Jan. 27, 2017 at 10 -11:30 a.m. in BN-4000
“Seeking Safety with Uncertainty: Autonomy and Workplace Injuries”
Autonomy, or the freedom employees have to choose how they do their jobs, is an important determinant of satisfying work. Many organizations increasingly design work with autonomy in mind (“empowerment” or “self-managing work teams”) hoping to increase effectiveness while reducing the need for supervision. However, there remains little understanding of the conditions under which autonomy may help or possibly hinder critical outcomes such as workplace safety. I present three studies that collectively investigate the role of autonomy in promoting workplace safety at the individual, group, and organizational levels. The first study provides evidence that empowerment compared to four other “high performing” human resource practices is related to lower workplace injury rates in a sample of UK manufacturing organizations. The second study investigates the extent to which task uncertainty moderates the effects of autonomy on team-level injury rates. The third study examines this relationship among individual employees in a different organization, and replicates the finding that some task uncertainty helps autonomous employees work safer.
Nick Turner is a professor in organizational behaviour at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, prior to which he worked in the business schools of University of Manitoba and Queen’s University and earned his PhD in psychology at the University of Sheffield, UK. He is interested in the psychosocial determinants of “healthy work,” and has focused on the roles of leadership and work design most recently. He has conducted research with a number of organizations, including BP Amoco, the UK Health and Safety Executive, and for the last decade has collaborated on a program of research on young workers and safety in collaboration with the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba. He is currently editor-in-chief of the journal Human Relations.