Autonomy and Employee Engagement
A company’s organizational structure is shown to affect employee engagement and behavior. Dutch clinical psychiatrist, Wilmar Schaufeli found that organizations with more linear hierarchical structures tend to have more negative occupational health trends among their employees (Schaufeli et al., 2011). Organizations with linear hierarchies tend to see less communication or feedback flow from the bottom up or from side to side. This has the potential to create a high control, low autonomy environment. Working in a controlled environment can negatively influence an employee’s perception of control in their own work space. Which, in turn, affects overall employee engagement.
Research indicates that an increase in worker autonomy can elicit “greater engagement in the workplace and commitment to the workplace” (Hodson, 2000). Employers might also want to remember that, depending on the career field, individuals with higher levels of education have higher expectations of work democracy and work autonomy (Rothschild 2000). Decisional and functional freedom in the workplace is shown to be significant to employee engagement and performance. One method to improve employee input is a circular team or ‘work pod’ approach. This is when employees, team leaders and management are organized into units where communication between members is shared in a circular manner instead of the traditional linear model. Group participation in this manner has been cited by the Commission on the Future of Worker-Management Relations as having benefits to employee health (Rothschild 2000).
There are additional methods to incorporate a more circular or horizontal hierarchical structure within an organization. These include projects that encourage team collaboration, and assigning challenging work tasks where employees have a degree of autonomy and input in their outcome. In organizations with a tradition of linear organizational structures, implementing these methods can lead to employees that feel more valued and engaged. While the concept can be difficult to apply, “some 85 percent of the public, support the idea of workplace democracy” (Rothschild 2000). Employer efforts to better value employee input and provide more autonomy over their work can result in employees that stay longer, perform better and feel more invested in the mission of their organization.
By Treyanna Parker
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