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The Power of Choice
There are a number of studies, starting in the 1970’s, which talk about the impact of “control” over one’s job.
- During the Whitehall Studies in the 70’s and 80’s, men in the lowest grade of civil service in the U.K.—with the least amount of control of their work—had a mortality rate 3 times higher than men in the highest grade—with more control.
- A 2016 study from Indiana University found that individuals in low control jobs had a 15% higher risk of death, while workers in high control jobs experienced a 34% lower risk of death.
- A 2018 Gallup study found that employees are 43% less likely to experience high levels of burnout when they have a choice in deciding what tasks to do, when to do them and how much time to spend on each.
So, what is meant by “control?” In actuality, it may not be the best word to describe what employees really want. Employees want the feeling of control, or the ability to influence, or an opportunity to express their perspective or opinion.
I was recently talking with a CEO about control and autonomy and setting deadlines. His initial reaction was, “We don’t control the deadline. The customer does.” I would argue that it probably isn’t as black and white as that. The leaders and salespeople likely have an opportunity to influence the customer’s desired deadline—at least in many cases.
But the employee who will be doing the work and is most impacted by the deadline often has no influence on the deadline being set. For the situation, here are some ideas to bolster the feeling of control or choice.
- Before the deadline is finalized with the customer, discuss the viability of the customer’s request with the employee. If it will create an unreasonable working experience based on other ongoing projects, the leader could go back and negotiate an alternate deadline with the customer.
- If the deadline is set and cannot be changed, avoid “dumping” it on the employee with an “it is what it is…deal with it” approach. Instead, offer empathy and acknowledgement that the deadline will be tough to meet and discuss additional possible resources to help meet the deadlines in a reasonable manner.
Enabling employees a choice or influence over their work goes a long way in creating joy at work and a more sustainable work environment.