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Philip Piletic

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Authority vs Anarchy: Freedom at Workplace



The business medium has become more and more preoccupied with management strategies and there are probably thousands of written and video pieces offering advice on how to balance organizational authority with employee freedom. The new generations impacted company culture, influencing the rise of a more progressive management that focuses on employee experience. The advantages offered to workers now vary from an enhanced office with amenities like a healthy food cafeteria, a modular working space, relaxation corners and happy-hours to health & fitness packages, flexible work schedules, work-from-home opportunities and even a shorter workday. These strategies were designed to make people show up for work because they want to, not because they have to.

At the opposite, some companies exercise strict control over their staff, imposing daily, weekly and monthly reports, using employee computer monitoring and constantly measuring performance. General Electric used annual performance reviews to rank employees and fired those scoring the lowest rates, but gave up the system after nearly three decades. Micromanagement and surveillance are seen in some corporate mediums as tools of security, ensuring high quality of services and data protection for clients, partners, and stakeholders.

While a relaxed office schedule and diversified alternative in approaching projects can at some point confuse employees and lead them to work longer hours because they have too many options to analyze, tight control can make them feel that employers don’t respect their intimacy, don’t value their choices and, after a while,  the lack of purpose lowers the much-debated performance levels. We gathered some theories about balancing authority with freedom  for the best results, in order to inspire managers to make better-informed decisions:

The Three Environments

Jacob Morgan, author of “The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization”, thinks that the employee experience is defined by three dimensions: physical, cultural and technological. In his opinion, companies should steadily pay attention and find improvement solutions for each of these three factors.

The cultural environment consists of the values and mission of the company and the way these elements influence the organizational structure, but also, Morgan says, the general vibe inside the office, that can be invigorating or exhausting.

The physical environment can nowadays be improved with shared and modular office space, smart lights, sensors, a nice color scheme and artwork. The technological environment comprises the hardware and software employees use to accomplish their tasks. Companies can survey employees regarding their perception of each environment, analyze the results and turn them into reforms, test them on a pilot group and then implement them on a large scale. But the secret is to continue gathering feedback and not just impose a strategy.

The Feeling of Choice

Heidi Grant Halvorson, psychologist and Associate Director of the Motivation Science Center at the Columbia University Business School believes managers should focus on developing intrinsic motivation in their employees, which means making them feel the company’s goals are their own goals. For some companies, actual employee freedom is a risk too big to take, but Heidi Grant advises to gradually built a feeling of choice, which will empower workers.

The three steps to achieving that are based on an efficient communication between management and execution. The first implies explaining thoroughly to employees why a goal is important, not imposing it on them. Then, workers should be able to decide how to achieve the goal or at least have a couple of options to choose from. And third, managers can benefit from letting staff take small decisions, ranging from the timing of a meeting to the topic of a team building. Even though these are not impactful decisions, they will make an employee feel valued by his or her superiors.

Understanding Employee Motivation

Theory X and Theory Y was developed in the 60’s by psychologist Andrew McGregor. In his book 'The Human Side of Enterprise, he argued that managers’ opinions about workers’ motivation influence determine their approach. Theory X managers assume people are generally lazy and indifferent and use an authoritarian style, involving performance reviews, rewards and punishes.

Meanwhile, theory Y managers are those who believe people need to be challenged and encouraged and they adopt a participative style, giving workers the possibility to take decisions and finally, ownership of their work. A manager doesn’t necessarily need to choose one side or another, but adopt the right way in a certain situation. Based on these 2, a Japanese theorist developed Theory Z, which relied on boosting employer's loyalty by assuring a job with a lifetime perspective.

All things considered, companies need a humanistic,  emotionally-intelligent approach in order to achieve growth and harmony among all organizational levels.

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Philip Piletic

Blogger, writer and editor

Read more from Philip Piletic

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