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The Power of Autonomy at Work to Boost Mental Health

In an era where stress and burnout have become all too common in the workplace, the power of autonomy stands out as a beacon of hope for employees seeking better mental health and overall wellbeing. And, with the increasing recognition of the profound impact a flexible working structure can have, leading law practice Tan Ward is emphasising the importance of autonomy in improving work-life balance.

Ahead of the change in law this April, whereby flexible working will become an option for employees from day one, leading employment lawyers Daniela Korn and Praveen Bhatia, co-owners of Tan Ward, have some invaluable advice to offer on the subject.

As individuals, we thrive when given the freedom to make decisions, drive our careers, and strike a healthy work-life balance,” comments Praveen Bhatia, CEO and co-owner at Tan Ward.

Autonomy at work refers to an individual’s freedom and independence in making decisions and taking actions within their professional role. It gives employees a say in how and when they work, enabling them to align their personal and professional lives more effectively. According to a recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, autonomy is not only linked to increased job satisfaction but also to lower levels of stress and burnout.

The modern, flexible working structure, one that allows employees to manage their time and workload according to their own needs and preferences, is instrumental in fostering autonomy. This can take the form of flexible work hours, remote working options, or compressed workweeks – the possibilities are endless.

Embracing flexible working serves as a catalyst for autonomy in the workplace. Employees have the freedom to design their workday in a way that suits them best, allowing them to optimise their productivity and focus,” says Daniela Korn, Head of Employment and co-owner at Tan Ward.

Notably, flexible working arrangements also enhance mental health and wellbeing by reducing the stress associated with commuting, providing a better work-life balance, and giving individuals the opportunity to invest time in personal interests. “Autonomy fosters a sense of ownership, empowerment, and job satisfaction that transcends conventional work structures,” adds Praveen.

A recent article published in the Harvard Business Review outlined how autonomy fosters intrinsic motivation—the inherent desire to engage in activities for their own sake. Employees who are intrinsically motivated tend to be more engaged and satisfied and perform better at their jobs.

Beyond the individual level, Daniela points out that organisations also benefit from an autonomous workforce. “Empowering employees with autonomy cultivates a sense of loyalty and commitment to the company, as they feel valued and trusted,” she asserts. “This, in turn, leads to lower turnover rates and a more positive company culture.”

To fully realise the potential in the workplace, employers are encouraged to adopt a collaborative approach. Daniela advises open dialogue, involving employees in the decision-making process, and regularly evaluating and adapting flexible working policies to suit changing needs. By doing so, employers can create a supportive and inclusive environment that values the wellbeing of their workforce.

As individuals seek to achieve a better work-life balance and improve their mental health, offering a flexible working structure that enables autonomy becomes indispensable,” adds Praveen. “Aiming for a healthy equilibrium between work and personal life is the key to maintaining long-term success and wellbeing.”


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