Autonomy in the workplace: Why is it important and relevant survey questions to ask in 2023?

Kailash Ganesh
14 min read
Workplace autonomy

Have you ever felt like a robot on an assembly line, stuck in a monotonous loop of repetitive tasks and direct supervision? If so, you're not alone. In today's fast-paced and ever-evolving work environment, autonomy at work has become the cool kid on the block, and everyone wants a piece of it.

But what exactly is employee autonomy, and why is it so darn important? Imagine this: you're at work, and your boss swoops in with a robotic voice, saying, "You must follow these instructions precisely and without question." Ugh, how suffocating! It's like being trapped in a straightjacket made of red tape. We've all been there, right?

That's where autonomy steps in to save the day! It is all about allowing employees to make decisions, take ownership of their work, and unleash their creative superpowers. It's like giving them a license to be the masters of their destiny.

Albert Einstein once quirkily said, "The only source of knowledge is experience." And boy, was he onto something! When you encourage employee autonomy in the workplace, it opens up room to experiment, learn, and grow.

You also gain invaluable insights that can't be found in any dusty textbook. You become the Da Vinci of your own career canvas, painting strokes of innovation and excellence.

Table of contents:-

What does autonomy in the workplace mean?

What does autonomy in the workplace mean?

Autonomy is like giving your employees the keys to their own kingdom—the power to make their own decisions, set their own goals, and chart their own course (within reason, of course). It fosters a sense of pride and accomplishment as individuals see the direct impact of their contributions on the organization's success.

Picture this: You're a graphic designer at a trendy advertising agency. Your boss, let's call her Melinda, knows you've got the creative mojo to bring any project to life. Instead of breathing down your neck and micro-managing your every move, Melinda trusts you to work your magic.

She gives you the autonomy to choose your design approach, experiment with different styles, and deliver results in your own unique way. You feel like an artist, not just a cog in the corporate machine.

With autonomy, employees are empowered to take ownership of their work and become proactive problem-solvers. They don't need to wait for a command from above to take action and have the freedom to tackle challenges head-on, using their expertise and intuition.

Now, let's be clear: autonomy doesn't mean anarchy. It's not a free-for-all where everyone does whatever they please. It's about finding the sweet spot between independence and collaboration.

Think of it as a jazz ensemble: each musician has the creative freedom to improvise, bringing their unique style to the performance, but they still listen to and collaborate with their bandmates to create a harmonious masterpiece.

Why is autonomy in the workplace important?

Importance of job autonomy 

Autonomy in the workplace is like a breath of fresh air, revitalizing both individuals and organizations. It brings a multitude of benefits that can transform the way we work and the outcomes organizations achieve.

First and foremost, autonomy fuels motivation and engagement. When employees have the freedom to make decisions and take ownership of their work, they feel a sense of purpose and significance. They're not just clocking in and out but actively contributing to something meaningful. This intrinsic motivation drives them to go above and beyond, strive for excellence, and take pride in their accomplishments.

Furthermore, autonomy also unlocks creativity and innovation. Amazing things happen when employees have the freedom to explore, experiment, and think outside the box.

Boundaries are pushed, new ideas are born, and breakthroughs occur. Imagine a workplace where every employee is empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and ideas. The possibilities are endless.

Autonomous work culture also fosters trust and collaboration. When employees are trusted to make decisions and take responsibility, it creates a foundation of mutual respect. Managers become mentors and facilitators, guiding and supporting their teams instead of micromanaging them.

Lastly, it leads to personal and professional development. When individuals have the freedom to learn, grow, and take on new challenges, they expand their skill sets and broaden their horizons.

Autonomy promotes skill development, encourages continuous learning, and empowers individuals to shape their own career paths. It's a catalyst for personal fulfillment and professional advancement.

9 Benefits of autonomy in the workplace

Benefits of giving employees autonomy

Autonomy isn't just a nice-to-have perk; it's a fundamental need that drives employee happiness and fulfillment. It also brings several other benefits for a company which we have covered below.

1) Supercharged motivation

Autonomy is like a magic potion for employee motivation. When employees are free to make decisions and take ownership of their work, their motivation skyrockets. They become driven by a sense of purpose and a desire to excel. Say goodbye to those dreary Monday mornings and hello to a workforce brimming with passion and enthusiasm.

