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Work design: Agency

A sense of agency at work can be important for mental health. Agency comes from a sense of control over your work schedule, work methods and decision making.

Part of the Work design overview module.

SMART work enables agency

Building a sense of agency or independence at work comes from things such as being able to:

  • organise your own schedule (work scheduling)
  • choose how to do your work (work methods)
  • make decisions independently and feel empowered to do so (decision making). 

Jobs with a high degree of agency are likely to include all 3 aspects.

By contrast, jobs with a low degree of agency:

  • have little flexibility or few opportunities to control the timing and scheduling of tasks
  • involve excessive bureaucracy and red tape about how to do tasks
  • are micromanaged and often attract criticism for mistakes.

People working in jobs with a high degree of agency have a lower risk of experiencing mental health issues.

Organisations that enhance agency have improved safety outcomes, worker engagement, skill development, productivity and proactivity.

Tips on creating a high degree of agency


Here are some ideas for increasing your sense of agency at work:

  • Ask your manager about projects or work that you could lead. A small project could be a great way for you to demonstrate how you work independently. For example, a small project could be finding a current process or system within the workplace that can be improved. This would enable you to demonstrate your ability in things like leading a project, conducting research, design and communication.  
  • Share ideas for how to improve a process or task with your manager. Identifying the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches can help make the switch easier.
  • Share other skills you have with your manager or team. You may have more opportunities to work independently when others know what you can do. 


If you are a manager, here are some ways you can design work that offers a high degree of agency:

  • Invest in professional development and staying up to date with developments in your field, including reading articles, listening to podcasts and attending conferences. You can use this information to inspire your team towards developing and using different approaches to achieve their goals.
  • Turn difficult decisions or organisational changes into a learning opportunity. Share your thoughts and any lessons with your team.
  • Do not punish mistakes unnecessarily. Encourage a proactive approach to addressing issues and problems and use mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • Ask team members and others for ideas about how to do things differently.


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