Autonomy is being able to make choices that are an expression of your self.

The notion of “choice” is central to autonomy, but autonomy is more than a choice among a fixed number of predefined options. Where there is complete autonomy, people are free to make choices that they completely endorse as being representative of who they are. The more autonomy a person has, the more of their whole self they bring to their choices. In this way, an autonomous behavior is one that is fully endorsed by the person performing it. The opposite of autonomous behavior is controlled behavior — behavior that is encouraged or forced by others or the environment.

When workers have more autonomy, they are more creative, more motivated, and less stressed.

Autonomy is the single most powerful job resource [Job Resources PSB]. When workers feel like they have high autonomy, they perform better, learn faster, are more intrinsically motivated, feel less tension, and have higher job satisfaction. Chiefly, workers who feel like they have high autonomy also feel a great deal of personal responsibility for their work, which itself can lead to positive outcomes.

Autonomy needs a supportive environment to thrive

Full autonomy results from a combination of an individual doing a task that s/he is intrinsically motivated to perform, in a work environment that encourages his/her freedom of choice, and working with others who also support his/her autonomy. In short, worker autonomy needs to be supported to thrive.

Work environments that support autonomy also create trust.

When managers and organizational culture support people’s autonomy, employees are more likely to trust both the manager and the corporation. Interestingly, one study showed that workers who felt their managers supported their autonomy were more likely to trust both the organization as a whole, and to trust top managers whom they’d never met.

Trust is the expectation that you will find what is expected rather than what is feared.

Trusting somebody means having a clear picture of their intentions. Your image of someone’s intentions and motives helps you make attributions about their behaviors (i.e., when you try to think of why somebody did something). When you feel that you have a clear enough picture of the other person’s intentions that you can be vulnerable, then you have trust.

People can create trust by building familiarity and interpersonal knowledge, and setting shared goals.

We trust other people who we interact with frequently, who we know a lot about, and who are similar to us. Thus, organizations can build trust between coworkers by encouraging to interact frequently, and to discover commonalities and shared interests between each other. Teams, departments, and professions can themselves serve as common ground (e.g., a programmer may trust another programmer before trusting a sales person).

Organizations can create trust by influencing norms and goals.

Organizations can create widespread trust by spreading norms of benevolence (treating each other well), and by setting shared missions and goals that workers identify with strongly. When workers identify strongly with a shared mission, they are more likely to engage in “good citizen” behaviors (like staying a little late to back up another coworker, or making constructive suggestions), which further enhance trust.