How does a worker’s autonomy – that is, the degree to which they can schedule their tasks and the processes they employ to carry them out – link with their performance on the job?
Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing (WOW) Higher Degree Research (HDR) student member, Thao Nguyen has spent the past three years designing and administering three questionnaires to 209 workers and their managers in Vietnam to find out!
Surveying accountants, software engineers, auditors and bank employees (to name a few), Thao has used three models to test seven different hypotheses; and there was a mixed bag in her findings.
Job autonomy was found to have both a direct and indirect effect on individuals’ job performance. In a similar vein, the ambiguity of one’s work goals had a negative effect on performance, however any ambiguity about these goals was decreased by their job autonomy. In contrast, interviewees reported a decrease in unclear goals when job autonomy could be practiced.
And what of workers’ motivation in the assessment of performance?
“There was a link between employees’ intrinsic motivation improving performance when their tasks were clear,” notes Thao (pictured left), “although it was job autonomy that boosted motivation in the first instance.”
Three of the project’s hypotheses were however not supported, she adds:
“Although it was expected that job autonomy would reduce performance when high levels of job ambiguity and low intrinsic motivation existed, this was not the case. Workers with a low tolerance for a high level of unclear work tasks also did not necessarily have low intrinsic motivation.”
“An employee’s job experience was also expected to play a significant role in how they responded to job autonomy, whereby those with more experience presumably had a clearer understanding of their work tasks and more intrinsic motivation, and those with less experience possess the opposite. The results of my surveys did not support this though.”
In concluding, Thao highlighted synergies between the Vietnamese workplace job autonomy-performance context and Western ones. And in spite of the conservative and somewhat risk-adverse nature of Vietnamese culture, organisations are transforming:
“While not all employees are willing to take on larger roles,…organisations are starting to realise that they have to delegate authority to lower levels [of employees] and see the [concurrent] need to support them to build up their confidence and skill ([to mitigate] the lower level ones failing with their new authority).”
“Organisations are restructuring and willing to incorporate change as this occurs and the [employment relationship] is responding to new [ways of doing business through things such as] international trade agreements .”