Leverage Autonomy To Drive Engagement

March 18, 2014

In Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is a hot topic. As employee engagement increases, so does performance. Organizations whose employees are highly engaged generate twice as much profit compared to companies with disengaged employees.

Engagement drives success. Everyone knows it, everyone sais it. But few are the businesses that bother with it.

Today, allow me to share with you one of the levers that you may use to increase your employee engagement: Autonomy.

A study from Cornell University analyzed 320 small and medium sized businesses of which, half were giving a lot of autonomy to their employees, while the other half preferred a more traditional top-down management style. The results? The first group of businesses, where autonomy was encouraged, obtained a growth level that was 4 times higher than that of the 2nd group, and the turnover rate equaled 1/3 of the rate of the 2nd group. More growth and less employees leaving the company, these are direct impacts on profitability!

There are 4 components that drive autonomy.


Task autonomy, is having the power to choose which tasks I decide to tackle. As manager, our role is to entrust our team members with responsibilities. People do need to have the choice of the tasks they need to accomplish. By choosing my own tasks, I increase my engagement and my creativity level. I have the power to decide the “what”. My company trusts me enough to give me that freedom.

Atlassian, a software development company, is recognized for its ShipIt Days. Once per quarter, the company offers their employees 24 hours to work on absolutely anything that is related to their software. 24 hours of absolute freedom. The only directive: at the end of the 24-hour period, you have to « deliver something » and present it to everyone. The result: an incredible amount of bugs have been resolved during these days, and hundreds of new functionalities have been added to their products.


Autonomy, it’s the freedom that I have to execute on my work, when I decide. What are work schedules like in your business? Are employees required to work a 9 to 5 shift, in the office, with a 1-hour lunch break, two 15 minute breaks at specific times and 2 weeks of vacation?

Some people are more productive in the morning, others in the evening. Some may need to be isolated, others to be surrounded by their peers. Some need more resources than others. Some have children while others don’t. We’re all different. Having a certain freedom when it comes to our work schedule increases the quality of our work, our life and our engagement. My business lets me decide of the moment where I will carry out my work. What priceless proof of trust!

For example, at Altrum, the following rule applies: 80% of the time, we need to be in the office between 9:15 am and 2:30 pm. The offices are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We can work at night if that’s what we wish. We can also work from home, as long as we respect the 80% rule. Nobody fills out a timesheet. We trust our people.

In the last few years, some companies have also adopted a policy around unlimited vacation days. Everyone can take as many vacation days as he or she wants! As long as the work is done. Some people need more vacation than others. Some have children and others don’t. If we focus on the final outcome, on the work that is accomplished, more than on the number of hours worked, it becomes possible.


As for the autonomy technique, it’s all about the “how”. How things are done depends on each and everyone. It isn’t very stimulating to be entrusted with a task and to be required to execute on it in a very specific way. It kills all creativity and it shows me that the person who assigned me that task doesn’t trust that I’ll execute on it well. My engagement level will thus be very low.

As manager or leader, we must focus on the final result. The way it gets done should not be of our concern. Also, most of the time, the person doing the job knows best how to do it. Despite the risk of something not being done exactly as we though it should, the advantages of letting people decide how to do it are far greater when compared to the inconveniences.


Team autonomy, it’s the freedom to choose with whom I will be working. Just like the “how”, the “who” is personal. I will get along better with this or that person, and less with others. By having the freedom to choose the people whom I’ll be working with, I will be more productive, and together we’ll be able to accomplish more.

For example, after completing their initial training, new Facebook employees get to choose the team they would like to work in. What a great way to increase engagement through team autonomy!

In “open source” communities, people select whom they want to work with. Nobody imposes anything. Just look at what hundreds and thousands of open source communities are able to accomplish every year!


Engagement is one of the main success drivers of our company. Success is based on the people that make up the business. By trusting people, by giving them the autonomy they need, we can “get out of their way” and let them realize their full potential.

to explore

5 Elements To Promote Happiness In A Business
FastCompany published a recent article on the Secrets of America’s Happiest Companies. The article compiles the results from the 50 happiest […]
the 4 Elements of Effective Recognition
One of the keys to driving employee engagement is recognition. Everyone needs to be recognized for the work they do. There are a million ways to […]
ROI of employee engagement at work
What Is Employee Engagement?
For many years, we increasingly hear about employee engagement. It seems to be a fashionable term now. All companies want engaged employees. […]