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Support: Dealing with Stress in the Workplace

Autonomy in the Behavioral Health Workforce [2.10.1c13]

This section addresses autonomy, as described in Workforce Development TIPS (Theory into Practice Strategies): A Resource Kit for the Alcohol and Other Drugs Field from the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction (NCETA), Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia. Permission is granted for the use of this information.

Providing workers with autonomy indicates a high degree of trust in workers’ skills and capacity[1]. Strategies to increase autonomy include[2]:
  • Opportunities to participate in decision making within the organization (e.g., formulation/revision of policies and procedures);
  • Increased control over scheduling of work; and
  • Greater discretion concerning how tasks or activities are performed.

The Challenges of Managing Autonomy in the AOD Field

Providing workers with increased autonomy has been shown to result in a number of benefits, such as motivation, job satisfaction, and enhanced teamwork[3],[4],[5]. However, providing workers with autonomy in the AOD sector (or wider health and human services fields) can be a challenge. Specific work practice and procedures may be required of workers due to legislation, funding requirements, or evidence-based clinical guidelines and other protocols. Failure to adhere to particular work practices may represent a significant risk to clients’ health and well being or treatment efficacy. It is important that workers have realistic expectations regarding the degree of autonomy available to them within their work practice. For example, limitations and boundaries on autonomy should be discussed in a realistic job preview (RJP) that is provided to new recruits. Getting the balance right between autonomy and adherence to protocols and organizational procedures is an important challenge for management and workers.

The Workplace Support chapter includes this information on autonomy. It can be accessed at: Support.pdf  

It is also available through a search request at  

[1] Rhoades, L., & Eisenberger, R. (2002). Perceived organizational support: A review of the literature. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 698-714.
[2] Sparks, K., Faragher, B., & Cooper, C. L. (2001). Well-being and occupational health in the 21st century workplace. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 74, 489-509.
[3] Campion, M.A., Medsker, G.J., & Higgs, A.C. (1993). Relations between work group characteristics and effectiveness: Implications for designing effective work groups. Personnel Psychology, 46, 823-849.
[4] Cohen, S.G., & Bailey, D.E. (1997). What makes teams work: Group effectiveness research from the shop floor to the executive suite. Journal of Management, 23, 239-290.
[5] Knudsen, H.K., Johnson, J.A., & Roman, P.M. (2003). Retaining counseling staff at substance abuse treatment centers: Effects of management practices. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 24, 129-135.

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