Greater autonomy at work reduces stress and increases a sense of meaningful employment

Human Resources


“One in three employees experiences stress at work1”, the newspaper headlines recently announced. Greater autonomy at work is mainly being touted as the solution. This is a great idea, as far as Antwerp Management School is concerned. More freedom to make your own choices and the ability to put your own stamp on your job not only reduces stress but also increases how meaningful you consider your work to be.

By: Peggy De Prins & Ans De Vos 


Research into meaningful work

In spring 2016, Antwerp Management School commissioned a large-scale research project into meaningful work involving 47,771 employees, in cooperation with the NWOW-coalition and De Standaard and sponsored by Minister Kris Peeters. The results showed a marked disparity when it came to status and functions.

The more control people have over the content of their job (e.g. self-employed people vs. employees; staff members vs. laborers and executive assistants), the more likely respondents are to consider their various tasks as meaningful. Greater attention needs to be paid to ensuring meaningfulness and autonomy for those groups whose work involves carrying out externally-assigned tasks.


The ‘software’ of the working relationship

The employment relationship is a two-way street. Ensuring there is a fit between a job and a person’s talents, interests and values is not simply the employer’s responsibility. Moreover, job content can differ hugely from one individual to the next. Organizations need to work together with staff to achieve engaged workers, aware of how the work they do fits into the organization’s goals. In other words, we can no longer simply talk about the ‘hardware’ of the working relationship, we must also consider the software.

"Organizations need to work together with staff to achieve engaged workers, aware of how the work they do fits into the organization’s goals."

Autonomy forms a possible buffer that can be used against high pressure at work, although it should be mentioned that this can only be applied within certain limits. Extreme pressure at work cannot simply be buffered by some extra autonomy.  


Future Proof People Management

The importance of ‘software’ will also affect future HR policy. The combination of longer working lives, automation, digitization, informatization and a workforce with changing needs, demands and norms present a number of challenges for the average organization. We have created a new program to tackle such changes, entitled The Future of Work. This 6-day program will assist you in developing an up-to-date and future-oriented vision and you will learn how to implement it. This will give you a head start on Future Proof People Management in your organization.

Discover Future of Work or our Master Class HRM!