SMART Work Enables Agency

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

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


Childcare Worker

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

“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

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].

'Agency' in Action


[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.

The Centre for Transformative Work Design is a Research Centre where passionate organisational psychology researchers and professionals are working together to transform work.

We conduct high quality, independent and innovative research to understand the role of work design in generating healthy and productive work. Alongside this, we work with managers, employees and policy makers to create healthier lives, unlock human capability and support a skilled economy.

Contact Us


Centre for Transformative Work Design

Future of Work Institute

Curtin Graduate School of Business 

78 Murray Street, Perth WA 6000

Telephone: +61 8 9266 4668


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