Emotional Salary is the non-financial or emotional gains we obtain from working that motivate us, change our perception of work and lead to personal and professional development.

Is the lack of control at work killing you?

In this blog I want to talk about the feeling of losing control of our lives and our work and how Autonomy, which is one of the 10 factors of the Emotional Salary Barometer, can help you start changing this. 

Where do we find ourselves now?

We find ourselves in a situation where millions of us are still working from home. What initially required from us the use of new skills such as self- regulation, the ability to create a structure that works for us, learning to communicate in new platforms, learning to concentrate in new ways, developing a new working area in our homes, dealing with domestic problems and so on, now it takes a new turn. Now that we feel that we have more or less managed the initial struggles and demands, we then find ourselves asking the question “Hey… but how long is this going to take?”; “When is this going to end?” A feeling of lack of hope, certainty and clear vision from the economical or political perspective starts to make us feel that we are losing control of our lives and our work. This is taking a toll on the way we feel personally and, of course, on our relationship with work and how we feel about it.

When we feel that we are losing control

When job demands are greater than the control we perceive we have on our jobs, or we don’t feel that we have the ability to deal with such demands, there will be a deterioration in the way we feel and in our mental health. We might start feeling low, very tired and hopeless. We have the hamster on a wheel feeling where we feel that we run and run with no goal or purpose in sight. And this is tiresome and it depletes all of our energy and all of our good intentions.

How can we start taking control, and which tools do we have at our disposal to take the first step in the right direction? Emotional Salary and its 10 factors that constitute the emotional benefits we get from working offers us a clear pathway to start becoming aware of what it is  that we have at work, what resources we can find through our work and start from there to take the next steps. And in this case the factor of Autonomy can help us move forward.

How can Autonomy help me?

The first question I have to ask myself is: Where do I have some control of the situation (no matter how small)?

Autonomy, in the context of Self-Determination Theory (a theory of human motivation developed by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan) can be defined as the need to be in charge of our experiences and actions – a slightly different definition from the traditional idea that autonomy equals independence. The distinction here is that autonomy, in this context, demonstrates an enthusiasm and eagerness to participate in various activities or behaviors because they are in alignment with an individual’s true interests and values. There is a sense of option and choice which allows individuals to engage in activities wholeheartedly rather than acting on something purely because they are “doing what they’re told” “or doing it because we need to do it”. 

Once I discover where I have some control over a situation and take action from that starting point my feeling of frustration will transform into a sense of direction and action. I will then start to feel in control.

More and more, studies are showing that embracing autonomy in the workplace leads to positive effects on wellbeing and job satisfaction. And, increased autonomy at work is known to show an increase in the motivation levels, creativity and happiness of employees. Managers are also realizing that supporting autonomy is essential as it leads to optimal productivity from team members due to their willingness to perform and complete tasks.

If you are a manager do not forget to support Autonomous work.

Autonomy support is the feeling that one is supported in their work and given appropriate flexibility and choice, when possible, to engage in the activities that mirror personal values and interests. The role that managers play in this is critical: they can either be an advocate or opponent for autonomous working. Where managers are opposed to autonomous working, it can often lead to underachievement and leave people feeling dissatisfied, demotivated and pushed around. So, if you are a manager of a team, do not forget to constantly promote autonomous work. No matter if you have worked with the same team for years. 

I would suggest asking your team the following questions. You may be surprised by the answers:

  • What do you think about this problem?
  • What can you try to do to solve this problem?
  • Would you like to lead the solution to this problem?

Some people may not be ready for a higher degree of responsibility and autonomy. But if you don’t ask them you will never know. You can also tell them: 

  • “I know you can do this and me and X  are here to help in any way we can”.

As a manager remember that the higher the degree of autonomy among the members of your team, the more you as a manager will be freed of tasks that take a whole bunch of your time and stop you devoting your time to more strategic matters such as discovering new markets or new ways of finding clients.

Infographic with 4 questions to ask to support autonomous work

If you are an individual  you also need to do some homework if you want  Autonomous work.

We as individuals also have our own homework to do:

  • What are my values and interests?
  • And how can my personal values and interests help me focus and invest my energy in those activities that are important to me?

If I don’t know what is important for me and how my activities support my values, I will not be able to ask where or how I need more autonomy to do my work.

What can I do so that my team feels fulfilled when doing autonomous work?

