What About Them?

When we tell managers, “The buck stops with you,” we often hear, “What about them? I thought people were in charge of their own careers and workplace satisfaction!” Managers often wonder if engagement and retention has to rest entirely on their shoulders. Here’s how one manager put it:

When we tell managers, “The buck stops with you,” we often hear, “What about them? I thought people were in charge of their own careers and workplace satisfaction!” Managers often wonder if engagement and retention has to rest entirely on their shoulders. Here’s how one manager put it:


Your reminders and tips about how to engage and retain people are good. But I wonder where my responsibility starts and stops. They think I can read their minds. I don’t always know what they want and I’m not sure I always should have to be the one to ask. How can I help them take charge of their own satisfaction?

Good question — and one frequently asked. Here are three ways to shift some of the burden for workplace satisfaction off of you and place it squarely on your employees’ shoulders.

Help Them Assess
Complete this questionnaire yourself and share it with your direct reports. Then, in one-on-one meetings, talk about what each of you has or hasn’t done recently. Talk about actions you and they could take to increase workplace satisfaction.

  • I’ve carefully evaluated and listed (in detail) what I love about work and what I don’t. (Yes or No)
  • I’ve looked at my latest performance review and identified a step I could take to improve. (Yes or No)
  • I’ve chatted with a sympathetic (smart) partner about work and what I want from it. (Yes or No)
  • I’ve clearly evaluated my role in a workplace dilemma or dissatisfaction. (Yes or No)
  • I’ve explored and then listed all of my options. (Yes or No)
  • I’ve identified what is possible and what isn’t, given this organization’s culture, leadership or rules. (Yes or No)
  • I’ve taken a risk and talked to people who might be able to help me. (Yes or No)
  • I’ve tried something new. (Yes or No)

Help Them Ask
Countless employees say they would rather quit their jobs than ask for what they want. What if you could give them a handy guide to asking? Maybe then they would ask you, rather than leave when they’re not getting what they want and need. Here are a few “asking” tips you can share with your employees:

  • Consider who, when and how you’ll ask. Is it the boss who holds the key to your request? Is Friday afternoon a good time to ask? Is it best to ask in person, by email or phone?
  • Identify the barriers and think about the “work-arounds.” What’s in the way of your getting what you want? Create a list of possible ways to overcome those barriers.
  • Find a WIIFT (What’s In It For Them?). Do not go asking until you can think of at least one benefit for your request grantor. Will you be more productive or engaged if he says yes? Will customers or team members benefit? Will you save time or money? You get the idea.

One boss we know told his employees that he really wanted them to ask him for whatever they wanted. He promised to listen, carefully consider their requests and brainstorm the best possible solutions with them. One employee did just that.

My job EKG had gone flat and I was thinking about leaving my company. I decided to take my boss at his word first, though, and arranged a time to talk to him about my situation. After a two hour talk we came to an agreement that has completely changed my perspective on work. It was the WIFFT that did it. When I explained how a change in my role could benefit him and the team, he thought about it, we talked about it — and then, he agreed. I’m so glad I asked, rather than jump ship.

If you fail to encourage it, many of your good people will fail to ask. They will simply move on.

Help Them Team
There is tremendous power in teaming. Consider how you might create employee teams to increase job satisfaction, engagement and retention.


When a manager realized that his team of call center agents had a 46% turnover rate as compared to the company overall rate of 32%, he decided to try teaming. He organized three-person teams, provided resources and gave them an opportunity to work together on their own issues of workplace satisfaction. While the manager worried it would end up as a “gripe” session, he was surprised by the results. Here are four stories he told us:

  • One team of three represented three different generations (ages 21, 31, 41). In their meetings, they talked about how they were different, made suggestions to one another, and improved relationships and communication across the age gaps.
  • One team met more than 15 times during the four months, both formally and informally. Initially, they spent a lot of time venting and complaining, but learned to take that to a new level of problem solving. They developed not only a working relationship, but a friendship as well. They used the time to coach each other and problem-solve customer issues and “collection” challenges.
  • One team member used the team to help her manage home life. She was having trouble juggling all her responsibilities, used the team as a sounding board, and was able to be more productive and manage her time better.
  • One team convinced a member to stay when he wanted to quit. They suggested he talk to his boss and ask for a change in his work responsibilities. That team saved a great employee for the organization.

In a perfect world, managers and employees would co-create an engaged, productive workforce. Your real world employees may need your prompting to play their role powerfully. Use these ideas to empower and educate your employees. (Use them to increase your own satisfaction too!)