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Why workplace flexibility and autonomy are vital for success – and how companies can encourage it 1

Why workplace flexibility and autonomy are vital for success – and how companies can encourage it

Workplace flexibility and autonomy are key factors concerning the future of work. A study from ManpowerGroup Solutions revealed that nearly 40% of job candidates worldwide said schedule workplace flexibility is one of their top three factors in career decisions. A recent study highlights that 59% of employees reported that flexibility is more important to them than salary or other benefits. Yet 61% of employees prefer management to allow team members to come into the office or work from home when they need to. Companies can go longer dangle the carrot of flexibility because it is now considered an essential practice; organizations need to embrace flexibility in order to attract and retain skilled talent. 

However, workplace flexibility is no longer restricted to scheduling or working from home on certain days. This study shows us that flexibility in today’s work world comprises a broad spectrum of work arrangements, including:

  • Flexible arrival and departure times
  • Full-time work from home or location independence
  • Choice and control in work shifts
  • Part-time work from home
  • Compressed shifts or workweek
  • Opportunity for sabbaticals or career breaks (e.g., extended time off)
  • Unlimited paid time off
  • Caregiving leave

In the recent months, employee burnout rates have risen 9% despite employees being given flexible benefits. When we look at the landscape today, for organizations wanting to remain competitive, they need to go beyond providing flexibility in the workplace. They need to enable and empower employee autonomy – a key enabler of flexibility. Autonomy is a key driver of human motivation, performance, and fulfillment. It is the extent to which an employee has the freedom to make certain decisions, their own decisions, regarding the content and planning of their work. Autonomy in the context of hybrid working also directly correlates with the amount of flexibility an employee is given at their place of work, and in their specific role. As employees begin to navigate their work in their way, they are more likely to experience a sense of ownership and an increased level of engagement.

Statistics show that a massive 68% of the UK workforce feel disengaged in the workplace. What companies are now realizing is that autonomy is essential for employee engagement. Recent research findings reveal that 79% of autonomous employees are engaged, and therefore, are more accountable, have a stronger sense of ownership, and perform better at their job. There is also a significant difference between organizations with more than 500 employees in comparison to startups of up to 100 employees: only 34% of employees in larger organizations feel autonomous at work, compared with 79% in startups.

What has become very clear to leaders over the last few years is that individuals are that – individuals – they think, function, and work differently. Giving employees the autonomy and responsibility of knowing how best to work is a welcome approach today. Another benefit to organizations who practise autonomy in the workplace is that when employees have autonomy, they develop self-reliance and resilience – two of the many important leadership skills. Being able to think independently and make decisions in the best interest of the role and company’s objectives is synonymous with problem-solving. A workplace based on autonomy is a conducive environment for building leadership skills. 

3 Best strategies to support employee flexibility and autonomy.

Provide employees with the right tools and technology

Depending on the nature of their work, organizations must consider what tools and technology their employees need to experience a smooth transition to remote working. Employees with autonomy will also be able to choose and will have access to devices that enable them to work in multiple locations. 

Document learning, and actually learn from them

One of the best ways for employees to learn and get better is through ‘failures’. Allowing employees to make mistakes, and instead focusing on a growth mindset, encouraging employees to document learnings and grow from them, will not only lead to fewer such experiences but will lead to more engaged and innovative employees. 

Hire right and hire autonomous people

Not all employees like being autonomous. Identifying and hiring talent who thrive with autonomy, who can find ways to succeed at their job, and get the tasks done will prove very beneficial for the organization. Many companies even encourage employees to allocate work time to personal projects in the aim of fostering innovation, creativity, a sense of ownership, and getting into the mindset of autonomous working. 

When organizations focus on investing in giving employees the tools they need to do their job well regardless of location, they can create a culture of autonomy and flexibility that benefits the organization, their teams, and individual employees as well. For more on building and managing global teams, schedule a consultation with our team of experts from Talent500.

Anushree Thammanna

Anushree Thammanna

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