their employees love it! We can all stand to learn a thing or two from Google.
Studies show time and again how important autonomy in the workplace is to employees. It increases both job retention and job satisfaction. In fact, autonomy can even trump salary benefits in some cases. I have a colleague who is recently considering a move to a new organization. However, she is hesitant because while the other company would be an increase in both salary and benefits, she would lose the autonomy she enjoys at her current position. Plus, she has heard from reputable sources that the CEO of the other organization is a micro-manager (which is the managing style opposite of autonomy). Losing autonomy would mean losing job satisfaction and no amount of money can buy the happiness that comes from liking where you go to work every day and what you do when you get there.
Each organization differs in the kind of autonomy they can offer. For instance, at VSA, our employees enjoy an enormous amount of autonomy over their schedules. This kind of flexibility is a huge incentive for the type of employees that work well for our business model – such as moms, students, recently retired professionals, and entrepreneurs. For other companies, such flexibility would not be viable. But, perhaps they could offer working from home 2 days a week, or working extra hours Monday – Thursday so employees could have off on Fridays.
Other types of autonomy have to do with a more hands-off approach in directing employees work, like Google’s 20%. For instance, rather than telling your staff how to do their jobs, you could instead set deadlines and goalposts that help determine progress and allow your employees to determine how to meet those benchmarks. It’s also wise to let employees determine their own goals and advancement. This allows them to be motivated intrinsically towards something, rather than by something solely external, like a raise. (Of course, you can’t cut out raises completely, but it’s wise to understand that they are not the end-all, be-all in employee incentives.)
We all want to feel like we are masters of our own lives, our own destinies. Employees give their time, work, passion, intelligence and hearts to an organization for a variety of reasons – salary, benefits, the company’s vision and mission, to be a part of something larger than themselves, for their co-workers, for their leaders who inspire them – but we all still have a need to retain some autonomy. We need to be free. It is inherent in us. Offering autonomy and freedom to your employees will increase employee retention, job satisfaction and productivity. It is also a wonderful recruitment tool that keep you competitive in a market where you might not be able to pay the top of the top salary for a given position.