Beyond Flexibility: Four Steps to Building Autonomy in the Workplace

Organizations nowadays strive to offer as much flexibility as possible in the workplace. However, flexibility alone is not always enough to help achieve their collective targets. Instead, companies must foster a culture of empowerment among their employees and build autonomy in the workplace.

Fostering empowerment throughout the organization is a vital step toward achieving collective aims and reaching overall success. When employees feel empowered, it allows them the freedom to make decisions within the scope of their role. As a result, they build autonomy. Autonomy then becomes a key element in building a successful organization.

Consequently, organizations must first define what autonomy means to them and then take proactive steps to institute a culture of autonomy in the workplace.

What Is Autonomy in the Workplace?

Autonomy is not solely about the organization’s vision or strategy but a method of achieving goals by empowering employees to make decisions and take responsibility for their role within the team. Autonomy in the workplace is about allowing teams to develop their own identity within the organization’s vision and philosophy.

Individuals work differently across the organization, and autonomy gives employees the freedom to work in a way that best suits them and encourages engagement. If the work gets done on time and meets expectations, how they carry out the work is up to individual staff members.

It is essential that the company places trust in its staff. When empowered, employees can flourish. Without independence, employees may become too reliant on their superiors and find it difficult to find their foothold within the organization. The lack of self-direction can often lead to a centralized decision-making process focused on just one mindset.

Employees are free to act proactively within the scope of their role when autonomy takes hold, which ensures that tasks get done with far less hindrance due to bureaucratic procedures. The company succeeds while employees become more engaged in their roles.

Why Should Organizations Foster Autonomy?

Employees want autonomy. A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) study indicated that 59% of survey respondents said flexibility was more important than salary. Also, 77% of respondents stated that they would prefer to work for a company that gives them the flexibility to work anywhere.

What does this information say about autonomy?

Employees want flexibility by way of autonomy. In other words, staff members want to have options and the ability to choose instead of following mandates. Work location is merely an example of how flexibility is an interim step toward establishing autonomy in the workplace.

Harvard researchers David Rock and Christy Pruitt-Haynes wrote in another HBR piece:

“Mandates feel like a violation of autonomy, which is one of the most important intrinsic drivers of threat and reward in the brain.” In short, forcing people to follow orders is a surefire way of destroying engagement and motivation.

Consequently, organizations that offer autonomy in the workplace benefit. Fostering autonomy allows employees to take personal ownership of their roles within the organization. Independence improves motivation and job satisfaction, resulting in decreased employee turnover.

Cultivating autonomy fosters the following attitudes:

• A sense of belonging within the organization.

• Develop an individual identity within the overall collective – employees are people, not numbers.

• Accountability for achievements and shortcomings. Boosts productivity

• Drive to innovate. Employees feel they have room for creativity. Increased motivation.

• Team collaboration as individuals coalesce into a group identity.

• Develops skills that are crucial to good leadership

Indeed, a­utonomy can become a significant driving force behind an organization’s success. It is merely a question of taking the appropriate steps to instill a culture of autonomy.

Defining autonomy

Defining autonomy for your organization

What does autonomy mean to an organization?

The concept of “autonomy” can vary from organization to organization. Since autonomy is not a cookie-cutter, catch-all term, finding one that makes sense to an organization’s specific needs is crucial.

Here are the key elements to consider:

• Industry

• Types of workers (full-time, part-time, temp, seasonal)

• Employee profiles

• Government regulations

• Pressure from investors or upper management

Finding the sweet spot largely depends on balancing every aspect of the organization, including external factors such as investor relations and government regulations. This careful balancing act can establish a thriving culture of autonomy based on a strong sense of empowerment.

Four Steps to Foster Autonomy in the Workplace

Building a culture of autonomy requires organizations to take the critical first step. Once taken, developing autonomy becomes something akin to a snowball effect.

Here are four steps organizations can take to foster autonomy in the workplace.

Team building

Step #1: Strive to build a culture of trust and accountability.

Employees must be personally responsible for their roles. However, management must also be willing to trust their instincts. Trust is a two-way proposition based on open communication, and companies must make an effort to maintain effective communication as much as possible.

Step #2 Allow workers to explore new methods of doing their job.

Finding new ways to revamp existing tasks can help bolster innovation. However, management must have tolerance for experimentation, particularly when attempts do not yield expected results. Employees and managers should maintain regular feedback sessions to ascertain what works and what does not.

Step #3: Reward success by offering incentives such as recognition, bonuses, or perks.

Recognition is highly important as it allows staff members to feel valued and appreciated. Moreover, employees do not necessarily prefer monetary incentives over perks such as training, appreciation, and above all, flexibility.

Step #4: Analyze mistakes without assigning blame or chastising employees, particularly when their instincts fail.

It is not about finding fault but rather learning from mistakes. Discussing shortcomings allows organizations to understand why failure occurs and what they can do to improve. Ultimately, analyzing mistakes is about ensuring continuous growth and improvement.

Lastly, organizations must gradually build up autonomy. Giving employees too much leeway too soon, especially in a strict workplace, may create confusion. Employees must ease into increased freedom within the scope of their roles.


Autonomy is a great way to boost productivity, motivation, and engagement. However, companies must gradually work their way into an autonomous culture. Managers must ensure they empower employees to make their own decisions without assigning blame when things do not go as expected.

How can Simply Biotech help your organization build autonomy?

Simply Biotech is an expert firm at finding the right people for the right jobs. When people match an organization’s core values and vision, developing autonomy in the workplace becomes more achievable.

We have the expertise to help your organization streamline its staffing processes. We have the know-how to help take your organization to the next level. Let us become a trusted partner in your organization’s growth and development.

Let’s get started today!


This post is made available for informational purposes only to provide a general understanding of the topics discussed herein. It is not intended to provide specific business, legal, or professional advice and should not be relied on as such. Simply Biotech is not liable or responsible for any damage or loss arising from any reliance placed on such materials.