Do People Prefer Autonomy?

Do People Prefer Autonomy?

A office worker having online meeting with coworkers during the pandemic

Do People Prefer Autonomy?

Dating back to 1985, the theory of self-determination, created by Deci and Ryan, posited autonomy as one of the three innate needs of human beings, as we always want to master our own work agenda and direction. It is supposed workers nowadays, with much more sophisticated hardware and software enabling independent working, should be more individualised.

Many researchers from 1985 to now also supported the appreciation of job autonomy by white-collar workers. However, it was often found in my previous teaching years that students occasionally changed their view and turned to a guided path down the road of learning. It was interesting to find that students in more recent years, who were more tech-savvy than their counterparts ten or fifteen years before, showed more preferences for a framed research approach.

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Autonomy and Independent Working

Many confuse the meaning of autonomy and independent working. The two actually refer to different concepts. One can define his own work on a free will, based on his value and beliefs (autonomy) but still need the input from others to deliver outcomes.

On the other hand, some may prefer to have a clearly defined scope of objectives and accomplish the task without any interference (work independently). Key elements in independent working include self-awareness, resilience and discipline, as minimal supervision is incurred.

These are also the prerequisites of autonomy. What is more important for autonomy is higher-level planning, including but not limited to reviewing and discussing the situational variables and setting up meaningful objectives. Within a volatile environment, autonomy is badly needed by management.

A girl overlooking Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong and contemplate about work

Reboot Your Imagination!

The popularity of tertiary education has supplied managers with solid hard skills and they are familiar with working independently. However, the well-structured organisation, thanks to the standardised management platform offered by the global software providers, may suffocate the creativity of middle management in large corporations.

It brings about a new meaning of postgraduate study – to reboot the curiosity in knowledge. The dissertation, for example, is a self-directed research project. It was considered by many the biggest challenge in MBA study. When I met my students in the graduation ceremony, they were all proud of getting through this component, which they found it painful to start with at the beginning!


Author’s Profile

Do People Prefer Autonomy - Author Dr Francis Leung
Dr. Francis Leung
Francis runs a sole agency representing the world’s largest air-conditioner manufacturer in Hong Kong, and has been awarded twice Best Market Performance award by the principal. Prior to establishing his own venture, Francis has over 15 years of senior management experiences in a listed consumer electronics manufacturer, a renowned retail chain store and regional distribution businesses. Francis has delivered modules for several degree and master programmes in various tertiary education bodies and universities for more than 10 years. He was presented the Best Teacher Award by University of Sunderland in Hong Kong in 2019.


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