6 Ways to Gain More Control of Your Job


At a recent team meeting, a colleague (let’s call her Sally) lead an icebreaker inspired by Daylight Savings. Sally asked the team “If you had an extra hour magically appear in your work calendar, what you spend that time doing?” The team was to place these on a lime-green post-it.

Then Sally posed the converse “What could you eliminate from your workday to give you an extra hour?” The team was to place these on an orange post-it. Here’s the kicker: “Identify the orange post-its over which you feel you have control.

Out of control!

Not surprisingly, certain themes emerged on the orange post-its. These included chit-chatting, unproductive meetings and repetitive work. The thing that surprised me was that not many of the oranges were seen to be within their control.
(Read more: Engaging Employees with Autonomy)

Having a sense of control over your work is one of the top contributors to employee engagement and satisfaction. Surprise! It’s not money. Yet, the vast majority of workers do not realize how much is truly within their control. It’s almost as if when the honeymoon period wears off employees develop learned helplessness. Workers then simply resign themselves to their routines.

What if there was a better way?

Get out of the way!

This is where leaders and managers play a pivotal role. In order to help employees regain that needed sense of control, managers can try the following:

  • Engage beyond milestones – get to know more about the employee beyond what their progress on milestones. What are the employee’s interests, what do they value and what are their strengths?
  • Empower toward action – give them permission to make certain decisions on their own. Lighten your full plate by delegating important tasks.
  • Enable new habits – adjust the systems, structures, and rewards to make it easier for the employee to exert control. Where it be recognition or policy revision. Help make it possible.
  • Encourage consistent effort – provide positive and constructive feedback. This won’t be accomplished with a one-time memo. Try not to remove their control when mistakes are made. Instead coach and support to help develop their resilience.
Employees who realize a sense of control over their job feel more engaged at work.

You got this!

While it’s great when bosses take an active role, at the end of the day, employees are responsible for their productivity. Employees must be able to take ownership of their output by doing the following:

  • Determine priorities – What is it that must get done? Not the latest email. What is that thing that if completed advances you the most spaces on the board game of your job? Here’s a clue: it’s usually something difficult you don’t want to do.
  • Bring your whole self to work – Determine your cover values (what characteristics matter most). Find ways to factor these into how you do your job.
    (Read more: Love What You Do: Core Values at Work)
  • Make better decisions – Use your priorities (usually 2-3 things) when making decisions on how to spend your time. Will this support my priorities?
    **WORK HACK: Spend your first 90 minutes on your #1 priority each morning.
  • Set clear boundaries – Establish limits for yourself. How long will you engage in small talk before getting back to work? How often are you going to check email? What is required for you to attend a meeting?
  • Embrace your inner jerk – Step past the barrier caused by your fear of appearing rude. Enforcing boundaries (in a caring and respectful) manner it will help others reset their behavior around you. It could also rebrand you as an authentic leader.
  • Escape comfort zone – Break free of the norms that have been your default. Realize that (1) an email doesn’t require an immediate reply. (2) it’s okay to take risks. (3) mistakes are fine as long as you’re learning from them.

There are many things that managers can do to help employees feel a greater sense of control. Ultimately, the employee must realize that the seeds of control are already there. Often times, it takes a willingness to push past the invisible fence of fear. Here’s a little secret between just you and me: you won’t get zapped for any of it. Fall back into control.