The 1 Question That Will Blow Up Your Employee Engagement Scores

Paul Hebert Driving Productivity, Employee Engagement, Engagement and Satisfaction, HR, Paul Hebert

This is going to be such a simple post you will question the money you spend on your subscription. Oh, wait. This site is free. Well, you’ll probably still question your investment.

It is a simple post. It includes the ONE question most managers never ask their employees and it is the one question most employees NEED to be asked in order to feel engaged at work. If you start doing this you will be heralded as a genius manager. You’ll be promoted and will be a featured presenter at SHRM17. I kid you not.

I know this because I live this. I know this because I am Joe’s Engaged Manager.

Setting the Stage

First a bit of knowledge and then the question.

Employee engagement is a vapor—a wisp of a spirit eluding companies and C-Suite desires since the dawn of time (well actually about 1990.) Employee engagement has hovered around 30% since Gallup convinced everyone their survey could drive profits and make us all smarter, faster, cuter and better partners, husbands and/or wives. And in the pursuit of increased engagement scores we’ve created a generation of foosball experts, company cafeteria foodies and flexible-schedule “telecommuters.”

But we’ve yet to create additional engagement.

So here’s something to think about. Studies show that some of the most engaged people are managers, white-collar professionals and entrepreneurs. Why do you think they stand out above the “norm” with higher engagement scores than Joe/Jane Lunch-Pail?

One word.


Yep. Control over their job. Control over the things they do each day at work. The more control an individual has, the happier they are at work and the more they are committed to the company. To quote the de-facto authority in the post google age—from Wikipedia:

A meta-analysis of 1986 found an association of high levels of perceived control with “high levels of job satisfaction […], commitment, involvement, performance and motivation, and low levels of physical symptoms, emotional distress, role stress, absenteeism, intent to turnover, and turnover.” Similarly, within the job demands–resources model it is assumed that resources such as job control counterbalance job strain and to contribute to motivation. In support of this approach, results of a 2003 study suggest that “as job demands increase, high job control is needed to limit fatigue, whereas either high job control or high job social support is needed to enhance intrinsic work motivation”.

Increasing job control is an intervention shown to help counteract exhaustion and cynicism in the workplace, which are two symptoms of occupational burnout.

Think about it. Managers have control and they are more engaged. Entrepreneurs are in control and there are few who are more engaged than them. Owners are engaged—they make the rules. Control is a key component of engagement, yet it is the one thing that many managers try to limit. Just google micro-manager (I’ll wait… insert Jeopardy theme song here.) 1.8 million stories in the naked city.

That’s a lot of oversight. Too much.

See… in tense times and under stress, managers have a habit of pulling in the reins to exert more control over the outputs from their department and their teams. If a manager is in a pay-for-performance scenario, that desire for control increases even more. In other words, managers are under a ton of stress to keep their jobs and to keep their teams performing and therefore are… wait for it… micromanaging and increasing oversight on just about every little thing that happens on their team.

And engagement stagnates.

One Question

So the question you need to ask each employee is this…

“How much control do you want over what you do every day?”

See, I’m a smart manager. I know some people are more comfortable with control. Others, not so much. As a smart manager, you need to know what your individual direct report’s appetite for autonomy is. You can’t just give people 100% control—they will freak. After all, you’ve trained them to work with very little control. Now you want them to self-manage? They will think you’re setting them up for failure.

You need to manage your team through the process.

Being the great manager you are, you know you need to teach them to crawl, walk, run.

And the first step is one question…

“How much control do you want over what you do every day?”

Just asking that question will change your team’s engagement because the question itself gives control to your employees. They now choose their own story. They own the outcome.

Go do it. Not kidding it will make a world of difference.