Autonomy fulfilment  is the feeling an individual experiences when they are willingly engaged in the work they are doing rather than feeling forced or pressured to complete it. Autonomy fulfillment also refers to the sense that the work one is doing is actually valued and appreciated by their managers and colleagues. When we do autonomous work we tend to feel alone, because we feel that nobody is watching us, nobody notices our work and we feel forgotten or isolated. Here are two things that you can do now about this:

  1. If you see a colleague or an employee doing some work on their own, acknowledge it. Now, as many of us are working from home we tend to have the feeling that whatever we are doing is not important, we lose our sense of relevance and fail to see how our work is contributing to the larger purpose of our team and company.When we feel that someone is noticing this, it can have a huge impact on the way we feel about our work. It can make us feel important, light our day and shed a new light to the work we are doing.
  2. If you are doing autonomous work, maybe people don’t comment on it because they don’t know what you are doing. Don’t forget to mention your autonomous work in any relevant meeting. What have you learned? What have been your insights? What help could you need? Maybe you would like someone to collaborate with you on an idea you just had? If you share your idea,  not only might you inspire others with it, but you may also learn a thing or two about yourself and your strengths. You will start getting more confidence in your strengths and skills and learn that not only are you responsible enough to do autonomous work, but you are also inspiring others to do the same.

Why is Autonomy important for you? And why should you work on this factor for your wellbeing and satisfaction at work?

We know that Autonomy comes with a great deal of responsibility and responsibility is not everybody’s best friend. Because when we are responsible for the outcome we become more vulnerable, our faults become more apparent and we fail to have someone to blame. However, here we have 8  great reasons why we should not only promote Autonomy in our teams, but we should embrace it once we have it and work on the best way we can manage it. The reason for this is because the only person who will benefit from it is us. 

  1. It is more fun

    We love to feel free about how we do something.  Even if the task and the outcome is clear and foreseeable. It makes us feel unique.

  2. Autonomy promotes responsibility for your own learning.

    Think of a time you were on your own. Completely on your own and you had to do a certain task. I am sure that at the end you managed. And you surprised yourself how well you managed. And you now feel great that you did it. What will keep you going, pushing and stretching yourself is that you will be responsible for the outcome and the way things turn out.

  3. Autonomy promotes curiosity

    Curiosity is such a basic component of our nature that we are nearly oblivious to its pervasiveness in our lives. We need it to understand our environment, to learn new possibilities, and it is one of the key strengths of human nature that helps us evolve even further. It is about the search for something newer, further, unknown. Science and research also highlight the importance of developing curiosity at work. It is associated with work satisfaction and ambitious work behaviour. It is connected with happiness/ life satisfaction / life engagement, intelligence, life longevity, meaning and good relationships.

  4. Having a certain degree of autonomy at work is better for your health

    Studies have shown that a perception of choice may be more important than diet and other factors for health. This happens when we  have a perceived controllability of the situation and feel that we have all the information necessary to make the right decision. Why does this happen? Neuroscience tells us that even when we have the illusion that we are in control, the cognitive functions that depend on the prefrontal cortex will be preserved. We therefore have better memory, react better to backlashes and will make better decisions.

  5. Autonomy invigorates your life

    When you are responsible for your own decisions and the direction of these decisions, you feel strong and empowered.

  6. Autonomy supports resilient behaviour

    As challenges are overcome and active coping skills are built we strengthen our skill to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. In times like the ones we are living, where we might feel that we have too much autonomy, we tend to feel that we cannot cope any more, but the truth is that we may fall, and fall hard but we keep going. We keep walking and at the end of the road we will see how much we have travelled.

  7. Autonomy creates ownership

    Every individual can create direct pathways for processing their challenges and opportunities.

  8. Autonomy supports self-sufficient teams.

    By encouraging autonomy in an organization a shift in mindset seems to happen to individuals and teams and new forms of organization start arising.

    8 great reasons why Autonomy at work should be promoted


Autonomy is one of the factors that constitute the Emotional Salary Barometer not only because it has a huge influence on our intrinsic motivation, but also, because through it we feel how our unique strengths play together. What we’ve achieved so far help us see the outcomes of how we’ve used Autonomy in our work and in our lives and see that whatever we did in our past has brought us here where we are now.

We are actually prepared for this. And we are managing wonderfully. We just need to walk one step at a time.  

If you want to know what the emotional benefits you get from your work are and see how these benefits are impacting how you feel towards your work, I invite you to do the Emotional Salary Barometer. You’ll immediately get an action plan to start owning and transforming your work.

If you are a manager and would like to know what your team’s Emotional Salary is and how this is impacting your company’s culture and performance, send us a message to [email protected] and we’ll draft a plan together to get you and your organization where you want to be.

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