Are Autonomy and Flexiblity More Important Than Money?

Julie Shenkman
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When high-performing employees leave for better job opportunities, it's easy for employers to assume they're simply chasing bigger paychecks. However, most employees value work-life balance and gravitate to companies that also offer nontangible benefits, such as work flexibility, personal autonomy and career advancement. Employers that want to retain top talent should take time to understand which factors improve engagement and motivate workers to stick around.

Millennials are rapidly overtaking the workforce, and they are more likely than previous generations to switch jobs until they find the best work environments. A 2016 Gallup study reported that 50 percent of workers born between 1980 and 1996 would accept a new job for a raise of 20 percent or less. Yet, the average millennial also considered salary to be less important than nontangible factors, including opportunities for growth and advancement, interesting work and management quality. When engaged at work, millennials were 26 percent less likely to consider switching employers even with the possibility of a raise.

When it comes to choosing a job, most workers recognize that long-term dissatisfaction from boredom, confinement or exhaustion leads to stress and burnout. Work makes up a substantial portion of everyday life, and employees want to make meaningful contributions while having the freedom to mold their own career paths. Employee engagement increases when workers are free to make constructive decisions and fulfill company objectives using their own self-guided approach. Micromanagement is the enemy of personal autonomy, preventing employees from being creative and trying new methods that could potentially benefit the company.

Work flexibility is also a high priority for employees, who often prefer to focus on productivity and results over the traditional nine-to-five workday. Expecting the entire workforce to adopt the same rigid structure is unproductive when employees are mentally drained and forced to adhere to techniques and schedules that conflict with their personalities. Inflexibility is especially difficult for working parents, who struggle to make time for sick children, school functions and recreational family time. In a 2016 FlexJobs survey, 84 percent of parents identified work flexibility and 80 percent chose work-life balance as the most important factors when considering a job, compared to 75 percent who prioritized salary.

Employers can offer work flexibility at minimal cost through remote-work programs, shift swapping and shortened workdays, creating a supportive culture that enables employees to increase output and efficiency during periods when they're most active and motivated. Employees view work flexibility as a sign that employers care about their needs and wants, and this sense of empowerment can boost their loyalty to the organization.

To stay competitive, employers must be willing to build employee-centric companies that offer work flexibility and autonomy in exchange for higher employee engagement, productivity and profit. By clearly communicating the purpose, timeline and impact of company goals, employers can give workers a blueprint for success without stifling their ability to develop their own strategies and work styles.

Photo courtesy of nenetus at


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