Several studies suggest that having a sense of control over work plays a central role in workers' health. Employees, who are given more autonomy and challenge, have nearly half the number of stress-related illnesses such as high blood pressure compared to workers who have little challenge and control over work.

Are you in control of your work?

Answer "yes" or "no."

  1. My job enables me to use my own ideas.
  2. My job allows me to accomplish something worthwhile.
  3. My work gives me a sense of purpose.
  4. I can use my skills on the job.
  5. My job provides me with a desired amount of variety.
  6. My job is challenging.
  7. My job provides opportunities to learn new things.
  8. I have a say in planning my work week.
  9. I have input into decisions affecting my work.
  10. I set my own work pace.
  11. My work hours are flexible.
  12. I can decide when to take a break.

 Scoring: One point for each "yes." The higher you score, the more control you have over your work. Five or less suggests you have little control. If you want to strengthen autonomy, read on.

 Strengthening autonomy

- Review your work history with the company. Do you presently have a sense of control over your work? Did you ever? What made you feel you had control? Is there anything you can do to gain control?

- Identify co-workers who feel they have control over their work. What are they doing? Are they taking the initiative? Volunteering for new assignments? Assertive at meetings? Politically astute? Are you the only one who feels a lack of control? If so, what does this tell you?

- Restructure your job. What can you do to give yourself more control over your work and work more efficiently? Write these down. Then propose suggestions to your boss including examples of ways you can work more efficiently and also contribute to the company's bottom line.

- Take the initiative. Look for jobs that need to be done in your company. Identify the project manager, research ways you can enhance the project, offer assistance and suggestions.

Volunteer for special projects. Find small things to do that will give you a sense of autonomy. This will bring more variety and challenge to your work. Offer to take charge of a newsletter, a social activity, or a community relations project.

- Become a team member. Work towards the success of the project. Help the company meet deadlines and bottom lines. What can you do to help your superior become successful? Offer recommendations for making the product or service better. Show that you're committed to your team's success. 

- Network. Know what's happening in the company. Communicate regularly with superiors and colleagues. Attend meetings, participate in social activities, and read newsletters.

- Continue to learn. Attend seminars, read professional journals, and go to professional meetings. Share your knowledge and skills. Create a demand for your expertise.

- Manage stress. Get involved in non-work activities. Make family and leisure time fun. Engage in hobbies or volunteer for a community project that will provide challenge and autonomy. Meditate, exercise, and eat healthily.

- Consider changing jobs. If the foregoing suggestions don't help, consider moving to a new department, a different employer, another occupation, or take a time-out.

Since most of us spend one-third to half of our waking lives working, commuting, or thinking about work, these hours should be filled with challenge, enthusiasm and growth, rather than with frustration, discouragement and boredom. Take an active role in controlling or reshaping your work environment.

Questers Dare to Change Your Job and Life gives additional tips for strengthening autonomy.

Dr. Carole Kanchier, career and personal growth expert, is a registered psychologist, coach, speaker and author of the award-winning, best seller, Questers Dare to Change Your Job and Life.