The job market is competitive. If you want to look for top talent, you have to utilize every resource you can find. However, it doesn’t stop there. Looking for skilled and expert individuals and providing them with adequate compensation may not be a guaranteed solution to retaining your employees.

Instead of focusing on your hiring efforts, wouldn’t it be a more strategic move to improve your retention rates? Consider equipping your people with autonomy to keep them satisfied and thriving in your business.


Autonomy as a Psychological Need

Before you can improve employee retention, you first need to know how it relates to autonomy. Autonomy is when people are free to do what they choose. It’s about allowing them control over their actions, decisions, and even consequences.

Even in the past, autonomy was accepted as a psychological need. This was further strengthened by a study in 2000 that explained the self-determination theory.¹ According to the study, autonomy is one of the three most basic needs an individual has. It becomes a primary source of determination to accomplish different tasks and responsibilities.

Based on a paper published in Motivation and Emotion in 2014, everyone needs autonomy.² No matter your background or culture, it’s natural for you to desire autonomy over your decisions. It’s an innate need found in everyone and not something that can be just developed.


Autonomy in the Workplace

Since autonomy is natural for a person, it’s safe to assume that all your employees need a certain level of independence to prosper. They require freedom to decide different aspects of their working life.

Without job autonomy, what would a workplace look like? Think of a factory running purely on programmed machines. The equipment can accomplish the tasks but can’t innovate and improve. This is what a workplace without autonomy looks like – the only difference is that people can get tired and unmotivated, unlike machines.

When unmotivated, people are less likely to be engaged in their tasks. This can lower the quality of the services or products they produce. Unaddressed exhaustion can also quickly turn into burnout that can hinder work altogether.


The Benefits of an Independent Workforce

So, why do you need to establish autonomy in the workplace? As a leader, it’s your responsibility to foster freedom among your people. While it initially benefits them, it will also help your organization prosper in the long run.


1. Increased Employee Morale

People who have personal autonomy and can make decisions develop a sense of ownership of their work. This gives them more motivation to make their projects and assignments succeed. With every accomplishment, their self-confidence can potentially increase. The more confident they are with their skills, the more engaged and enthusiastic they become.

Read More: What Motivates People at Work – 8 Tips to Motivate Your Team


2. Improved Well-Being and Satisfaction

Having autonomy enables professionals to handle their personal and professional commitments in the most effective way possible. This also means they can choose working options that would contribute to their overall health. By having a better work-life balance, your employees can perform well and meet your expectations.

The flexibility autonomy offers can help employees gain a sense of control over what they do. Tasks become more than just responsibilities they’re required to accomplish. Instead, they can become a source of meaning and satisfaction with what they do.


3. Lower Turnover Rates

By fostering autonomy in your organization, you’re creating opportunities to improve employee engagement among your people. More importantly, you’re allowing them to work at their own pace. These actions let them know you trust them and their judgments.

When employees feel appreciated and engaged, they tend to stay with the company they’re working for. This is especially true when they recognize their capability to grow and improve within your company.

Read More: The Impact of Purpose, Flexibility, and Trust on Women’s Experience in the Workplace


Ways to Drive Employee Autonomy and Retention

Although it generally creates positive outcomes, you need to understand autonomy can be harmful without proper restrictions. It can cause them to lose direction and carelessly tackle their responsibilities. This can make it hard for them to achieve their goals and meet the company’s expectations.

When you focus solely on providing autonomy without any guidance, you’re prone to witnessing inconsistent product and service quality throughout your teams. What’s even worse is that you won’t be able to hold anyone accountable but yourself.

So, how exactly can you avoid these problems? The key is to drive autonomy and retention using the following methods:


1. Set Clear Goals and Expectations

Before you give people the freedom over their tasks, you need to set ground rules and expectations. Define clear objectives that they need to meet. Include non-negotiables that they need to follow, such as deadlines and output quality.

Although your employees are free to create their own schedules and set their priorities, the expectations you set would help them develop outputs that are up to your company’s standards. This can also prevent confusion since your people know what to strive for.


2. Empower Decision-Making

Empowering your employees to make decisions within their roles is a powerful way for your company to drive autonomy. Take the time to delegate authority over decision-making. This not only lightens your mental load, but it also demonstrates your belief in their judgment.

When people are trusted to make vital decisions, they’re usually invested and motivated to get successful outcomes. They also learn how to become more accountable for the choices they make.


3. Cultivate a Culture of Trust

Workplace autonomy is only possible when there is a culture of trust. When people feel trusted, they are more likely to take responsibility for their tasks. It also encourages them to make choices that would benefit more than themselves.

Begin by being deliberate in the words you use. Make sure that you always follow through with what you say and commit to it. In this way, you’re showing people that you can be trusted.

Once you’ve established this, motivate your people to follow. Give them the freedom to make their decisions but be ready to hold them accountable for their words and actions.


4. Establish Clear Lines of Communication

Employee engagement is an integral part of retention. To ensure your people remain committed to your goals, you must establish clear communication lines. Offer a channel where they can voice their thoughts and opinions. In this way, you can make sure they remain involved, and you get the chance to hear valuable perspectives from all levels of your business.

These lines of communication can take various forms, such as a suggestion box in the lobby, an online feedback form, or a dedicated phone line. It’s crucial to prioritize these avenues to ensure your employees feel valued and heard. This can encourage autonomy and create a generally good working environment.


5. Encourage Innovation and Experimentation

More than employees feeling valued, you need to learn how to push them toward their professional development. Encouraging autonomy doesn’t mean forcing your people to make their own choices. Instead, it’s allowing them the freedom to be curious and creative.

Do your best to establish an environment that embraces new ideas. After you equip employees with company goals, give them space to experiment with the best ways to achieve them. Avoid punishing calculated risks. Instead, encourage employees to learn from their mistakes and offer help when needed.


6. Provide Opportunities for Growth

One of the best ways to lower employee turnover rates is to provide employees with growth opportunities. This includes offering skill development programs and career progressions from which they can choose.

By offering resources to choose from, you’re encouraging employees to take control of their future careers. This can foster different aspects such as autonomy, career development, and personal growth.



Since its founding in 2001, ACS Professional Staffing has been skilled in placing high-quality professionals in the right environment. Our placements have an average tenure of eight years, which proves our expertise in bridging sustainable relationships.

With our help, you can create a team of loyal professionals who can get the job done. Contact us today to learn more.



  1. Ryan, Richard and Deci, Edward. “Self Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being.” University of Rochester, Jan. 2000,
  2. Chen, Beiwen, et al. “Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction, Need Frustration, and Need Strength across Four Cultures.” Springer Link, 12 Nov. 2014,