2) Unleashed creativity

Creativity is one of the top perks of autonomy. When individuals have the freedom to explore, experiment, and unleash their imaginations, fresh ideas flow, and creative breakthroughs become the norm. Who needs a creativity workshop when you've got autonomy fueling the fire?

3) Trust and empowerment

It builds trust between employees and managers. When individuals are trusted to make decisions and take responsibility, they feel empowered. Managers become mentors, guiding and supporting their teams rather than breathing down their necks. Trust is the glue that holds teams together and fosters a positive work culture.

4) Enhanced collaboration

Autonomy and collaboration go hand in hand. When employees have the freedom to bring their unique perspectives to the table, teamwork soars. Ideas are shared, diverse talents are harnessed, and synergy becomes the secret sauce that propels organizations forward. It's like a jam session where everyone gets a chance to shine.

5) Increased job satisfaction

Employees who are given control over how they manage their work are more satisfied with their job. When employees feel trusted, respected, and in control of their work, they find joy in what they do. Autonomy transforms work into a fulfilling and meaningful experience, leaving employees with smiles on their faces and pep in their steps.

6) Personal and professional growth

Autonomy is a springboard for growth. When employees learn, take on new challenges, and shape their own career paths, they blossom. They acquire new skills, expand their horizons, and become their best selves.

7) Agility and adaptability

When employees make decisions on the spot, they become nimble and adaptable. They can respond swiftly to changing circumstances and seize opportunities without waiting for approvals from higher-ups. Autonomy turns organizations into agile powerhouses, ready to tackle any curveball that comes their way.

8) Reduced burnout

Autonomy acts as a shield against burnout. Employees that have control over their workload, priorities, and pace find balance. They have the power to set boundaries, take breaks when needed, and align their work with their energy levels.

9) Attraction and retention of top talent

An autonomous company culture is a magnet for top talent. In a world where talented individuals seek meaningful work and a sense of purpose, autonomy stands out. Organizations that embrace autonomy become beacons for the best and brightest. They attract talent like bees to honey and retain them for the long haul.

How to implement autonomy in the workplace?

How to implement autonomy in the workplace?

To implement autonomy in the workplace, firstly, you need to establish clear expectations by defining goals and objectives. As American leadership expert Ken Blanchard emphasizes, clarity in expectations increases the likelihood of achieving desired outcomes. Employees must have a clear idea of their roles and how they contribute to the organization's success.

Open communication is also vital in creating an autonomous workplace culture where ideas are freely shared and feedback is valued. Leadership must create opportunities for employees to voice their opinions, share insights, and contribute to decision-making processes. At the same time, employees should also be provided with the necessary resources and support, training, and new opportunities.

Most importantly, organizations must promote a culture that celebrates both successes and failures as opportunities for growth and learning. Embrace the words of author J.K. Rowling, who said, "It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all."

Remember, autonomy isn't built in a day, but with patience, trust, and a sprinkle of courage, you'll create an environment where autonomy becomes the norm.

What are examples of autonomy in the workplace?

Examples of giving employees autonomy

Imagine you're part of a marketing team at a tech startup, and your company is planning a new social media campaign. Your manager, Sarah, believes in fostering autonomy and wants to empower the team to make decisions. Instead of dictating every detail, Sarah provides you with the autonomy to brainstorm ideas, develop strategies, and execute the campaign in your own unique way.

You and your teammates gather around a whiteboard, bouncing ideas off one another. With autonomy in play, you feel free to think outside the box. You propose an innovative approach that involves leveraging user-generated content to engage the company's followers. Sarah listens attentively, is impressed by your creativity, and encourages the team to explore this direction.

As the campaign progresses, you experiment with different content formats, monitor engagement metrics, and make adjustments along the way. You collaborate with colleagues and are free to make decisions and take ownership of your own process and assigned tasks.

Thanks to the autonomy granted by Sarah, your team successfully launched the campaign, generating a significant increase in brand awareness and customer engagement. The project's success reflects the power of autonomy in the workplace—individuals are empowered to leverage their expertise, think critically, and contribute to meaningful outcomes.

In this example, autonomy is not about working in isolation but rather about having the freedom to bring your unique skills and ideas to the table. It's about being trusted to make decisions and take responsibility for your work while still collaborating with others to achieve common goals.

