The unequal distribution of control over ones work

Control and autonomy at work is something that I’ve touched on a few times in the past.  For instance, a few years ago I wrote about a study from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania that touched on this issue in the workplace.  The study found that when highly educated people are given autonomy over how and when and where they work, they produce much more than when they are micro-managed.

The research found that when people had control over their own schedule they were empowered enough to accept whatever work pattern they themselves adopted.  This often meant working longer and harder than before.

These findings have been reflected in a second study, this time by researchers from Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  The research found that when you give employees the opportunity to customize their own jobs, known as idiosyncratic deals, a number of positive outcomes emerged, including being less stressed, more motivated, and more engaged in their work.

Who gets control

All of which is great, but a recent study suggests that it’s only generally those in high-skilled jobs that get given this level of control.

The study, which examined workplaces across Europe, was looking at the degree of control workers had over their schedules.  It emerged that those in disadvantaged labor market groups were the least likely to have any control over their schedules.

What’s more, when people were given control over their schedules, it was likely to be down to performance considerations or even the intensity of the work rather than a needs-driven provision.

There was also an interesting correlation between the amount of leave employees received, and the availability of control over ones schedule.  In nations where workers were granted long leave entitlements, employers seemed more reluctant to grant them any flexibility over their schedules, regardless of their skill levels.

Conversely, when countries had generous childcare provisions, it was more likely that employers would offer workers control over their schedules, especially if they were highly skilled.

All in all, roughly 22% of workers across the 27 European countries monitored in the study had control over their work schedule, with those in Scandinavian countries most likely to have such freedom, with the Netherlands close behind.

Given the boosts to productivity and employee engagement when employees have control over their work however, maybe it’s about time employers upped their game.

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