Does Freedom translate into Happiness at work?  Is Freedom at the Workplace a blessing or a curse?

Freedom is a tangled web, when you learn, and I emphasize the ‘learn’, that it is both positive and negative. So, I quote” Positive liberty is the possession of the capacity to act upon one's free will, as opposed to Negative liberty, which is freedom from external restraint on one's actions. A concept of Positive liberty may also include freedom from internal constraints.”

At the workplace, it is challenging to define its boundaries!

People everywhere dream of Freedom but to achieve it, how far are we prepared to take it. To quote Charles Lamb,  the English essayist and poet, referred  to by E. V. Lucas,  his principal biographer, as ‘the most lovable figure in English literature’.

“I always arrive late at the office, but I make up for it by leaving early” ― Charles Lamb

Rather extreme, but, there’s the difference how each of us perceive that happiness!

A recent LRN study released at the World Economic Forum in Davos found that companies whose employees reported ‘high levels of freedom’ were 10-20 times more likely to outperform companies with low freedom scores.

When that sense of freedom pervades a workplace, and the employer realizes the value of employee autonomy, as do the majority of today’s high performing companies from Google to HCL, you have a bunch of happier colleagues around. Most companies swear by the empowerment and freedom to employees.

“Create fun and a little weirdness “says Tony Hsieh, the unconventional CEO of Zappos, quoting his work motto!

With a multigenerational, better prepared and more ambitious than ever, dynamic workforce entering the workplace, freedom at work has become essential. It is the freedom to make own decisions and owning their positions, that breeds employee empowerment and job fulfillment. I feel there's a difference between having it and knowing what to do with it, and that it can be enjoyed thoroughly only if it is exercised with a sense of responsibility.

Though greater work flexibility does in fact lead to greater freedom, it does not necessarily lead to greater employee satisfaction. It just means more responsibility for individual employees, who must manage themselves and plan their time better.  Letting employees be in control of their work schedules and keep non-traditional hours or work from home, will lead to greater autonomy and empowerment, but, the boundaries between work and home can quickly get blurred and  lead to isolated employees. The consequences are that employees feel overextended, distressed and exhausted, which sometimes leads to burnout. 

Today's new age personnel have very high expectations. What these Millennials really want is learning, development, enjoyment of the people they work with, flexibility, and trust in the leadership, fairness and transparency on the job. All things that companies like Google and SAS seem to do well. The key to making this approach successful, they say, is a sincere focus on employee wellbeing.

A much used assurance given by many recruiters and employers to new employees is that the company offers complete freedom at work. Do they really mean that?  Initially, you need to be punctual in terms of timings, because this is the only aspect visible in the initial days. For new employees this is an important criterion. So do not take Mr. Lamb’s words too literally! However, this should change once you start showing results, producing the work you are supposed to and meeting the expectations of the company.

Your company’s vision, great as it might be, may not be enough to motivate employees. Why should your values matter to them? Employees need to treat their jobs like it's their own company. Don’t make them guess about your expectations or your operating values, if you want them to identify with your company. Workplaces that strike a balance between individual aspirations and organization goals, while ensuring that employees work within the scheme of organization values, survive and stay ahead of the competition.

Not everything that employees want, however, can be implemented. A bit of give and take creates happiness in the workplace. To make this successful there needs to be some kind of balance. Essentially employees provide feedback on what they care about and value and the organization takes that information and designs experiences around it. Giving employees the room to reach their objectives in the ways they see fit can be a solid leadership move — if done right. Some have taken cues from successful companies like Google, whose reputation for innovation has been linked with less conventional work environments.

Many employees will tell you that freedom and flexibility at the workplace is something they value more than pay. If you want to attract and retain top talent for your company it is time to draw up a plan to create a company culture where the best people want to work and are treated with respect and consideration.

While it is the responsibility of the manager to create an environment where employees can thrive, communication is the key. Communication between manager and employee in the first two months is the difference between success and failure.

Managers also want innovation, reciprocity and loyalty and all can be rewarded with freedom. On their part, the team should have purpose, passion and performance for this nebulous idea of freedom to work.