How do you measure autonomy in the workplace?

How do you measure autonomy in the workplace?

Measuring workplace autonomy can be tricky, as it is a subjective and nuanced concept. However, there are a few key indicators that can help gauge the level of autonomy within an organization:

  1. Employee surveys: Conducting anonymous surveys can provide valuable insights into employees' perceptions of autonomy. Ask questions about decision-making authority, freedom to choose work methods, and the level of control they feel over their own work.
  2. Feedback and performance reviews: Assessing feedback and performance reviews can provide clues about the level of autonomy employees have. Are they encouraged to take the initiative and make independent decisions? Do their reviews emphasize autonomy-related skills like problem-solving and decision-making? This will give you a clear idea of organizational autonomy.
  3. Project ownership: Look at how employees approach and take ownership of their projects. Are they given the flexibility to explore alternative approaches and problem-solving methods? Observing how employees handle project ownership can indicate their autonomy level within their roles.
  4. Employee retention and engagement: High levels of autonomy often correlate with increased retention and engagement. If employees feel empowered and have control over their work, they are more likely to be engaged and committed to their roles.

17 Questions about autonomy in the workplace you should be asking

17 Questions about autonomy in the workplace you should be asking

Asking the right questions in an engagement survey based on your objective is key to gaining actionable insights. So, we have compiled 17 questions that you should be asking in your workplace to gauge the level of employee autonomy the organization has.

  1. Describe a situation where you felt empowered to make decisions in your work.
  2. Share an example of when you were given employee autonomy to take ownership of a project or task.
  3. Do you have the freedom to choose how you approach and complete your tasks?
  4. Are you involved in the decision-making process that directly affects your work?
  5. Are you provided with the necessary resources and support to work autonomously?
  6. Do you feel comfortable suggesting improvements or changes to processes?
  7. On a scale of 1-5, how much autonomy do you feel you have in your day-to-day work?
  8. Have you been given opportunities to develop and apply your own ideas in your work?
  9. Please describe a recent instance where you felt supported in making an important decision.
  10. Rate your satisfaction with your current level of autonomy in your role.
  11. Are you recognized and rewarded for taking ownership and demonstrating autonomy?
  12. Are you encouraged to take calculated risks and learn from mistakes?
  13. Is there room for experimentation and innovation within your role?
  14. Are you provided with the necessary resources and support to work autonomously?
  15. Do you feel trusted to prioritize and manage your own workload?
  16. Is your manager trusting or do they micromanage every single task?
  17. Do you have a clear understanding of the expectations and boundaries within your role?

How do you promote autonomy in the workplace?

Promote employee autonomy

Enabling employee autonomy in the workplace requires intentional efforts and a supportive environment. Here are some key strategies to encourage autonomy in your organization:

1) Clearly define goals and expectations

Set clear goals and expectations for each employee, providing them with a clear understanding of what needs to be achieved. Clarify the purpose and impact of their work, allowing them to see the bigger picture and align their efforts accordingly.

2) Delegate responsibility

Delegate tasks and responsibilities to employees, allowing them to take ownership and make decisions within their areas of expertise. Provide them with the authority and autonomy to execute their work while being available for guidance and support when needed.

3) Encourage independent thinking

Foster a culture that values independent thinking and encourages employees to explore new ideas and perspectives. Encourage them to question the status quo, challenge assumptions, and contribute their unique insights.

4) Provide resources and support

Ensure that employees have the necessary resources, tools, and training to excel in their roles. Support their professional growth and development through mentoring, coaching, and relevant learning opportunities. This empowers them to take on new challenges with confidence.

5) Foster collaboration and communication

Promote collaboration and open communication channels within the organization. Encourage employees to share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns openly. Create a safe space where individuals can discuss their work, provide feedback, and collaborate with their peers.

6) Recognize and celebrate autonomy

Acknowledge and appreciate employees who demonstrate autonomy in their work. Recognize their accomplishments and efforts, both privately and publicly. Celebrate their leadership qualities, independent thinking, and decision-making abilities, reinforcing the importance and value of autonomy in the workplace.

