Sovereignty over your workscape

Woman climbing a wooden fence at the top of a hill, looking over a wide expanse of land, with one foot on top rung as if she is about to leap confidently forward.

I propose to you, that you are a Sovereign over your workscape. Now, before you go running for the hills, or to a jeweller to get a crown made – let’s explore what I mean and why I think this is an important thing for you to contemplate.

What is your sovereignty

Firstly, a bit of look back in history for context. Work, as most of us have known it, has been shaped by the Industrial Revolution that organised people in groups of workers to serve the purpose of … well, industry!

With that came a fundamental idea about the relationship between an employee and employer. While great strides were made in the 20th century to enshrine rights for employees and obligations by employers to treat people well, and fairly. The relationship was, and is still to this day, represented in law (at least Australian and New Zealand law) as a master – servant relationship. Workers serve a master. Hopefully a caring, responsible human master who recognises that creating great conditions for work, results in more satisfied people doing work.

In master-servant relationships, the master is seen to have power. And to have the most power. Which is why unions and groups of people got together at different times in history to use social collective power to challenge the master’s decisions and desires, and seek change that benefited ‘servants’. All the while tacitly acknowledging and maintaining the power dynamic of the master or employer/organisation getting to dictate the nature and experience of work.

And into this mix, I am proposing a shift in power. Now this isn’t a revolution where you overthrow the ‘master’ or employer – rather a redefining of the relationship and the scope of power you as an individual hold. By scope I mean – there is a place where you hold power. This place is your workscape. Your workscape is a space in time, and a space in society, where an your experience of work takes place. Read more about workscape concept here.

This power you have is sovereign power. Your workscape is your entity, and you exercise power over this. This isn’t actually something new. You have already been making choices about your workscape – but probably didn’t realise it. I’m inviting you to a stronger realisation, and to step into more conscious and broader choice-making than has probably been your past experience.

If you are the Sovereign, you have Sovereignty. That is the right to self-determine and to self-govern. You apply the freedom to make decisions for self, without influence of others. You determine how you wish to govern your own life, and what paths your life might take for what you seek to develop. You form (or re-form) a personal workscape to reflect your aspirations and desires.

Reya Born (a medical practitioner with a philosophy about treating people, not symptoms) describes personal sovereignty thus:
“Personal Sovereignty is our hall pass out of the power cycle. When we believe in our own Sovereignty, we disengage with the wheel of oppressor and oppressed, of victim and perpetrator. Our Sovereign place is right in the middle of the wheel of our lives, at the hub of our experience. This is the place where we understand the meaning of “power-with.” Here is where we claim our own power over our own lives and allow others the right to do the same. This is a place where we put no one above us or below us. Here we are free of the relentless cycling of the power wheel around us. This hub is centered, calm, and sturdy. This is a place of true, authentic, and self-generated power. This is our throne of Sovereignty.”
Source of quote

The importance of your sovereignty

Recognising and applying your sovereignty is critical – because you might have problematic expectations of organisations that employ you. You might have assumed that an organisation will have your best interests at heart; that they will take care of you; that they will prioritise your well-being and concerns over their business interests; and that they will be the primary source of truth about your entitlements and structural protections.

You probably place a large amount of trust in employers to do the right thing on your behalf, and in doing so, can abdicate your own decision-making and action-taking. The hard cold reality is that organisations (and the people who lead them) are going to do what is best for the organisation and its mission as the priority: This is the sovereign duty of the organisational entity. Which means you run the risk of get second best attention or even coming last. However, you don’t have to see organisations as bad or the enemy for doing so. You can serve your interests and take the lead in doing what is right for you. This employee self-determination does not have to be at odds with the organisation – it can be viewed as two sovereign entities in dialogue and taking individual action that is mutually beneficial. A symbiotic relationship known in natural science as mutualism (in contrast to commensalism and parasitism – read more on this here).

Shaping your sovereign scope – strategic perspective

At a broad level, Self unLimited provides a framework of 7 Responsibilties for the scope of sovereignty you take, and within these responsibilities you shape the specifics of what that means for you.

The sovereignty of your workscape doesn’t have to look and feel the same as mine, however it has common elements with the areas of responsibility. And to make life easier for you – these responsibility areas have an organisational equivalent that shapes the form of organisational sovereignty. With this matching you can better see the synergies and intersections you navigate, between the organisational entity and your workscape. Read more about the 7 Responsibilities here.

Responsibility Area Organisational Equivalent Your Scope as Sovereign of your workscape
REIGN strategy, direction, values, business model Lead and navigate your work adventures

Including defining the values you work and live by

RULES policies, processes, code of practice, operating model Express your values and intentions through action

Including setting terms and conditions for your work experiences

REPUTATION branding, marketing, public relations Shape the stories for which you are known

Including the profiles written and introductions given about you

RELATIONSHIPS networks, collaborations, alliances Connect with others meaningfully and help each other

Including the relationship with employers and team leaders

RESOURCES tools, facilities, infrastructure (soft & hard) Get and look after the things that enable you to do your best work

Including the wording/clauses you would prefer in any employment contract

RENEWAL performance, improvements, quality Adapt yourself and shape your workscape

Including the learning opportunities you find and apply

REVENUE delivery, accounting Define and manage the value you want to contribute, claim and create in your work

Including making sense of the employee value proposition defined by an employee


For a bit of fun – try our Workscape Bingo activity (PDF). There’s 16 statements of things you can do or think when acting as Sovereign of your workscape. How many can you cross off?

Shaping your sovereign scope – practical perspective

To make the strategic perspective above more tangible, here’s some practice ways to shape and set expectations for your own workscape. In no particular order.

  1. Read your Employment Contract and/or Industry Award. Know what you did agree to; and the obligations and structural protections that these contain.
  2. Employment contracts can sometimes be treated like sacred texts, in which the words cannot be changed. This does not need to be the case. Like any good contract between two parties, there should be mutual benefits and equivalent obligations. So if in the recruitment stage of a gig, give consideration to what words you might like changed in your contract. If you are already employed and there is opportunity for a review or promotion, consider what changes you might want made at such a moment to the contract’s contents.
  3. Identify an Employment Lawyer who might be able to advise you (particularly regarding 2.). Ask your friends and family for recommendations of good ones they have dealt with. You never know when you might need to consult them, so have details ready for when you might do so. You can hear a conversation with an Employment Lawyer in Stories of the Brave Podcast series, Episode 43 (link to SoundCloud).
  4. Build a personal advisory team for your workscape. This is an informal team of which only you know the full membership. It could be 2-5 people who you value for their wise counsel, their deep expertise, their knowledge and experience of you, and their willingness to play an advisory role when you need it. They could be a mix of paid professionals as well as relationships serving each other through goodwill.
  5. Be ready to take part in an employee value proposition (EVP) conversation by being fluent in doing a Value Exchange Ledger for your gigs and workscape. Read more on this idea here.
  6. Shape your own development activity with the Professional Enrichment Plan technique. Go beyond developing self to include enriching self and workscape; and go beyond your current gig to your whole workscape. Check out our eLearning programme to acquire knowledge and tools for this technique.


So how about it? Ready to reign over your workscape? (No coronation needed!)

May the thoughts and ideas in this article give you a jump-start to a better experience of work.



Helen Palmer, Founder of Self unLimited, has been exercising sovereignty in her workscape for decades. It is from this knowledge that she created the Self unLimited idea, and expanding body of knowledge to help others lean into their own workscape sovereignty. She’s passionate about the notion that people can have a better experience of work, if they are willing and able to take the lead in determining what that might be for themselves.

(Amended) Photo by Michael Rosner-Hyman on Unsplash