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Let go of control for more engaged employees

Sarah K. White | Jan. 7, 2016
If you want more engaged employees, trade micromanagement for autonomy and show confidence in your workforce.

If you want productive and engaged employees, you won't get there by micromanaging them. Rather, go in the opposite direction and offer more autonomy. A recent study from Gallup found that 51 percent of employees report being "not engaged" at work, while 17 percent report being "actively disengaged" at work. Louise Harder, external lecturer at Copenhagen Business School and Ph.D fellow in modern workplace, says that disengagement is ultimately "a failure of management," and that employers need to offer autonomy and support employees with the right culture and technology at work.

"In a world where work is no longer somewhere you go, but an activity you do, we see a globalization of talent," Harder says. "If we are to attract the talent we need, we need to listen to what motivate the employees - let loose our need for alignment and set people free."

Autonomy can also be referred to as "psychological ownership.". The University of Nebraska found in a 2009 survey of U.S. workers that psychological ownership lead to better self-efficacy, accountability, belongingness and self-identity in the workplace. The study found a correlation between psychological ownership and feelings of employee commitment, less turnover, higher job satisfaction and more positive employee attitudes.

Show more than the money

While compensation is a top priority for workers, it's not the only aspect of a positive working environment. Harder points out that studies show "the opportunity to plan and own their jobs tasks and excel at achieving them," is often just as important as the bottom line. Therefore, managers need to focus on driving engagement and making sure employees feel "valued, empowered and connected."

Harder also points out that employees are the cornerstone of innovation. "In today's lightning-fast business climate, keeping up with the competition means having knowledge workers who are motivated, engaged and brimming with energy. After all, it is employees, not management, who deliver the innovations, fresh ideas and positive energy that drive our organizations forward."

To encourage this autonomy at work, Harder says start with identifying and implementing the right culture and technology that will support the workforce. Once you have a general plan in place for implementing autonomy, the next step is for managers and business leaders to let go of control. Harder says leaders need to replace control with confidence in the workforce, and that managers need to trust that employees can organize themselves in a way that aligns with the overall goals of the business.

Some of the changes go beyond rallying the troops, and lie in your software and technology. A 2015 study of productivity in the workplace reports that technology is increasingly important to employee productivity and job satisfaction. The study cites that 25 percent of meetings are delayed because of issues with the technology, which means that an average of 2.7 minutes are lost every meeting. Investing in user-friendly and efficient technology that everyone knows how to use can go a long way in helping employees get in and out of meetings as quickly as possible. And reducing meeting times might be crucial to productivity -- Jabra found that 36 percent of workers think meetings diminish their productivity and waste time.


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