Why Autonomy Enables Good Performance

If everyone in your organization only did what was written in their formal job descriptions, your business would be mediocre at best. For your business to excel, your workforce from top to bottom needs to be full of good organizational citizens. Good citizens at work go above and beyond their assigned duties to try to help fellow employees and the organization.

Employees help each other by offering advice, lending a hand, resolving conflicts, and celebrating each other’s achievements. Employees that receive trustworthy help from others feel an obligation to reciprocate, which strengthens work relationships. Good citizens in thriving work relationships will be motivated to find ways to perform their tasks more effectively and efficiently. Employees that help each other strengthen the bonds of trust with team members and supervisors, and we know trust has a strong effect on performance.

Unfortunately, good team relationships won’t matter much if employees aren’t given the latitude to improve their jobs. And good team relationships will struggle to develop when employees can’t help each other because they are constrained to “just worry about getting yourjob done.”

A study by Muammer Ozer recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology (full citation below) showed how autonomy affected the relationship between organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) and job performance. This study of 266 employees, coworkers, and supervisors showed that citizenship behavior improved work team relationships, and work team relationships had a significant effect on job performance.

Those relationships between citizenship behavior, teamwork, and performance are expected. What’s new here is the importance of autonomy in enabling this virtuous chain of behaviors. The study found that the links to performance were enhanced for those with the most job autonomy. Highly autonomous workers were better citizens, had better team relationships, and were better at translating those team relationships into improved performance.

Because autonomy matters so much to most workers, it matters to your business. Constrain your employees’ ability to help each other and work together to improve their jobs and you will likely also constrain the growth of your business. Help yourself by helping your employees help each other.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on BretLSimmons.com.]

Bret L. Simmons, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Management at The University of Nevada, Reno. He earned his doctorate in Business Administration at Oklahoma State University. Bret blogs about leadership and social business at his website Positive Organizational Behavior. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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