I do think that when we talk about employees wanting flexibility, it’s really about autonomy, so I agree with this.
But as typically happens with buzzwords, many different interpretations of flexibility are beginning to arise. For some, it means “the ability to connect and get work done from anywhere,” while to others it means “we’ll let you work from home a couple times a week.” As we’re beginning to find out, however, no one of these definitions is exactly what employees mean when they say they want flexibility. What it seems they really want is autonomy. Within the context of hybrid work, this means having the ability to be the primary decision-maker of where and when they do their work.
Speaking for myself, this is the thing that pushed me right back out of the law firm after years of traveling and working from home, the sudden lack of autonomy. The inability to look at my work and what needed to be done, and decide for me the best way to accomplish that, including the when and where of doing it.
When we talk about micromanaging, and why so many employees resent it, we have to remember that micromanaging is removing all autonomy. Having a manager tell you how to do your work, when to do it, where to do it, etc., is the exact opposite of autonomy.
Autonomy is understanding what needs to be done and having the freedom to decide the best way to get it all done. Managers can still contribute, they still set the priorities, they assist with roadblocks, and they are the ones who communicate what needs to be done, but when they start to go much further than that, employees feel that loss of autonomy, and they don’t like it.
Over the last couple of years, managers have been forced to sit back and let employees have autonomy. Much like my own experience, you can’t possibly expect employees who were successful and productive with that autonomy to just give it back for no reason.
And there really is no good reason.