EARLY BIRD PROMOTION: Register for the Masterclass by May 31 to secure lifetime(!) access. (Only 7 spots remaining)

More info.

Thriving in Autonomy: Why Self-Management Doesn't Lead to Burnout

Joost Minnaar
Written by Joost Minnaar May 05, 2024

One question frequently arises when discussing self-managing organizations: Isn't it overly taxing? The concern is understandable. With the implementation of self-management, emphasizing autonomy, authority, and responsibility at the frontline, there's a fear of overburdening employees and leading them toward burnout. Burnout poses a significant organizational challenge, as individuals experiencing work-related stress are at risk of various health issues. However, it is also an ill-founded concern. Let me explain. 


The Demand-Control Model

To shed light on why self-management, when executed effectively, doesn't exacerbate stress for employees, we turn to the work of Robert Karasek. Renowned for his contributions to occupational health psychology and stress research, Karasek, in collaboration with Töres Theorell, developed the 'Demand-Control model.'

This model posits that work-related stress stems from the interplay between two crucial factors:

1. Job Demands

Job demands refer to the physical, psychological, social, or organisational aspects of a job that require effort and skill from the employees. Think about things like workload, time pressure, conflicting demands, and emotional labor.

2. Job Control

Job control, also known as decision latitude, refers to the degree of autonomy and discretion that employees have in carrying out their tasks, making decisions, and using their skills. High job control implies that employees have more freedom and authority over their work, while low job control indicates limited autonomy and discretion.

The Four Quadrants of the Demand-Control Model

Combining these factors yields four quadrants representing different levels of job-related stress:

Demand-control model

1. Low Strain (Low Demand, High Control)

Jobs characterized by low demands and high control are typically less stressful, as employees have the resources and autonomy to manage their tasks effectively.

2. Passive (Low Demand, Low Control)

In these roles, both job demands and control are low, often resulting in disengagement and lack of motivation among employees.

3. High Strain (High Demand, Low Control)

This quadrant signifies situations with high job demands coupled with low control, leading to heightened stress levels and increased risk of stress-related health problems.

4. Active (High Demand, High Control)

Jobs with high demands and high control are challenging and engaging, fostering a sense of fulfillment and achievement among employees who possess the resources and autonomy to manage their work effectively.

Applying the Demand-Control Model to Self-Managing Organizations

Self-managing organizations, which operate on principles of autonomy, distributed decision-making, and employee engagement, offer a unique perspective on the Demand-Control model. In these decentralized entities, teams and individuals wield greater control over their work processes and decision-making compared to traditional hierarchical organizations.

Successful self-managing organizations typically address the key factors of the Demand-Control model as follows:

High Job Demands

Contrary to some perceptions, self-managing organizations often face high job demands. However, they approach these demands differently than their hierarchical counterparts. Instead of relying on top-down directives, self-managing teams and individuals autonomously decide how to pursue organizational objectives and respond to market needs. Furthermore, self-managing organizations exhibit flexibility in work organization, allowing employees to adapt to changing demands and prioritize tasks based on their expertise and interests.

High Job Control

Self-managing organizations inherently prioritize job control by empowering employees to make decisions about their work, set their own goals, and manage their tasks autonomously. Within a clear framework, teams and individuals possess the authority to determine how they will accomplish their objectives, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability. By distributing decision-making power, these organizations aim to enhance job control and provide employees with the autonomy they need to thrive.

Self-Managing Organizations are 'Active'

Despite the demanding nature of self-managing organizations, the Demand-Control model suggests that high job demands paired with high job control mitigate the risk of stress-related issues. These organizations operate in the 'Active' quadrant, empowering employees with autonomy and decision-making authority, thereby reducing stress and enhancing job satisfaction.

The model underscores the effectiveness and quality of work associated with 'active jobs.' Conversely, roles in the other quadrants tend to lead to adverse outcomes. Thus, organizations and teams are encouraged to pursue challenging tasks while providing the necessary autonomy, authority, and decision-making powers for self-organization.

In conclusion, long live active jobs. Long live the self-managing organization.

Written by Joost Minnaar
Joost Minnaar
Co-founder Corporate Rebels. My daily focus is on research, writing, and anything else related to making work more fun.
Read more
Apr 14, 2024
Recording: How We Buy Companies And Transform Them Into A Force For Good
Pim de Morree Written by Pim de Morree
Buying companies and transforming them into a force for good. That's what we do with our company Krisos. Last week, we organized a webinar…
Read more about Recording: How We Buy Companies And Transform Them Into A Force For Good
Mar 31, 2024
Creating a Culture of Ownership: Breaking Free from Hierarchy
Diederick Janse Written by Diederick Janse
The buzzword 'ownership' has been circulating in education and business circles for the past decade. Apparently, we want more of it, but…
Read more about Creating a Culture of Ownership: Breaking Free from Hierarchy
Mar 24, 2024
From Acquisition to Impact: How We're Turning The Company We Bought into a Force for Good
Pim de Morree Written by Pim de Morree
A few weeks ago, I spent two days in Seville (Spain). We invited several 'new ways of working' enthusiasts over to witness the ongoing…
Read more about From Acquisition to Impact: How We're Turning The Company We Bought into a Force for Good
Feb 25, 2024
5 Steps (and 9 Experiments) for a Successful Transition to a Self-Managing Organization
Joost Minnaar Written by Joost Minnaar
Recently I wrote about the importance of transforming the Self in a successful transition to a self-managing organization. However, this…
Read more about 5 Steps (and 9 Experiments) for a Successful Transition to a Self-Managing Organization
Feb 18, 2024
Ivy Global's Workplace Revolution: Navigating Growth Without Managers
Jorn van der Schaaf Written by Jorn van der Schaaf
Meet Ivy Global – a tech sector standout where students and entry-level professionals tackle projects that align with their knowledge and…
Read more about Ivy Global's Workplace Revolution: Navigating Growth Without Managers
Jan 21, 2024
The Importance of Transforming the Self in Change Management
Joost Minnaar Written by Joost Minnaar
To create a progressive workplace, you need to change your organization and yourself. But most people focus on the organizational part and…
Read more about The Importance of Transforming the Self in Change Management
Read all articles

Download: Free Guide

Unlock our in-depth guide on trends, tools, and best practices from over 150 pioneering organizations.

Subscribe below and receive it directly in your inbox.

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at any time.