Controlling boss? So you can convince him of more autonomy

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Those who have their boss on their backs constantly are less productive and more anxious – and this is often a reason why someone is looking for a new job. Before you actually quit in such a case and embark on the laborious search for a new job, it is worth asking your boss for more autonomy at work.

Since home office and flexible working hours have become more common due to the Covid-19 pandemic, now is a good time to start talking to your manager.

“Since the pandemic, many companies have had the issue of autonomous workers more on their radar than they did four months ago,” said Eric Anicich, professor of management and organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.

“Thus, the pandemic can serve as a conversation starter about flexible working arrangements and more autonomy in general,” he added. “Compared to earlier times, companies in times of the pandemic are more likely to expect and reward employees demanding more autonomy.”

More autonomy makes workers healthier and happier

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found a link between mental health and the degree of autonomy someone has at work. Workload and requirements – and how well someone can handle these requirements – are also related to this indicator. Employees who work more autonomously and can decide for themselves how to work and how high they set their goals are less stressed overall and have a lower risk of suffering from stress or depression.

Other studies show that more autonomy at work increases employees’ self-esteem, improves their job performance and makes people happier in the workplace. This means that they are less likely to want to change jobs.

According to Anicich, research has highlighted these benefits of worker autonomy for decades. Even so, employers have always feared that their employees would not do their job if they weren’t monitored. So they always pushed that thought aside.

Due to the pandemic, however, some weak points in traditional office culture are now moving into the spotlight, somewhat lengthy personal meetings. This makes it clear to companies that both managers and employees benefit from more autonomy.

“Strictly controlled office work between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. is increasingly losing its legitimacy. And I think companies recognize this, ”said Anicich. “Motivated and healthy employees are more productive, more creative and more satisfied.”

How you bring up the topic of autonomy

Do you need more autonomy for your work style? Then you should discuss this in a conversation with your boss. Make sure that you make the conversation positive, set clear expectations and build trust, said Laura Hamill. She is an organizational psychologist and head of the Limeade employee experience platform.

“Often that’s exactly what is missing in companies: real trust between the employee and the employer,” said Hamill. “Without trust, all attempts to achieve real autonomy inevitably come to nothing.”

According to Hamill, the best approach is to show employers the benefits of giving you more autonomy. Her suggestion is that you do a small project that you can use to show your boss how well it works when you work autonomously.

Also collect examples from previous projects that you have worked on independently. You should also set your request in relation to the corporate culture and values, according to Anicich. For example, explain that you are more creative and efficient when you can work more autonomously and that this can have advantages for your boss.

Not sure how to bring up the topic? Hamill offers this introduction to the conversation with your boss:

I’ve been thinking about the way we work together, and there is one thing that I find really difficult with. I think you know how much I love my job – I think about it all the time. I realized that I would like to have more personal responsibility for my daily work.

Sometimes it seems that you are telling me very specifically how I should go about my work. My suggestion would be that I do my tasks more independently. I have so many great ideas. But if you tell me exactly what to do, sometimes I am not able to bring my own ideas to the table. I also know you’ve got a lot going on – so what do you think if we try this?

In the next task you have for me, let’s first discuss the problem to be solved. From then on I take over and figure out how to go about it. Could we agree on that?

Despite more personal responsibility, you should set clear limits

However, more personal responsibility at work can also be a “double-edged sword,” said Anicich. Autonomy may severely test the boundaries of workers – especially at a time when work and private life are becoming increasingly blurred due to the recommended home office.

“Highly motivated workaholics run the risk of burnout if they are given too much autonomy,” said Anicich. This danger is especially given if employers only agree to the application if they can measure the progress of their employees. For example, based on a certain number of working hours per week or weekly services to be delivered.

It may be difficult for your boss to give up control at the beginning. But over time you will gain his trust and his need to constantly control you will decrease, Anicich said.

Finding the right balance and level of autonomy that works for both of you will certainly take a few tries. It helps to set some small goals and achieve them, Hamill said. No matter what agreement you ultimately come to, make sure you agree on clear boundaries. Above all, discuss working hours, tasks, results, and any other requirements.

“The world of work has changed,” she said. “Employees do not tolerate command and control bodies that treat people like throwaway cogs in a machine. Companies that treat people as people – trust them and care for them – attract the best talent and keep their employees in the company. They also achieve the best results in the long term ”.

This article was translated from English and edited by Ilona Tomić. You can read the original here.


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