Wondering how to motivate your staff? Take a page from psychological theory

Do you trust your employees? Psychology suggests you should. When employees are trusted, empowered and equipped to make certain decisions about how, when and where they work – a concept known as job autonomy – it results in positive outcomes for both the employee and the employer.

As technology pushes the boundaries of what’s possible, business leaders can stick to the status quo or take action to empower their employees to be more autonomous. Still not convinced? Let’s take a deeper dive.

What is autonomy and why is it important?

According to the psychological theory of self-determination, autonomy plays an important role in helping people feel motivated and fulfilled. Self-determination theory defines autonomy as the feeling of being in control of one’s decisions and behavior. The reason that autonomy has such an impact on motivation is that when people feel that their choices have an effect on output, they feel more responsible for their role and more invested in the end result.

Consider, for example, the Montessori philosophy of education, which attaches great importance to autonomy. Unlike a traditional, highly structured classroom environment, a Montessori environment gives children the freedom to choose what they work on, how they complete tasks, how long they work on them, who they work with, and more. In a studystudents rated themselves as highly motivated to do their schoolwork—no mean feat when talking to your average K-12 student.

Applied to the workplace, job autonomy refers to the independence an employee has over aspects of their job, such as task management and completion, work hours, and work environment. By entrusting employees greater autonomy, they see themselves as an active contributor to the company’s success. Employers who give employees a high degree of autonomy see improvements in everything from think creatively about customer service

Despite the benefits, many workers lack autonomy.

For knowledge workers who work at a desk, the concept of autonomy will sound familiar. Most desk workers have a degree of freedom to decide how they want to spend their day, how to perform certain tasks, and more. Sure, they may have deadlines or quotas to account for, but most information workers are given a high degree of autonomy and trust.

But for the rest 80 percent of the world’s workforce that does not work at a desk, there is great variability in the degree of autonomy they have. For example, most gig economy workers generally have a high degree of freedom, such as the self-employed dog walker who determines how many hours they work, where they go and how many walks they will take.

However, the level of autonomy available to Wag walkers is not the reality for the vast majority of deskless workers. In fact, the most recent research from my company Skedulo report found that only 6 percent of organizations consider their deskless workforce “highly autonomous” and nearly one in three employees have little or limited control.

It’s easy for the CEO of a deskless productivity company to tout these stats — and obviously my opinion is influenced by what I do. But it’s hard to ignore this overwhelming consensus: 97 percent of organizations that employ deskless workers agree that greater employee autonomy would improve job performance, employee retention, customer satisfaction, and market share.

Organizations that employ deskless workers miss out on opportunities to empower their workforce, leaving the door open for frustration, attrition, and innovative employee competitors to clean out skilled workers.

Achieving autonomy starts with the right technology.

Historically, this lack of autonomy for deskless workers has been due to insufficient mobile technology. But lack of technology is no longer the case. Powerful, advanced mobile computing platforms, such as smartphones, wearables and drones, can complement and expand the capabilities of deskless workers in the field.

The problem today is the lack of technology adoption – not enough employees are equipped with tools that enable advanced decision-making and task management. Our survey found that only 6 percent of organizations relied entirely on digital processes for deskless work, and 44 percent of organizations rely on paper-based processes half the time or more.

To illustrate how deskless employees can experience moments of autonomy, take a look at the role of an Internet cable technician. Although their schedule and assignments are set for them, there are still opportunities when improvisation can be helpful, such as making an upsell in case the client needs new equipment. Giving the cable engineer the ability (and technology) to quickly respond to customer needs through flexible decision-making can increase customer satisfaction and improve organizational efficiency.

The future of work is already here.

The pandemic and resulting widespread digital transformation have made work more flexible and portable than ever before. Innovative companies will double these profits and give employees the autonomy to choose their ideal way of working. For deskless workers who have had no autonomy in the past, the potential gain is even greater.

Organizations that equip their employees with the technology to enable greater independence will benefit from a more motivated, committed and better performing workforce – and experience greater flexibility, innovation and operational efficiency in the process.

The opinions expressed here by businesstraverse.com columnists are their own, not businesstraverse.com’s.

Shreya Christinahttps://businesstraverse.com
Shreya has been with businesstraverse.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider businesstraverse.com team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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