Trust Autonomy at Work Wordle

In the workplace, trust and autonomy are significant factors in culture and performance. Here’s what the research says…

Updated 10/16/2017

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, you are free to make a choice that you can completely endorse as being representative of who you are.

As autonomy increases, we can bring more of our whole self to the choices we make and actions we take. We can choose actions that reflect values, beliefs, and goals that matter to us. The opposite of autonomous behavior is controlled behavior — behavior that is encouraged or forced by others or by the environment.

When people have greater autonomy, we are more creative, more motivated, and less stressed.

Autonomy is the single most powerful job resource (Job Resources for Job Demands: People Science Brief). When we feel like we have high autonomy, we perform better, learn faster, are more intrinsically motivated, feel less tension, and have higher job satisfaction.

Importantly, people who experience high autonomy also feel a great deal of personal responsibility for their work, a great precursor for positive outcomes.

Autonomy needs a supportive environment to thrive.

Full autonomy results from a combination of:

    • a person doing a task that is intrinsically motivating
    • in a work environment that encourages freedom of choice
    • alongside others who also support mutual autonomy

In short, workplace autonomy needs to be supported broadly to thrive.

Work environments that support autonomy also foster trust.

When managers and organizational culture support autonomy, people are more likely to trust both the manager and the corporation.

Interestingly, one study showed that people 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.

One organization explains their philosophy for supporting autonomy:

Trust is the belief that you’ll 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 we feel that we have a clear enough picture of another person’s intentions that we can be vulnerable, we extend trust.

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 among coworkers by encouraging frequent interaction, helping people discover commonalities and shared interests, and engaging team members in shared goal-setting.

Belonging is a powerful starting point for trust. Teams, departments, and professions can serve as common ground for members (e.g., a programmer may trust another programmer before trusting a sales person).

Trust provides a context for candor in conversations, for healthy conflict resolution.

Organizations can promote 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 strongly engage people.

When people identify strongly with a shared mission, we are more likely to engage in “good citizen” behaviors (like staying a little late to back up a coworker, or making constructive suggestions), which further enhance trust.

More Coetic resources related to trust & autonomy…

WorkWeek Nudges ToolKit – Take on high-impact habits and actions that boost culture, capabilities, and communication to give you a better team to stand in front of.