Stress Management Thoughts

SCARF Model in the times of Covid-19: AUTONOMY

SCARF Model; Magda Tabac; Status; Certainty; Autonomy; Relatedness; Fairness

Note: this is the fourth post in the series dedicated to the benefits of applying the SCARF Model to increase our wellbeing (at home and at work) in these times of Covid-19. This post approaches the third SCARF “button”: Autonomy. The previous posts in the series are HERE (Introductory post), HERE (Status) and HERE (Certainty).

Autonomy – our sense of control over events/life

Autonomy is defined as the “right to self-govern” and has to do with how much control we have in a situation. For some people, the less autonomy they experience, the more the situation is perceived as a threat. So much so that there are studies indicating that a sense of autonomy better predicts wellbeing than economic prosperity. When it comes to stress, if we perceive that we can escape the stress, we are significantly less affected by it on a physical and mental level than when we perceive it as inescapable[i].

In an organisation, this means giving a person as many decision rights as possible so they can act independently without checking in with a leader. The fact that one has a choice over matters increases the reward response, so we seek out choice.

Covid negative impact on Autonomy:
  • Work from home (whether you like it or not); in this new work from home reality, many leaders might tend to micromanage.
  • Reduced/inexistent social life.
  • Cannot go to restaurants, gym, cinema, etc. => forced to change habits.
  • Important events (holidays, weddings, birthday parties, etc.) need to be cancelled or postponed until further notice.
Ideas for increasing Autonomy:
  • Resist the urge to micromanage/give too much direction. Very few people enjoy being micromanaged with step-by-step instructions on how to do the job. Furthermore, in many people, this behaviour triggers a stress response.
  • Share as much as you can about the company’s strategy and long- and short-term direction. This will help your employee take independent actions that are aligned.
  • Give options or start thinking in options: “OK, we cannot hold our training as usual, let’s make it virtual and deliver it through Zoom.” Or “I cannot meet my friends for our regular Sunday brunch so let’s have a video call every Sunday at that time”.
  • While one cannot do many of the things it used to do before (go to the gym, enjoy meeting friends, etc.), find alternatives: do some sport at home or take up running/cycling, video calls with friends, start a new hobby or go back to an old one you have not entertained in a while. Give yourself choices, that is the key word!

I’d be interested in hearing your examples of how the pandemic has pushed your “Autonomy button” and any ideas you have for increasing Autonomy. Do share! 🙂

Thank you for reading,


PS – You can access the other articles in the series here: Status Certainty Relatedness Fairness

[i] Rock, D. (2008) SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others, Neuroleadership Journal, 1

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I usually write about Process Communication Model and Neuroscience, and how they can help us in our day-to-day life.

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