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More autonomous workers are happier workers, say researchers

Around half of the employees included in the data who worked in lower-skilled jobs reported having no control over their working hours

According to researchers from the University of Birmingham, workers with higher levels of autonomy are more satisfied with their job and happier overall. Data from 20,000 employees collected over two years was used to in the research.

The level of autonomy employees experienced correlated with their seniority and their skill level. Workers in a management role reportedly felt that they had some or a lot of autonomy, with just 10 per cent of workers in a senior position disagreeing with this. Professional workers also reported relatively high levels of job control, but at a lesser scale than managers.

Around half of the employees included in the data who worked in lower-skilled jobs reported having no control over their working hours. In skilled trades, the numbers were similar, with a split between those who felt they had some autonomy over their work time allocation and no control whatsoever.

Despite compelling research by the CIPD that shows workers with access to flexible working are happier, more satisfied with their job and less stressed, there are still barriers to accessing flexible working arrangements.

The attitude of managers and company policy are key factors in how employees can access autonomy in their work life. Without a clear, flexible working policy, many employees do not know how to request flexibility and managers do not know how to manage the process. The primary function of managers to extract effort from their workers and control their work was shown to prevent autonomy.

It seems that there is a marked difference between levels of autonomy experienced when it comes to gender, with just 22.3 per cent of women saying they had a lot of control over their working hours. 60 per cent of men were reported to have access to informal flexibility, with just 41 per cent of women having the same access.

The difference in autonomy between men and women was not only reflected in their access to flexibility but also in the type of flexibility they preferred. Female employees positively benefited from having a level of autonomy over their working schedule and location, while men preferred to be able to control the pace and order of the work they had to carry out.

It is difficult for HR departments to create a flexible working policy that will benefit everyone. Managers and stakeholders do not like to give up control, including where the work is carried out, at what pace, and which tasks are completed first.

To achieve employee engagement, satisfaction and loyalty, it is becoming more important for organisations to be able to offer some form of flexible working to their employees.

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