Research shows that freedom and control at work might just save your life.

Autonomy is recognised as one of the core motivations people have in the workplace. With greater freedom and control over the way we perform our work comes higher levels of motivation and commitment. Recent research suggests that greater job control also improves our health and reduces our likelihood of dying over a seven year period. Autonomy isn't just motivating - it might just save your life. 

We've traditionally seen stress as a killer - that high job demands have a negative impact on our health. But this research shows that this isn't always the case. In fact, job demands can sometimes help improve our health. 

Researchers* used a Wisconsin longitudinal study to track people over a seven year period to explore the relationships between job factors and health. They looked at the impact of job demands (including workload and time pressure) and control (the freedom an individual feels they can exert over their job) on health outcomes.

For jobs where people had low control, the research showed that high job demands did negatively impact health outcomes. In fact, the odds of dying over the seven year period increased by 15%. For those who did make it through the seven years, this combination led to an increase in body mass index. In short, a demanding job where you feel little control is bad for your health.

Interestingly, for jobs where people had high control, high job demands were linked to a 34% decrease in the odds of dying over the same period. Higher job demands actually had positive health outcomes provided people had control over their work.

So what does this mean for leaders? Here are two ideas. 
  1. Seek out and provide autonomy: We know that autonomy motivates - people love having freedom and control over their work. Seek out more freedom in your own work. Negotiate greater flexibility and build your sense of control over the work you perform. If you're a leader, provide your team with more freedom. Give them opportunities to vary the way they perform their work. Manage them around the results they produce rather than how they produce results. 
  2. Challenge yourself and others: Seek out greater accountability. Once you have control, it's important to ensure you are stretched and challenged. As a leader, provide your team with greater accountability alongside the greater authority you've granted. Discuss the goals people have, and vary the work to capitalise on what motivates your people. 

Autonomy and challenge aren't just good for business - they're good for our health too!

*Worked to Death: The Relationships of Job Demands and Job Control with Mortality

Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, Bethany Cockburn 2016 Personnel Psychology

Motivating... on a Budget

Motivating employees on a budget is a key challenge for the Not For Profit sector in Australia. Wage growth is at the lowest level since the Australian Bureau of Statistics started recording data in 1998, with the Wage Price Index currently sitting around 2%. In addition, State, Territory and Federal governments are seeking to reduce expenditure, leading to funding constraints within the sector. With wage growth barely keeping up with consumer price increases, there is a risk that employees are feeling short changed. They’re simply not seeing the salary increases that were available as recently as 2012 when the Wage Price Index was around 4%.

Given that context, here are five ways you can motivate your employees on a limited budget.

1. Develop a reward strategy
A reward strategy does not need to be complex. At the core of an effective reward strategy are the answers to two questions: “What do we reward?” and “How do we reward?”. Most Boards and CEOs haven't consciously considered what they reward within their organisation. Rather, an informal approach to reward is developed over time. The easiest way to identify what we reward is to look at the organisation’s policies and practices around pay. In many cases organisations primarily reward tenure - the longer you stay with an organisation, the more you get paid. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s also worth considering whether you’d like to reward the performance, capability and contribution of individual employees.  Having a discussion about what we want to reward is a helpful way to ensure your leaders and managers on the same page. This might include agreeing what outstanding performance looks like, and deciding how this should be rewarded.

2. Review and benchmark remuneration
An important step in making the most of a limited salary budget is to examine the internal consistency and external competitiveness of pay. Internal consistency looks at roles of similar responsibility and complexity to determine how consistently people are rewarded. Salary surveys provide an opportunity to understand how we pay compared to the broader salary market. This provides helpful context for determining any changes that might be required to keep pace with the market within funding constraints.

3. Build clarity and a feedback culture
People are motivated by a sense of purpose. We long to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and to understand how our roles contribute to that broader vision. Goal setting and performance feedback provide a great way of understanding how we are contributing to the success of the organisation. Cloud-based performance management software such as PeopleGoal ( provides a fantastic way to build clarity and a feedback culture by allowing people to link their goals to those of the organisation, gather feedback from various sources and capture the outcomes of performance conversations. Employees can also use the system to recognise each other informally through social recognition. The relatively cheap per-user pricing of such software helps make it accessible to many organisations that would have found traditional performance management systems to be out of their reach. 

4. Leadership team recognition
Recognition from a leadership team can have a large impact on employee motivation, especially when the reward is unexpected. It can be a very effective way to recognise your most outstanding employees. If you set aside just 0.5% of the salary budget to recognise 10% of staff, it equates to a 5% opportunity for the individual. The leadership team can then decide on a monthly or quarterly basis who the outstanding performers are, and what level of recognition they should receive. The outcome might be a payment, funding conference attendance, or something different altogether.

5. Manager recognition
Managers have a significant impact on how it feels to work for an organisation. We can help equip managers by providing them with a modest budget for ad hoc recognition of their employees. This could include vouchers, experiences or gifts. While these are typically liable to Fringe Benefits Tax and require some guidance as to appropriate use, a relatively small expenditure can have a significant impact on the individual when combined with positive feedback and appreciation.