Decades of research demonstrate that workers' sense of control at work is a powerful lever for enhancing their health—or harming it.1 Broadly defined, control at work involves having meaningful discretion over how, when, and where work gets done.2 Workers lack control at work when they feel they have little or no say in how they accomplish their daily tasks, are subject to excessive levels of supervision or surveillance, or cannot reasonably predict their schedules from week to week.
A lack of control over important aspects of one’s work life is highly stressful. Research has found that stress caused by low job control (in other words, low discretion in how work gets done) in combination with high work demands significantly increases the risks of diabetes and of death from cardiovascular causes. Stressful working conditions are associated with increased absenteeism, tardiness, and turnover intentions (that is, a desire to quit) —with negative impacts on companies and their bottom lines. But research also shows that giving employees the opportunity to decide how and when they complete their tasks and greater input into work-related decisions can enhance their ability to work effectively and efficiently.3
This module describes a set of Promising Practices in three key areas of control at work: 1) job autonomy; 2) schedule control; and 3) workers’ voice on the job.