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Abstract

This article examines the factors underlying task discretion from an economist's perspective. It argues that the key axis for understanding discretion is the trade-off between the positive effects of discretion on potential output per employee and the negative effects of greater leeway on work effort. In empirical analysis using matched employer–employee data, it is shown that discretion is strongly affected by the level of employee commitment. In addition, discretion is generally greater in high-skilled jobs, although not without exceptions, and lower where employees are under-skilled. Homeworking and flexitime policies raise employee discretion. The impact of teamworking is mixed. In about half of cases team members do not jointly decide about work matters, and the net effect of teams on task discretion in these cases is negative. In other cases, where team members do decide matters jointly, the impact is found to be neutral according to employees' perceptions, or positive according to managers' perceptions. There are also significant and substantial unobserved establishment-level factors which affect task discretion.