Over the past decade, technological, cultural and economic factors have created a seismic shift in the way we think about our jobs and function within organisations. The emergence of workplace trends such as agile working, silo busting and collaboration, as well as the importance of customer responsiveness, have also redefined how many organisations go about their business.These external factors, coupled with the desire on the part of many employees to satisfactorily integrate their work and personal lives, have led many to rethink their roles.

Increasingly, people are looking for ways to take ownership, both as a means of getting their job done more effectively and to make their work more meaningful and rewarding. The CEO Circle ‘Leader Wellbeing Study’ has been asking leaders, including senior managers and executives, to share their views on what makes their work worthwhile and satisfying; in particular, whether positive individual job behaviours – known as job crafting – can promote enhanced wellbeing and engagement.

The CEO Circle is conducting this study in partnership with the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Business School’s Asia Pacific Social Impact Centre, under the direction of Associate Professor Ben Neville, with co-researchers Dr Gavin Slemp and Austin Chia.

The psychological benefits

An interim assessment of survey responses has provided some preliminary insights into the issues of job crafting and autonomy, especially among executives and senior managers. Slemp says an analysis of the responses so far shows most people experience a reasonably high level of autonomy in their jobs, which makes sense as the participants have generally been those in senior management positions.

“Despite this, however, there is variation in how much autonomy leaders feel they have. Some leaders feel they can do their job in the way they need to, while others feel much more constrained,” he adds.

Autonomy is about how much scope and freedom people have in the workplace to define their roles and how they get their work done. It is generally considered that higher levels of autonomy in the workplace give people the opportunity to find their intrinsic motivation rather than rely upon external motivators like financial rewards.

“higher levels of autonomy in the workplace give people the opportunity to find their intrinsic motivation rather than rely upon external motivators like financial rewards.”

Work environments and management structures that tend towards controlling styles of leadership minimise the potential for employee autonomy, whereas an autonomy-supportive leadership style seeks to enable and empower people to take responsibility for their productivity and output.

“Those who feel their autonomy is supported by whoever they are accountable to tend to be better off psychologically than those who feel more constrained,” Slemp says. “That is, they tend to be more satisfied with their work, find it more meaningful, and feel less burned out.”

Craft work

Those who experienced higher levels of autonomy also tended to do more job crafting, Slemp says. This involves proactively customising a role by changing the tasks undertaken or the quality or quantity of social interactions at work. Job crafting also consists of shifting how a person might characterise their work. For example, they might take proactive steps to think about the impact it’s having on people’s lives or broader social issues such as the environment or poverty alleviation.

“Ultimately, people who craft their job generally still perform the requirements of their role, but they do so in a way that is more customised to their own needs. We also found in this sample that those who feel they have more autonomy are more likely to do more job crafting.”

Slemp says a possible reason leaders are better off psychologically if they have perceived autonomy or do more job crafting, is that it helps them to satisfy their basic psychological needs at work to feel autonomous, competent and connected.

“We want to feel that our work activities are driven by our own choices rather than the demands imposed by other people or situations, and that we are capable of meeting the challenges we face at work. We also want to feel we have a sense of mutual connection with others, that we care about the people we work with and they care about us in return.”

We hope the ‘Leader Wellbeing Study’ will improve our understanding of what makes work meaningful and how we can all find greater personal and professional success. We welcome you to help us by sharing your experiences in an anonymous survey that is being used to gather data for this study.

It is envisaged the results of this study will be used for developing work engagement and leader wellbeing programs. The survey is now available for your participation on The CEO Circle website – theceocircle.com.

For more information on the study, please read the Plain Language Statement accompanying the survey.