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Study: Self-direction makes workers happy

Working from home during the pandemic hasn't increased employee burnout, a new Finnish study finds.

Strong self-management means that an employee can independently decide how they work. Image: Eleni Paspatis / Yle

People who are able to plan their own tasks are more engaged in their jobs, according to fresh research.

Being able to influence how one works increases wellbeing, whereas workplaces controlled by strict hierarchies are more likely to lead to employee burnout. That’s according to a new joint study by Aalto University and the Finnish Work Environment Fund which drew responses from some 2,000 people in Finland.

"This study clearly shows that a stronger experience of self-management is associated with higher work engagement and lower burnout. Employees with a sense of self-management also felt that they have an easier time recovering, and felt less stress," Aalto University postdoctoral researcher Frank Martela said.

The study defined self-management as how much decision-making power employees feel they have regarding their own work.

Findings suggest that workers in smaller organisations are more likely to be able to influence their tasks than those in larger ones.

Martela said he was surprised to find that younger workers said they experienced a higher sense of self-management than older employees.

"What’s important about this study is that it included people that work in a wide range of companies and industries. The greater the level of hierarchy at work, the less engagement people experienced. Hierarchy was also a predictor of burnout symptoms," Jari Hakanen, research professor for the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, explained.

Remote work not inducing burnout

The project found that while working from home did not directly increase burnout, it did contribute to boredom. Researchers noted that employees were carrying out their duties with the same devices in the same environment, making their worlds smaller, according to Hakanen.

"I think that remote work during the Covid-19 pandemic must have led to an increase in self-management as supervisors have been forced to give their employees the room to self-manage. This is very good for autonomy," Martela explained.

The study was carried out in September 2020 and January 2021.