Embrace Personal Agency in the Workplace

by | Blog, Executive Coaching, Leadership Development

More workers than ever are trying to find the right work-life balance and well-being at work. There are several movements like the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting aimed to revolutionize the worker’s power in the workplace. However, such actions may not be completely necessary. Every human being seeks a sense of agency. Agency is the recognition we are in control of our own self and our actions. This concept can help us navigate workplace challenges.

Making a Statement

We are responsible for our own balance of life. We like to believe that others have control, but they do not. It is up to us and our sense of personal agency to have control of what we do. We need to check our behavior and how we think about things. If you must take care of a personal matter, do not say “I have to go pick up the kids” or “tend to my mother who sick” or “I don’t feel well”. Instead, consider saying “I have a personal errand to run” and leave it at that. When you give excuses for what you’re doing, you are asking permission versus making a statement about what you want and will do. You have a both a stake and responsibility in what you do, so why feel the need to make excuses.

Setting Boundaries and Expectations

I have shared my feeling on the quiet quitting movement, but this isn’t that. Setting boundaries and expectations is about clearly articulating your wants and needs. For example, if you’re having a hard time leaving the office at 5:30 and find yourself working crazy hours, you are leaving something else unbalanced in your life.

Instead of getting annoyed with your boss or your company, it’s up to you to change the situation. Perhaps you’re not organized enough to get your work done in time, or you can’t say no or negotiate certain tasks, or worse yet your boss expects you to work 12-hour days to prove yourself to them. In either case, it’s your responsibility to make it clear what your needs are. This does not mean you are abdicating your work responsibilities or not working as hard as you should, it just means that you need to set some boundaries around the contracts you make with the people you work with. You might not get what you want, but over time you begin to negotiate what you need rather than become a victim of everything. You can be CEO of yourself and your work if you can accept the responsibility of leading yourself.


I once worked with a very capable operations manager who was so good at her job that everyone relied on her. She literally gave 120% until the point she became so frustrated she wanted to leave. When analyzing her own behavior, she realized that her self-worth was somehow linked to the time she spent on the tasks she accomplished. When she recognized this and realized her self-worth was tied to more than just time, she tried to work on her balance. Despite her best efforts, she still found herself working late into the night at home and feeling stressed about all the tasks she had yet to complete.

She successfully renegotiated her behavior but kept falling into the trap of not being able to say no or delegate to others. She continually failed to recognize her personal agency and power. Even after multiple conversations with her boss, who supported her, she could not control herself and adding more to her plate. Ultimately, by communicating her needs and wants with her boss, she was able to move into a role that only focused on one area of the organization that she could legitimately handle successfully.

Moral of the Story

The primary point here is that you have agency of yourself. If you do not recognize this, other people will think you are available all the time to do whatever they want whenever they want. If your agency helps you make a stand about what your agreement is with others, you will find the balance you need to say, “I work 40 to 45 hours a week very hard and do a good job, but at the end of the day I have other responsibilities”. We all will perform above and beyond when needed, but to give up all your time outside the work agreement is not sustainable.

Ask For Help

If you were to leave your job tomorrow because you didn’t have “balance”, in most cases the employer would be annoyed that they didn’t know you needed it. You have to tell them. Not ask them. We all take a job with the best of intentions to do a great job and delivering everything we said we would in the job interview. However, sometimes we take the job and notice the dysfunction of our group or team. We get frustrated with not knowing the priorities, not knowing how to balance and manage our own time and keep it to ourselves until we can’t take it anymore. Most employers I know, especially today, just want a reasonable delivery of the established contract of work for a paycheck, inside a culture that respects and cares for people.

Wrap Up

The most successful people I know have total balance of work and life and they do it because they manage it well. They don’t blame it on someone else or the circumstances. They politely and then discreetly manage themselves closely and find ways to be efficient with the time they have, and that makes everybody happy. True agency will lead to total work engagement. If you are looking to explore your own sense of agency and develop balance, we are here for you.



About Sojourn

Sojourn Partners is a results-driven executive leadership coaching firm that empowers the professional workforce to think differently in order to realize the full return on investment in themselves and their companies. Professional leadership thinking and intervention, based on years of research and experience, place Sojourn Partners at the forefront in executive leadership coaching, organizational development, strategic planning and culture and climate change.


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