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Time autonomy and job satisfaction


Due to the current challenge of organizing work despite existing contact rules and prohibitions and to remain competitive as a company, the needs of the employees come to the fore and there is a need to harmonize work and private life, whereby flexible working time models can help. This article explains the possible psychological effects of a trust-based working time model using Job Characteristics Theory (Hackman & Oldham, 1975).  

Daily work should adapt to the needs of the people and not the other way round. Changing times also require a rethinking in people’s minds. Especially in the current situation (I deliberately refrain from using the tired phrase: “In times of Corona…”), people’s needs come to the fore and quite a few people are faced with the challenge of balancing work and private life.

Progressive digitisation and the resulting possibilities of working independently of time and place are a process that encourages reflection and discussion on different working time models.

In the so-called confidential working time model, the focus is not on whether the agreed work performance is completed within a fixed time frame; the focus is solely on whether the work is performed. The autonomy in designing the model lies with the employees.

Especially from the employees’ perspective, the attractiveness of this model is obvious and it can help to retain employees in the company. This may be particularly true for employees with children, as they are in a special position when it comes to mastering the demands of private and professional life in the same way.

The role of autonomy

In industrial psychology, the Job Characteristics Theory (Hackman & Oldham, 1975) is a well-known theory which can provide a theoretical framework to explain the psychological effects of a trust-based working time model on employees.

With the help of this theory, work and work processes in organisations can be designed in such a way that they are perceived as enriching by the employees and thus have a positive effect on job satisfaction.

The theory postulates five core characteristics (task variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback), the presence of which leads employees to perceive their work as meaningful, to feel responsible for the results of their work and to generate knowledge about the results of their work tasks.

In the course of this, the above mentioned core characteristics could therefore have a positive effect on the motivation, (job) satisfaction and performance of the employees and reduce absenteeism and change intentions of the employees.    

In a trust-based working time model, autonomy as a decisive factor of job satisfaction could have an equally positive effect on the outcomes described. The time sovereignty contained in the working time model could empower employees by helping them to adapt work tasks to individual life rhythms, in which work and recovery phases are balanced, which in turn would also have a positive effect on work processes in the company.


The challenge for employees is to organise themselves, plan their work tasks and at the same time meet the demands of their private lives. If working hours are not prescribed, there is a risk of infiltration of private life through work content or overtime, meaning that important recreational compensatory activities and rest periods are missed out, which can have a negative impact on health and well-being. Time autonomy also means that working and rest times can be directly influenced by the employees and are not characterised by permanent availability or overtime.

A prerequisite for the temporal autonomy of employees is, however, also that a manager assigns them the competence to carry out their tasks in a self-organised manner and that they have the confidence to allocate their time in the sense of completing these tasks. In essence, this contradicts classical hierarchies in which a manager is operationally and also disciplinary superior to a group of employees, and who may even control the performance of his employees.  


Temporal autonomy brings many advantages for employees and managers if the framework conditions are right. The following requirements arise:

  • Encourage/enable employees to build up their skills in terms of self-organisation and living a work-life balance that leads to recovery
  • Trusting employees and waiving control
  • Design work/distribution of work tasks in such a way that it can be carried out at flexible times and allows coordination of working and rest periods (this means in particular dispensing with permanent availability)

Source: Hackman, J.R. Kc Oldham, G.R. (1975). Development of the Job Diagnostic Survey. Journal of Applied Psychology, 60: 159-170.

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

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