7) Embrace a learning culture

Cultivate a learning culture that encourages continuous improvement and experimentation. Encourage employees to learn from both successes and failures, allowing them to take calculated risks and grow from their experiences.

How does autonomy in the workplace impact employee engagement?

How does autonomy in the workplace impact employee engagement?

Encouraging autonomy in the workplace has a significant impact on employee engagement. Here are some ways employee autonomy effect engagement in an organization.

  1. Increased motivation: Autonomy fosters intrinsic motivation as employees feel a sense of empowerment and control over their work.
  2. Improved job satisfaction: When individuals can exercise their judgment, be creative, and contribute their unique perspectives, they feel a deeper connection to their work and derive more satisfaction from their accomplishments.
  3. Enhanced sense of ownership: Employees who feel trusted and empowered to make decisions develop a stronger sense of responsibility and commitment to achieving their goals. This ownership mindset fuels engagement and a desire to excel.
  4. Greater sense of purpose: Autonomy connects employees' work to a larger purpose. When they align their tasks with their personal values and aspirations, they experience a deeper sense of meaning and fulfillment. This alignment enhances their engagement and dedication to their work.
  5. Increased creativity and innovation: Autonomy fosters a culture of creativity and innovation. Employees who freely explore new ideas, experiment, and take calculated risks, are more likely to generate innovative solutions and contribute fresh perspectives.
  6. Strengthened trust and collaboration: When individuals are given the autonomy to make decisions, it signals trust and confidence in their abilities. This trust enhances collaboration, as employees feel valued and empowered to contribute their expertise and perspectives.

Overall, autonomy in the workplace plays a crucial role in driving employee engagement. It taps into individuals' intrinsic motivations, promoting purpose and ownership. By nurturing autonomy, organizations can create an engaged workforce that is motivated, innovative, and committed to achieving personal and organizational success.

How to improve and sustain autonomy in the workplace with the help of employee survey tools?

How to improve and sustain autonomy in the workplace?

Employee survey tools serve as a valuable resource for organizations to assess and enhance autonomy in the workplace. By gathering feedback through surveys, organizations can assess the current state of autonomy and identify areas for improvement.

These surveys can include questions specifically tailored to autonomy-related factors, such as decision-making authority, freedom to choose work methods, and perceived levels of control.

Moreover, employee surveys offer an opportunity to solicit suggestions and ideas from employees. By including open-ended questions in the survey, employees can share their thoughts on how to increase autonomy in the workplace.

If you want to measure employee autonomy at your workplace, CultureMonkey, an employee engagement platform, can help you conduct these surveys. Companies can take anonymous feedback in real-time and work on insights gained from the results.

CultureMoneky empowers your staff to play a constructive role in building your organization and your leadership to make well-informed business decisions. It has been recognized as a high-performer employee engagement platform by G2 for Winter 2023 and is being used by more than 200K+ employees globally.


1) How does autonomy in the workplace impact retention of employees?

When employees have a sense of autonomy and control over their work, they feel more engaged, satisfied, and fulfilled. This increased job satisfaction and motivation can contribute to higher employee retention rates.

2) What are the potential challenges or risks associated with encouraging employee autonomy in the workplace?

Some common challenges of employee autonomy include maintaining alignment with organizational goals, ensuring clear communication and coordination among autonomous individuals or teams, and addressing the potential for decision-making conflicts.

3) How can managers support and empower employees while still maintaining accountability?

Managers can provide clear guidelines, set realistic goals, and establish regular check-ins to ensure progress and address any challenges. By offering support, guidance, and constructive feedback, they can empower employees while still holding them accountable for their work and outcomes.

4) Is workplace autonomy suitable for all types of roles and industries?

While autonomy can be beneficial in many roles and industries, the level of autonomy may vary depending on the nature of the work. Some roles may inherently require more guidance and oversight due to safety regulations, compliance, or complex procedures.

5) How can organizations measure the impact of job autonomy?

Measuring the impact of autonomy initiatives can be done through a multiple methods. This may include follow-up surveys to gauge employees' perception of autonomy and tracking KPIs such as employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention rates.

Kailash Ganesh

Kailash Ganesh

Kailash is a Product Marketer with 5+ years of experience. He loves story-telling in the simplest way possible and he is an avid reader, movie buff, and likes to travel new places to meet new people.