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5 Ways that Focusing on Autonomy Can Positively Impact Organizational Well-Being

As we emerge from our COVID-19 cocoons, we do so having undergone the same process as the butterfly. We have been changed. Some of that change is very apparent to us and some of it will be revealed as we progress into our new/next norms.

While the past year has been tragic on many levels, it has also been a year that sharpened our vision about many things. As such, the great debates of our time related to work ensue: diversity, equity and inclusion; office-based, home-based, hybrid work, and supporting well-being.

As we move into the decisions we must make about the future of work, each individual and organization faces choices and changes in this time of re-entry. As such, the world is establishing new structures upon which we’ll build our individual lifestyles, workplaces and communities. Additionally, we are in a moment where employee preference has the leverage to demand more of what it may not have known it was missing pre-pandemic.

As we all consider “next normal”, I cannot offer a fail proof plan; this is a real time experiment and we’re going to have to run the play to see the results. So, instead of recommendations, I offer a few key insights from the research on autonomy and well-being that relate to the current discourse on returning to the office and hybrid work solutions, employee attraction and retention, and workplace well-being for your consideration:

  1. Autonomy is integral to well-being. Every human thrives off a little or a lot of freedom to do what they are paid to do in a manner that suits their unique ways of delivering their talents. Intrinsic motivation is autonomous by nature; it is a motivational behavior driven by choice and a core component of the experience of well-being. [1]

  2. Extrinsically motivated goals operate best when fueled by autonomy. When people are given the opportunity to identify with the value of a behavior for their own self-selected goals, they feel greater freedom and volition towards those goals because the behavior is more congruent with their personal goals and identity. [2]

  3. Many human behaviors are motivated through well-being. Business models that ensure environments where employees flourish through the ability to exercise autonomy in daily work operations and healthy lifestyle choices ultimately enable well-being and engagement. [3]

  4. Work stress has various causes, a lack of autonomy is one of them. [4]

  5. Managers who support autonomy report higher job satisfaction, higher performance evaluations, greater persistence, greater acceptance of organizational change, and better psychological adjustment. [2]

In closing, I’ll say this. This is a rare time of awakening and opportunity. Before us stands a time to rewrite our scripts and reinvent the quality and texture of how we spend our time accomplishing the full spectrum of daily goals that make up our lifestyles. If we are ever to experience a true sense of work/life blend, we must seize this moment to energize and activate well-being in everyone.

Kibibi Springs, PhD (c)is an I-O Psychologist, Workplace Wellbeing Knowledge Lead for Herman Miller, CEAS I and Fitwel Ambassador. She also serves as a member of the INDEAL Cares Advisory Council.


[1] (Bartholomew, Ntoumanis, Ryan, Bosch, Thøgersen-Ntoumani, 2011; DeSimone, 2014; Gagné & Deci, 2005) [2] (Gagné & Deci, 2005).

[3] (Aston, 2011; Berchtold, 2014)

[4] (Murphy & Sauter, 2003)

[5] (Gagné & Deci, 2005)



Aston, L. (2011). Elevating the agenda for employee wellness and engagement. Strategic HR Review, 10(4), 53-55.

Bartholomew, K. J., Ntoumanis, N., Ryan, R. M., Bosch, J. A., & Thøgersen-Ntoumani, C. (2011). Self-determination theory and diminished functioning: The role of interpersonal control and psychological need thwarting. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(11), 1459-1473. https://doi:10.1177/0146167211413125

Berchtold, B. (2014). Employee engagement: The new currency of wellness. Employee Benefit Plan Review, 68(8), 13-16.

DeSimone, S. (2014) Conceptualizing Well-Being in the Workplace. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 5(12), 118-122

Gagné, M., & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self-determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26(4), 331-362. https://doi:10.1002/job.322

Murphy, L. R., & Sauter, S. L. (2003). The USA perspective: Current issues and trends in the management of work stress. [special issue: Occupational stress and well-being.]. Australian Psychologist, 38(2), 151-157. https://doi:10.1080/00050060310001707157


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