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SMART Work enables Agency

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The third letter in the SMART work framework stands for Agency. 

Work scheduling refers to the extent to which you are able to organise your own schedule, while work methods refers to the extent to which you can choose the methods in which to achieve your work goals. Decision making refers to the extent to which you are able to make judgements and decisions individually. 

Whilst some jobs will inherently involve a higher degree of agency than others, there is always ways in which to improve this aspect of work design. 

Qualities of High Agency Jobs

For example, jobs with a high degree of agency allow individuals to:


  • control the timing and scheduling of their tasks

  • decide upon the best methods of completing a task, including the chance to show initiative

  • make decisions independently and feel empowered in doing so

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“We are allowed so much freedom to use our creativity here.”


- Childcare Worker

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“It was hard not to have any control over my job – you don’t have input, everything is set out for you.”

- Call Centre Operator

Qualities of Low Agency Jobs

In contrast, jobs with a low degree of agency can involve:

  • a lack of flexibility or limited chances in which to provide input towards the scheduling and timing of tasks

  • excessive bureaucracy and red tape limiting the availability of different work methods

  • retribution and criticism for mistakes and micromanagement from supervisors

What are the Risks of Low Agency Jobs?

Work that is overly restrictive, with little room for input or independent decision making poses a number of risks for individuals and organisations:


One of the key risks for employees who experience a low degree of agency in their work relates to mental health. A recent study showed that employees who had jobs with minimal agency had a 20-25% increased risk of experiencing mental health issues [1].


For organisations, the risks of overly controlling work, with little room for input are extensive. Research has demonstrated that enhancing agency can lead to improved safety outcomes, employee engagement, skill development/learning, productivity and proactivity [2] [3].

Research Spotlight

Research shows that job autonomy (alongside communication quality) was a significant predictor for increased safety compliance. Further analysis demonstrated that this effect occurred due to individuals with a high degree of job agency feeling more committed to the organisation and therefore more likely to follow safety rules [4].

A longitudinal study over 18 months demonstrated that work design features such as high degrees of agency and social support were positively related to increased personal resources such as perceived self-efficacy, organisational based self-esteem and optimism. These were linked together in a reciprocal relationship with employee engagement [5].

Strategies to Increase Agency

Micromanager from hell? No way to have a say in the direction of your organisation? Fear not, there are a number of practical strategies you can implement to try and improve the overall agency of your role. Here are some practical tips for you to try out:

Here are some practical tips to try and help increase the agency of your work:

  • Speak to your manager about any projects that in which you could take ownership. Often smaller scale projects can be a great opportunity to demonstrate value whilst still building valuable skills.

  • If you are able to identify a more effective or efficient method of carrying out your work, develop a business case for it that you can take to your manager. Often, work is carried out in the same manner because ‘that’s how it’s always been done’. Creating a business case will help to make the switch less risky for your manager.

To learn more strategies, check out our training opportunities.


[1] SafeWork NSW. (2017). Review of evidence of psychosocial risks for mental ill-health in the workplace.

[2] Parker, S. K., (2015). Does the evidence and theory support the ‘Good Work Design Principles’: An educational resource. Safe Work Australia.

[3] Parker, S. K. (2014). Beyond motivation: Job and work design for development, health, ambidexterity, and more. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 661-691.

[4]  Parker, S. K., Wall, T. D., & Cordery, J. L. (2001). Future work design research and practice: Towards an elaborated model of work design. Journal of occupational and organizational psychology, 74(4), 413-440.

[5] Xanthopoulou, D., Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2009). Reciprocal relationships between job resources, personal resources, and work engagement. Journal of Vocational behavior, 74(3), 235-244.

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