Wondering how to motivate your staff? Take a page of psychological theory

Do you trust your employees? Psychology suggests you should. When employees are trusted, empowered and equipped to make certain decisions about how, when and where they work – a concept known as professional autonomy – this results in positive outcomes for the worker and the employee. ’employer.

As technology pushes the boundaries of what is possible, business leaders can either stick to the status quo or take steps to empower their employees to be more empowered. Still not convinced? Let’s take a deeper dive.

What is autonomy and why is it important?

According to the psychological theory of self-determination, autonomy plays a major role in helping people feel motivated and fulfilled. Self-determination theory defines autonomy as the feeling of being in control of one’s decisions and behaviors. The reason autonomy has such an impact on motivation is that when people feel their choices have an effect on the outcome, they feel more responsible for their role and more invested in the end result.

For example, consider the Montessori philosophy of education, which strongly values ​​autonomy. Unlike a traditional, highly structured classroom, a Montessori environment gives children the freedom to choose what to work on, how to complete tasks, how long they work at them, who they work with, and more. In one study, students rated themselves as highly motivated to do their schoolwork – no small feat when talking to your average K-12 student.

Applied to the workplace, professional autonomy refers to the independence of an employee over certain aspects of their work, such as the management and execution of tasks, working hours and the work environment. By giving employees greater autonomy, they see themselves as active contributors to the success of the company. Employers who give their employees a high degree of autonomy see improvements in everything from creative thinking to customer service.

Despite the benefits, many workers lack autonomy.

For knowledge workers working in the office, the concept of autonomy should sound familiar. Most office workers have some degree of freedom to decide how to spend their day, how to perform certain tasks, and more. Sure, they may have deadlines or quotas to which they are held accountable, but for the most part, information workers enjoy a high degree of autonomy and trust.

But for the remaining 80% of the global workforce who do not work at a desk, there is wide variability in the degree of autonomy they have. Most workers in the gig economy, for example, tend to have a high degree of freedom, like the independent dog walker who decides how many hours to work, where to go and number of walks he will take.

However, the level of autonomy available to Wag Walkers is not the reality for the vast majority of deskless workers. In fact, my company Skedulo’s most recent research report found that only 6% of organizations rate their deskless workforce as “highly autonomous” and nearly one in three workers have low or limit.

It’s easy for the CEO of an office-less productivity company to brag about these stats — and it’s clear that my opinions are influenced by what I do. But it’s hard to ignore this overwhelming consensus: 97% of organizations that employ deskless workers agree that greater employee autonomy would improve job performance, employee retention, customer satisfaction and market share. .

Organizations that employ deskless workers are missing opportunities to empower their workforce, leaving the door open for employee frustration, attrition, and innovative competitors to sweep away skilled employees.

Achieving autonomy starts with the right technology.

Historically, this lack of autonomy for deskless workers was due to insufficient mobile technology. But the lack of technology is no longer the case. Powerful and sophisticated mobile computing platforms, such as smartphones, wearables, and drones, can complement and extend the capabilities of deskless workers in the field.

The problem today is the lack of adoption of technology – not enough workers are equipped with tools that enable sophisticated decision making and task management. Our study found that only 6% of organizations rely entirely on digital processes for deskless work, and 44% of organizations rely on paper-based processes half the time or more.

To illustrate how deskless employees can experience moments of autonomy, consider the role of an Internet cable technician. Although their schedule and assignments are determined for them, there are still opportunities where improvisation could be helpful, such as upselling in case the customer needs new equipment. Giving the cabler the ability (and the technology) to respond quickly to customer needs through agile decision-making can increase customer satisfaction and organizational efficiency.

The future of work is already here.

The pandemic and subsequent widespread digital transformation have made work more flexible and portable than ever. Innovative companies will double those gains, giving employees the autonomy to choose their ideal way of working. For deskless workers who have historically lacked autonomy, the potential gains are even greater.

Organizations that equip their employees with technology that enables greater independence will benefit from a more motivated, engaged and high performing workforce – and will experience greater agility, innovation and operational efficiency in the process.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

Michael A. Bynum