Improving Employee Job Satisfaction Using Just One (Golden) Question

job satisfactionBusiness owners and managers often ask me what the easiest way is to improve employee job satisfaction. Research tells us that the relationship your employee has with you, their manager, has a profound effect on their satisfaction at work. Experience would tell most of us that how we feel about our manager, and the way they manage us, has a significant impact on how much we enjoy our work. So, one of the easiest (and cost free) ways to improve employee job satisfaction is to use some variation on this ‘golden’ question.

Employee Job Satisfaction: The golden question

Is there anything I could do; more of, less of, or differently that would improve your job satisfaction?


Because the style of management you use with your employees – and their response to that style – has a significant impact on job satisfaction. In this question you are looking for both feedback on your style and ideas for how you could adapt that style to meet the needs of the employee (but without using the – sometimes confusing – jargon of ‘management style’!)

How not to ask for feedback

When I suggest to managers and business owners that they should seek feedback on the way they are managing their employees – their style – they often say ‘I’ve tried that, it doesn’t work, employees don’t like to give their manager feedback’. When I probe around what exactly they have tried I usually find the manager has asked a question something along the lines of ‘what do you think about me as your manager?’ (or in one classic case – and I was there at the time – ‘Feedback. Now. From you to me. Tell me what you think of me.’ No, really, that actually happened.)

What’s the problem?

The ‘what do you think about me’ question is just too tough. With a question like this you are asking for feedback on yourself – your characteristics and personality. The ‘what do you think about me as your manager’ question is slightly better, but not much. Most employees find it difficult to give this type of feedback because it’s just too personal. The golden question I’ve suggested above is much easier to answer because it’s about your behaviors – what you do not who you are. It’s also a question that asks not for any criticism of your behaviors but simple suggestions for what you could do differently.

Ah but…

What if I don’t like what they say?

Of course when we invite feedback – in any situation – there’s a possibility we won’t like what we hear (who hasn’t had the experience of ‘seeing ourselves as others see us’ and not exactly being delighted with the picture?!).  Because of the way we have asked the golden question it’s unlikely any feedback will be too personal or too difficult.  The main issue for business owners and managers is when the employee asks you for something ‘different’ that you cannot or will not do. Let’s take an example.

Example One – ‘Get off my back’

Your employee replies ‘Yes there is. I’d like you to stop checking my work so often. It’s annoying’. Now let’s assume you are checking the employees work closely because of a series of errors you’ve recently found (and of course you will have already discussed these errors with your employee!)

You could reply ‘I can see why you would find that annoying. Just to remind you, the reason I’m monitoring your work more closely than usual is because of the errors I found in your last four reports.  So let’s look at what we can do going forward that will a) help you feel less closely monitored b) help me feel confident about the accuracy of your work.’ (in other words sort out your accuracy and I’ll happily get off your back!)

Example Two – ‘Give me some time’

Your employee replies ‘Yeah there is. I’d like to have more time with you. I don’t think you really understand my work so I’d like us to have a daily meeting.’

You could reply ‘I can see why you would find that frustrating. I think I probably do have a good handle on your work but I am really open to understanding it some more. I think daily meetings are going to be too difficult to manage, simply because of how full my diary is. How about we look at ways that you can report back to me on your work more regularly and then maybe we can have a weekly meeting?

Dealing with what you consider to be unreasonable requests is simply about;

a) Demonstrating your understanding of the employees point of view
b) Sharing your view and
c) Looking for a way forward

Simple Actions = Great Results

What you may have noticed from my examples is that often, as the manager, what you need to do to improve your employee’s satisfaction is relatively simple. Now I’m no psychologist but here’s my take on why:

  • When you use a style of management that your employee doesn’t like you employee will make some negative assumptions about why you are using that style. So, in Example One your employee may be saying to themselves something like ‘He doesn’t trust me an inch’. In Example Two they may be thinking ‘She couldn’t care less about my work.’
  • By asking the golden question you are challenging any negative assumptions. As an employee I can’t maintain the story ‘He doesn’t trust me’ when we have just had a conversation about how you can check less of my work. Neither can the employee maintain ‘She doesn’t care’ when you’ve just talked to them about how you can understand more of their work.

Employee Job Satisfaction Summary

It’s all about having ‘adult to adult’ conversations focused on exploring ways of working together that will improve your employee’s satisfaction. And here’s the great news.  Even if you and your employee cannot come up with a whole range of actions you could take to improve their job satisfaction by changing your management style, most employees find that the very fact that their manager is interested in their satisfaction and prepared to spend time discussing this with them is highly motivational in itself. It’s a ‘no lose’ situation.

Would you like to learn – in just 10 minutes – some new strategies how to improve employee job satisfaction?

job satisfactionThen why not take a look at my Kindle book ‘A step-by-step guide to improving your employee’s job satisfaction (without using salary increases, bonuses or any money at all!’

I highly rate this book. Given its ‘in just 10 minutes’ title I was expecting an aide memoire of stuff I already knew; a stripped down framework against which to check, test and reassess my own approach. It was that to an extent, but the concept of an employee satisfaction criteria exercise (and how to go about one in practical terms) in an environment where money or benefits are not increasing, was new to me after nearly 40 years in big management roles! The book was well worth the cash just for that fresh angle.

You can check it out on Amazon (and try a sample) HERE


8 Responses to Improving Employee Job Satisfaction Using Just One (Golden) Question

  1. One of the most important and often overlooked aspects when someone moves into a management position is the fact that the manager just became responsible for the people he/she manages first and second the job outcomes and not the other way around. Building relationship with your reports is one of the most crucial managerial tasks on a manager’s plate.

  2. Julie Kay says:

    Concise, clear and really useful article Joan. I like the specific examples helping managers see exactly how to respond. I love the Golden Question and it can be used in all kinds of others contexts too. For example changing the “I” to “We” and gathering feedback from each member of a meeting on the effectiveness of their meetings.

  3. joanhenshaw says:

    Hi Stephan
    Thanks for the comment – I absolutely agree! I think there are two key issues;
    a) giving managers the tools, techniques and skills they need for building those relationships and
    b) holding managers accountable for doing just that
    Best wishes

  4. joanhenshaw says:

    Hi Julie
    Thanks so much for your comments. Good point too about using the ‘golden question’ in different contexts – clever thinking!
    Best wishes

  5. […] lose’ situation   (Read more on how to use the ‘golden question’ in my blog ‘Improving employee job satisfaction using just one (golden) question’)   […]

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