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22 February 2023

Why Freedom is the Secret Ingredient to Employee Engagement

Jairek Robbins


As the labor market gets tighter and “the Great Resignation” shows no sign of abating, owners of small businesses need to think outside the box and come up with mechanisms to increase employee engagement, which will in turn trigger other benefits like reduced turnover. Autonomy and flexibility at the workplace can attain these goals.

What is Autonomy and Flexibility at Work?


In the past, organizations were structured around rigid systems featuring a clear chain of command, narrow job descriptions, top-down decision making, and other such forms of micromanagement. Employees had to clock in at a preset time each workday and leave at a particular time at the end of their work shift.

None of that depicts what autonomy and flexibility are. Autonomy entails giving a degree of freedom to employees to do their best to attain organizational objectives. Flexibility involves loosening up some requirements like when or where employees do their work, and so on.

What are the Benefits of Granting Employees Autonomy and Flexibility?


Creating an environment in which autonomy and flexibility prevails entails having a relationship of trust between teams and their managers. When employees feel trusted, they do more to deliver on set goals, they are more creative, loyalty shoots through the roof, and the organization sees bottom-line benefits.

A lot is required to make the shift from the traditional way in which organizations are run to a paradigm that espouses freedom/autonomy and flexibility. Here are some suggestions or strategies that will help your organization to make the needed adjustments.


Tweak Your Mindset


How do you regard your role as a manager or business owner? If you have been seeing your role as that of giving orders and seeing to it that they are implemented, you need to make a pivot in your thinking.

Autonomy and flexibility requires that employers and managers see themselves as coaches who oversee the growth of those who report directly to them. They guide, mentor and help employees to do their jobs better and grow in confidence so that they need less and less supervisory input to do a stellar job.

Coaches don’t micromanage because that denies employees an opportunity to be creative and to be accountable for outcomes. So, make a mental shift and be the coach who allows the team to blossom and thrive.


Grant Managers Leeway on Team Flexibility and Autonomy


There isn’t a one-size-fits-all on matters of flexibility and autonomy, which is why you need to let managers have leeway to determine how these concepts are actualized within their teams.

For example, while some departments may thrive through allowing team members to work entirely remotely, other teams may require huddling together for extended periods while they complete a project. In this case, let it be the prerogative of the manager to agree with their team on what sort of work arrangement to go by.

In this way, the true meaning of autonomy and flexibility will be felt at team level since its implementation will take into account the unique needs of the team.


Invite Employees to Point Out & Fix Problems


Employees are on the frontline of every organization, so they often have a very clear grasp of the challenges that arise from time to time. If you recruited those employees on the basis of their competence and potential, they also have workable remedies to the problems manifesting.

It is therefore advisable for you to create an environment in which employees are free to point out any problems they see and then grant them the liberty to find solutions to those problems.

Employee creativity thrives in such an enabling environment, and some low-cost or even novel approaches can be brought to light in this way.


Be Flexible on Work Hours and Spaces


Another way to engender more autonomy and flexibility within your organization is by being more flexible regarding the work hours and days as well as where employees do their work from.

For example, don’t decide which holidays an employee will take off. Instead, let each express their wish on this matter and come up with an arrangement that suits all. People of different faiths can be off duty to mark the holidays that have meaning for them, and they can work on holidays they don’t celebrate. Vacations, days off and other such features of flexibility should also follow a similar pattern.


Let Employees Set Performance Goals


It is also beneficial to allow employees and teams to set their own performance goals or KPIs. You can provide broad guidelines about the strategic direction of the organization, but let teams be involved in setting their own targets.

This will make them feel accountable for attaining those goals, and they will be more engaged in everything they do because they will want to meet the expectations that they have set for themselves.

Additionally, not all departments are created equal, and the people who best understand each department should be in charge of setting the goals for that department. Not you at the top.


Get Team Input on Perks, Pay and Benefits


Once you have worked out what your business or organization can afford in terms of employee pay, perks and benefits, let some of the finer details be worked out by the team.

For example, have you heard the joke about taking a girl out for an expensive Valentines dinner yet what she would most appreciate would be gas in her car to cover the coming week’s commute?

Let employees have a say on their pay, perks and benefits. For example, an older employee could appreciate a bigger contribution to their retirement account while one with young children may prefer perks that support childcare, and so on.

Don’t give a fly-fishing enthusiast tickets to a classical music show while at the same time giving a nursing mother tickets to a weekend on the Strip in Las Vegas. To each their own! Of course you shouldn’t let chaos reign regarding this, but be as flexible on these matters as possible so that each person gets a package that is most meaningful to them.


Wrapping it up…


Autonomy/freedom and flexibility can usually be categorized into three; thoughts, words and actions.

Ensure that workplace policies and practices grant employees freedom in those three aspects. For example, they should never feel that there will be reprisals if they speak openly to management about what’s not going right, and they should never feel that they will be punished if they try a new solution to a problem and it fails, costing the company money.

Thoughts, words and actions; those will be the true test of freedom in your organization. Nurture them responsibly!

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