Allowing Employees More Autonomy Improves Their Performance

More worker autonomy is shown globally to increase worker productivity. It’s one of the strongest arguments in favor of ditching the undemocratic top-down structure of capitalist enterprises in favor of using democratically run worker cooperatives. At the very least, countries could adopt Germany’s policies of co-determination, which gives German workers increased participation in managing companies.

Managers who encourage staff to take more control over their workflow by putting them in the driver’s seat find themselves with more competent and connected teams with motivated, engaged, high-performing and loyal employees, research by the University of Melbourne shows.

Leaders who employ a style known as autonomously supportive, rather than a controlling, micro-management style, are more likely to encourage greater workplace wellbeing and flourishing employees, according to the meta-analysis published in Springer’s Motivation and Emotion journal.

And the results are the same across all parts of the globe.

The research shows workers are more likely to be intrinsically motivated – or self-driven – when they can freely choose to pursue their work activities, feel they can master their tasks and are surrounded by important and supportive people like managers, mentors, peers and friends, finding a sense of relatedness.

“We found better workplace wellbeing and motivation when employees were not reliant on external events like rewards or sanctions,” said Melbourne Graduate School of Education study author Gavin Slemp.

“Our study showed that autonomy support leads to positive outcomes like , wellness, engagement and more committed and loyal employees, no matter the national culture,” Dr. Slemp said.

“We explored these leadership behaviours in studies that had accumulated more than 30,000 employees from all over the world and results were similar no matter the location.”

The research shows people who are intrinsically motivated do not need external rewards because the activity itself, that is self-driven, is its own .

“These practices have a positive influence on  work , performance and psychological functioning. Employees are less likely to suffer from burnout,” Dr. Slemp said.

“They might seek out new challenges and learning opportunities or take steps to develop relationships with peers. Decades of research document the positive effects of satisfying these three needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness—and autonomy support is an important contributor.”

The study shows an autonomy-supportive leader will: provide opportunities for staff to make their own choices and have input into decisions; encourage self-initiated behaviours within structured guidance and boundaries; and show interest in their perspective and demonstrate empathic concern while avoiding controls that restrain  or sanctions or rewards.

Research: Immediate Rewards Increase Motivation More Than End of Task Rewards

People respond to incentives, but it’s of amazing importance how those incentives are structured.

Kaitlin Woolley assistant professor of marketing at Cornell University, found that giving people an immediate bonus for working on a task, rather than waiting until the end of the task, increased their interest and enjoyment in the task. People who got an earlier bonus were more motivated to pursue the activity for its own sake and even continued with the activity after the reward was removed.

In a series of five experiments, Woolley analyzed how reward proximity influenced intrinsic motivation — the positive feeling that comes from the process of an activity — and people’s desire to persist in the task after the reward was removed.

“The idea that immediate rewards could increase intrinsic motivation sounds counterintuitive, as people often think about rewards as undermining interest in a task,” Woolley said. “But for activities like work, where people are already getting paid, immediate rewards can actually increase intrinsic motivation, compared with delayed or no rewards.”

“If you have a hobby — say you like to knit or quilt — the process itself is enjoyable, it’s intrinsically motivated. You’re doing it just for the sake of doing it, rather than for the outcome,” Woolley said. Adding immediate rewards does something similar: It increases the positive experience of the task, with important outcomes for motivation and persistence.

In one study, people completed a task in which they spotted the difference in two images. Some people expected to receive an immediate bonus after they finished the task, whereas others expected to receive the same bonus in a month. An immediate bonus led to an almost 20 percent increase in the percent of people sticking with the task after the reward was removed compared with a delayed reward.

In another study, the researchers compared the timing of a reward with the size of the reward. They found that an immediate (versus delayed) bonus for reading led to a 35 percent increase in the number of people continuing to read after the reward was removed, whereas a larger (versus smaller) reward only led to a 19 percent increase. This suggests the timing of a reward may matter more for intrinsic motivation than the size of the reward, Woolley said.

The work has important implications for motivating employees. For example, a series of smaller, more frequent bonuses throughout the year could motivate employees more than a larger end-of-the year bonus. Similarly, this finding could inform loyalty programs for marketers trying to incentive customers to make more purchases.

Ironically, people balk at providing bonuses too soon, and think early rewards might have a negative consequences. “More evidence suggests immediate rewards are beneficial,” said Woolley. “They’re a useful tool for increasing interest in an activity.”