Having a sense of control over when and how we do our jobs helps us to align with organizational goals while retaining our own sense of agency, individuality and responsibility. Part of job control is the capacity to influence decisions about our work and it's linked to higher employee wellbeing and lower levels of stress.
Our research shows we need to feel we can shape our work to feel happy in it. Psychologists think influence brings joy and satisfaction because it reaffirms our sense of self, as something separate but bound to others and our environment. When children are blocked from having any meaningful effect on the world around them, their self-efficacy and wellbeing tumbles and these studies have been used to explain misery in the workplace.
Research has found some of the happiest people at work are those who engage in job crafting – this is the process of crafting the boundaries of jobs so work becomes more meaningful. An example from a study was hospital cleaning staff who included things they did on a regular basis for nurses, doctors, patients and patient visitors, to help people recover. Opening up the space for people to shape their work can also protect against any negative effects of work on wellbeing. For example, one study has shown that job autonomy in combination with social support can buffer against stressors at work.
Participation in organizational decision-making – especially where it will affect our work – is also important for wellbeing. But participation without influence can have a negative effect - when people feel they’re not being listened to or feel frustrated that the changes they want are not being implemented, they report lower wellbeing and workplace trust. In this way our relationship with work mirrors our relationship with loved ones, friends and our wider community: the reward comes from shaping and influencing one another. In a work context, influence is motivational because it helps us feel relevant and valued.
“There can be a lot of differentiation in how teams experience autonomy across an organization. Proximity to decision-making arenas is an obvious factor affecting whether employees feel they can influence decisions. Periods of rapid growth or change can also limit how involved people feel. In these situations, organizations focus on communication rather than conversation. This distinction is important because it’s in conversation that influence gets negotiated”. Dr Jody Aked, Friday