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Workplace autonomy correlated with greater overall well-being and job satisfaction

Researchers find that picking hours and setting the pace of work benefits employees

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Does your job afford you flexible working hours or the ability to work at your own pace? If so, then a new study suggests that you probably have higher job satisfaction and higher overall well-being than other professionals who don’t.  

Researchers from the University of Birmingham found that greater workplace autonomy had several positive effects. However, they also say that this freedom can be limited depending on your occupation.

“Greater levels of control over work tasks and schedule have the potential to generate significant benefits for the employee, which was found to be evident in the levels of reported well-being. The positive effects associated with informal flexibility and working at home, offer further support to the suggestion that schedule control is highly valued and important to employees ‘enjoying’ work,” said researcher Dr. Daniel Wheatley.

Occupation and gender differences

The study used data from two different years of the Understanding Society survey, which questioned a total of 20,000 employees about their workplace autonomy. After analyzing the responses, the researchers found that the highest levels of autonomy existed at the management level, where 90% of participants reported “some” or “a lot” of freedom in the workplace.

However, professionals below the management level reported between 40% and 50% less autonomy in the workplace, especially over pace of work and working hours. That was better than reports for lower skilled employees, though, who reported no autonomy over work hours at all.

Another finding of the study was that men and women are affected by workplace autonomy in different ways.  Women who took the survey said that being able to pick their own work schedule and location allowed them to balance other life tasks, such as attending to family commitments. In contrast, men reported being more impacted by job tasks, pace of work, and task order.

“The manner of work and control over work schedule was found to be more relevant to the well-being of female employees. Flexibility in work location, specifically homeworking, benefitted women with caring responsibilities allowing them to better manage paid work alongside the household,” Wheatley said.

Autonomy in short supply

Despite the positive effects of increased workplace autonomy, the study indicates that workers shouldn’t get too used to the idea of being able to pick their own hours and tasks.

The survey responses indicated that managers are often unwilling to grant greater levels of autonomy because “their primary role remains one of control and effort extraction.”

The full study has been published in Work and Occupations.

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