Today’s Executives Realize Importance of Giving Employees Autonomy

As work cultures continue to change and employees at all levels seem to get busier and busier, many executives are realizing the importance of giving managers and employers the space and freedom they need to do their jobs efficiently.Importance of Giving Employees Autonomy

Tim Askew, CEO of Corporate Rain International, says, “I believe in the empowerment innate in freedom, both as an entrepreneur and as an employer of a highly skilled outsourced executive sales force. My philosophy is if you hire ‘em, trust ‘em.”

“Now, there is neuro-scientific evidence to show that employees are less effective when their work is dictated top-down,” he adds, noting that Yale professor Arny Arnsten has conducted research via his Arnsten Lab that indicates a decrease in cognitive functioning in the emotional response centers of employees’ when tasks are micro-dictated to them by their managers. This causes the employees to feel as though they’re not in control and actually leads to a drop in their efficacy.

“For many years, I’ve not only allowed—but encouraged—our employees to enjoy a high degree of autonomy,” says Sean St. John, vice president at Toronto’s National Bank.

“It’s very important,” he continues, “to allow people at all levels of the organization to do their jobs without micromanagement, using not only their skills and talents but also their individual experience and ideas. I find that this philosophy results in a happier, more satisfied workforce, and they’ve certainly proven themselves worthy of the freedom we allow.”

United Airlines Executive Vice President of Human Resources Kate Gebo began offering employees greater autonomy following a well-publicized incident in which a passenger was removed from a United flight. Although she gave employees more freedom in how they perform their jobs, she also realized that it takes time to change a longstanding culture.

“Even if you tell somebody, ‘Hey, just do the right thing,’ they don’t know what those guardrails are. Since it’s not always obvious what the right thing is, they may worry about being fired for doing something for a customer that maybe they shouldn’t be doing.”
 As part of United’s initiative to cultivate employee autonomy, the airline developed a list of shared values that were condensed further into what United calls the Core4, with number one being safety. Front-line employees were taught how to apply the Core4 to their actual interactions with customers. So far, in the two places were the program has been tested, customer satisfaction scores have risen by six to eight percent, according to Gebo.

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In an article on, Tanya Robertson cites research showing that job satisfaction rises among employees who are given autonomy, job satisfaction rises, noting that, “It’s theorized that this increased level of job satisfaction in employees stems from a feeling of greater responsibility for the quality of their work. Autonomy has also been shown to increase motivation and happiness, along with decreasing employee turnover.” She does add that there’s evidence that too much autonomy can backfire.