Nick Turner, University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business

Seeking Safety with Uncertainty: Autonomy and Workplace Injuries
Nick Turner


Winter 2018
Lecture Time: 
Friday, February 16, 2018 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 
R0220 Ross School of Business
Introduced By: 
Kristi Chin


Autonomy, or the freedom employees have to choose how they do their jobs, is an important determinant of satisfying work. Many organizations increasingly design work with autonomy in mind (“empowerment” or “self-managing work teams”) hoping to increase effectiveness while reducing the need for supervision. However, there remains little understanding of the conditions under which autonomy may help or possibly hinder critical outcomes such as workplace safety. I present three studies that collectively investigate the role of autonomy in promoting workplace safety at the individual, group, and organizational levels. The first study provides evidence that empowerment compared to four other “high performing” human resource practices is related to lower workplace injury rates in a sample of UK manufacturing organizations. The second study investigates the extent to which task uncertainty moderates the effects of autonomy on team-level injury rates. The third study examines this relationship among individual employees in a different organization, and replicates the initially counter-intuitive finding that some task uncertainty actually helps autonomous employees work safer.

Recording & Additional Notes

Nick Turner is a professor in organizational behavior and CCAL Research Chair in Leadership at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary. He worked previously in the business schools of University of Manitoba and Queen’s University, and earned his PhD in psychology at the University of Sheffield, UK. He is interested in the psychosocial determinants of “healthy work,” and has focused on the roles of leadership and work design most recently. He has conducted research with a number of organizations, including BP Amoco, the UK Health and Safety Executive, and for the last decade has collaborated on a program of research on young workers and safety in collaboration with the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba. He is currently editor-in-chief of the journal Human Relations.