You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

Why Some Employees Don't Like Having Freedom at Work Leaders, by nature, are entrepreneurial. But that doesn't mean the workers they manage are.

By Lydia Belanger

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

scyther5 | Getty Images

Many leaders are, by nature, entrepreneurial. But that doesn't mean the workers they manage share a drive to think for themselves and solve problems. Some tasks simply don't have room for it.

Some types of work require problem-solving and risk-taking, while more rote, structured jobs have less room for creativity. For workers in the first camp, having the freedom to dream up and experiment with new ideas is crucial to getting their jobs done. But those who aren't responsible for creative solutions might be frustrated or confused when given autonomy.

A study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior concluded that empowering workers -- letting them work without monitoring, asking for input and giving them a role in decision-making -- does not always translate to job satisfaction, skill-building and productivity. In some cases, employees may feel uncertain about how to proceed or even resent leaders who empower them.

Related: 5 Ways to Improve Your Entrepreneurial Creativity

Researchers from the University of Exeter Business School, Alliance Manchester Business School and Curtin Business School conducted the study. They examined the performance of 8,500 workers from 105 companies around the world in a range of industries and found that employees responsible for routine tasks do not respond well when presented with autonomy by their boss. Instead, many suspect a boss is dumping his or her own higher-level responsibilities, such as decision-making, on them. In turn, these frustrated workers are less productive day to day.

Conversely, empowerment encourages those responsible for more creative tasks to work harder, help others and be proactive.

What's more important than granting everyone the independence to manage themselves is trust-building between bosses and employees, the researchers note. Sometimes, empowering a creative worker can backfire if a boss tries to have it both ways, saying they'll let the worker make their own decisions but not giving them the authority to actually do so -- or not being there for employees when they inevitably want to discuss ideas from time to time.

Meanwhile, workers have to prove to their bosses that they can function productively without close monitoring.

Related: Steve Jobs Systematically Cultivated His Creativity. You Can Too.

"Workers have got to feel that their boss supports them to take risks when empowering leadership is being used," says Allan Lee, a senior lecturer at the University of Exeter Business School who led the research, in a summary of the findings. "But bosses are also vulnerable when they manage people in this way. People could take advantage of the trust put in them. Trust is a powerful factor in how effective empowering leadership can be."

Lee and his fellow researchers also made a counterintuitive conclusion about whether managers should give new hires more freedom: It turns out people who are new on the job both respond and perform better when empowered at work, compared to employees who have been on board longer. Even though they don't know the ropes as well, they may be less cynical and more willing to experiment, the researchers note.

Related video: Do You Have the 7 Qualities of a Great Leader?

Lydia Belanger is a former associate editor at Entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter: @LydiaBelanger.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Business Solutions

Scale Your Content Output with Write Bot — Now Just $40

This AI content writer can save you time and money, especially now that it's just $39.99 for a lifetime subscription.

Life Hacks

Get Ahead of the Weather with This Intuitive App — Now More Than $100 Off

This weather app goes well beyond the normal forecast and it's just $39.99 for life now.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Collaboration

You Need a Community With Shared Values to Find Long-Term Success — Here's How to Cultivate It.

Entrepreneurs need to remember this growth strategy: nurturing a purpose-driven community of like-minded entrepreneurs around them.

Making a Change

Expand International Communication with Lifetime Access to Rosetta Stone Language Learning

This proven and popular platform has helped millions of users learn new languages.