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The importance of control and freedom at work

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As regular readers of the blog will be aware, there have been several studies over the past year or so that have explored the motivations of people who participate in open innovation challenges or citizen science projects.  The consensus across these studies suggests that engaging in a topic of great interest is the primary motivator, but also that having the control and freedom to work on that passion in the way you see fit.

Earlier this year I wrote about a study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania that touched on this issue in the workplace.  The study found that when highly educated people are given autonomy over how and when and where they work, they produce much more than when they are micro-managed.

The research found that when people had control over their own schedule they were empowered enough to accept whatever work pattern they themselves adopted.  This often meant working longer and harder than before.

These findings have been reflected in a second study, this time by researchers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  The research found that when you give employees the opportunity to customize their own jobs, known as idiosyncratic deals, a number of positive outcomes emerged, including being less stressed, more motivated, and more engaged in their work.

The study saw participants in a hospital asked about the idiosyncratic deals they had managed to negotiate in their workplace.  These generally took three distinct forms:

  1. Customizing tasks to make them more interesting
  2. Arranging flexible working hours
  3. Accessing professional development opportunities

The hypothesis of the research was that each of these would have a different impact upon performances.  To test this, the researchers asked managers at the hospital to complete performance evaluations for each of the participants.

It emerged that giving employees the ability to craft their own roles was strongly linked with positive work characteristics, with the different types of arrangements each affecting behaviour in a different way.

For instance, when employees had the freedom to customize their tasks, they generally had better performance reviews and found work more enjoyable.

When workers had control over the hours they worked, they reported much lower levels of stress and emotional irritation.

Those with control over their professional development reported both higher levels of skill acquisition and self-sufficiency.

“Job crafting and i-deal negotiation provide workers with ways to make their jobs more intrinsically motivating and satisfying—with potentially positive effects on job performance,” the researchers write.

What’s more, the benefits of giving employees such control is not limited to the employees themselves.  They’re also beneficial for managers and organizations as a whole.

“In fact, our results suggest that making i-deals to improve person–job fit of individual employees is characteristic for successful employee–supervisor exchange relationships, which stand to benefit the organization through their positive effects on worker attachment, motivation, and job and contextual performance,” the researchers conclude.

All of which makes it a bit of a no brainer, doesn’t it?

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