Autonomy is an important psychological need of individuals, granting them independence and a sense of control over their actions. By providing more discretion to employees, organizations can influence workers’ engagement in the working process and maximize their contribution to the company goals. However, recent research indicates that “discretionary effort is greatest among managerial and professional employees, lower in administrative roles and lowest in manual and casual work” (CIPD, 2021, p. 4). It goes in accord with the premises of Pink’s theory of autonomy, mastery, and purpose, which validates that these three elements are essential for employees’ intrinsic motivation (Bromley, 2018). Pink’s theory claims that “people need autonomy over task (what they do), time (when they do it), team (who they do it with), and technique (how they do it)” to be motivated (Bromley, 2018, p. 6). Thus, employees in higher roles are more likely to strive for mastery in their skills and serve the organizational purpose if they are afforded a significant amount of discretion.
In my experience, autonomy in the workplace depends on the type of organization. Indeed, as an employee of a governmental health care entity, my colleagues and I and the whole staff of the organization have limited autonomy due to governmental regulations. Indeed, all the human resource management efforts are controlled by the Civil Service Bureau, which is why the management, in its turn, is obligated to govern all the aspects of organizational performance within all employee’s responsibilities. The latest research has supported such a tendency in the relevance of employee autonomy depending on the organization. Indeed, discretionary effort is “greater in the voluntary sector than in the private and public sectors” (CIPD, 2021, p. 4). Thus, it is essential to provide employees with autonomy to contribute to their motivation and obtain better-skilled human resources in the long run.
Too much autonomy without proper monitoring and control over the results of one’s work might negatively impact employee accomplishment and overall organizational performance. In particular, autonomy implies an extent of freedom over the decision-making process, the time and scope of work done, and the skills or knowledge needed (Bromley, 2018). Thus, for example, if an employee in a lower position in the organizational hierarchy is given autonomy, their work might be ineffective in reaching the big company goals. In other words, discretion in the workplace requires the employees’ expertise and competence in making job-related decisions. While a truck driver might be autonomous in deciding what route to take or how to handle the vehicle, their competence might not be relevant in determining the transportation logistics. Thus, giving too much autonomy to a truck driver will not benefit the organization because incompetent decisions might lead to significant losses.
Moreover, the ability to gain intrinsic motivation through discretion is best observed in employees with a particular mindset and the type of organization they work for. In particular, an individual with a low level of self-control or poor time management skills might not handle the responsibilities properly when unsupervised. On the other hand, when working in an organization where the results of one’s work are difficult to evaluate in a short-term perspective, autonomous but unproductive employees might fail to deliver expected outcomes. An example of such work might be teaching when an instructor with too much autonomy fails to follow the curriculum. Finally, autonomy implies limited interaction with management, which might trigger employees’ feelings being insufficiently appreciated or even unnoticed.
Bromley, M. (2018). Motivating your teachers. SecEd, 2018(3), 6. Web.
CIPD. (2021). Employee engagement and motivation. Web.