Autonomy at Work: the power of self-direction

autonomy blog

More often than not, when people quit their jobs, they are actually quitting their managers. The relationship you have with your direct manager makes a world of difference. Some people have wonderful relationships with their boss, whilst for others it’s far from ideal. It can be a matter of chemistry or perhaps a reflection of their management style. For instance, even for an inexperienced person, micromanagement can be detrimental. We all need guidance, but when your boss involves themselves in every detail of your responsibilities and tasks you may feel suffocated. Firstly you feel that there is no trust in you and your capabilities–you were hired for a reason, why not let you get on with it? But what’s even worse about micromanagement is that it keeps you from developing professionally and learning how to be better at your job.

When considering the ideal job, I think of mainly two things: the content and the environment. The first one refers to whether or not you are working in the field that interests you. Is it your dream job? Is it the role you always wanted to find yourself in? The second is about the people you work with, the culture of the organisation and its policies and procedures. Do you get along with your colleagues? What is your direct manager like? What kind of culture does your office have? Although most tend to focus on content, my experience tells me that your work environment can be just as important. It can empower you to achieve amazing things or it can debilitate you the point of depression.

I experienced this myself when working as a head hunter for private banking. In my interview I was sold a glamorous image that was far from the reality of spending hours on the phone selling senior executives roles they weren’t looking for, buried in mindless administrative tasks–all the while having my menacing boss hover over me. I was micromanaged to the extreme. My phone calls and time on the phone were monitored. If my boss heard something he didn’t like he would bang his hand on the table to get my attention and tell me exactly what I should be saying to the person on the other line. If I sent even an internal email with a spelling mistake, this was held over my head for weeks to come. Needless to say, this was a miserable working environment that wasn’t even in the field that interested me. So I did the only sane thing I could and left.

Let us now step away from this bleak picture and consider a positive working environment. What happens when you are given autonomy at work? What if you are in control of your own outcomes and learning objectives? You will make some mistakes in the beginning, but you will find creative solutions. Trust in your abilities. You will learn to take initiative and be proactive on a daily basis. When you make your own schedule and write your own to-do list, you will recognise what needs to be done and the best way to do it. Ultimately, you may even shape the organisation you are in and have a positive impact and legacy. My current job gives me the opportunity to experience the power of autonomy. When I started working with young homeless people at the North London YMCA, creating my own schedule was slightly daunting. But now I feel empowered and energised. My ideas and suggestions are heard and considered–some are even implemented. The difference is incredible. Coming from a job where I dreaded starting the work day into a place where I’m excited to wake up extra early for a longer commute is astonishing.

So when considering your next role, make sure you take into account the environment you are going into. Remember that in an interview they are selling you the job just as much as you are selling yourself so make sure to ask the right questions. Although it may seem worthwhile to suffer through a horrible environment for the sake of gaining experience in the field of your interest, keep in mind that when you are not in control of your own process you will miss out on learning and gaining the skills you need. Autonomy in your role can empower you to turn your work into your dream job.


Written by Ruba Huleihel, a Year Here fellow

Photograph by Bob Prosser