question I frequently get asked by managers is about getting people more engaged and motivated in their work. 

It’s a legitimate question pondered from a business angle because, after all, that’s what managers ultimately want — a strategy to “engage” workers so they produce results.

What many of them still can’t figure out is this: You can’t make your employees engaged.

Being engaged at work is the sole responsibility of the employee. Managers, on the other hand, are solely responsible for creating the conditions necessary for valued employees to become inspired, intrinsically motivated, and engaged. 

Trash the carrot and stick

So the answer to their question, I tell them, doesn’t come from obsolete carrot-and-stick “programs” designed to boost morale. 

Psychologist Paul Marciano, a global authority on employee engagement, literally wrote the book on it in his bestseller Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work: Build a Culture of Employee Engagement With the Principles of Respect.

In a LEADx podcast hosted by Kevin Kruse, Marciano said, “It’s interesting because 40 years’ worth of research tells us not only that traditional reward and recognition programs aren’t effective, they actually decrease the overall morale of a workforce. And yet companies continue to spend their money and time investing in the worst.”

So what are we moving toward? This will not be easy to swallow. We need more leaders with soft skills–the real hard skills in the 21st century. What we’re after for high employee engagement is a leader’s capacity to connect emotionally to his or her employees — the very definition of employee engagement. 

Ask 5 questions to get started

If you’re on a quest to discover how to make your workplace great, you will need to capture the sentiments–the very opinions–of your employees. What this means is designing the most powerful questions, with a combination of the strongest links to the most business outcomes you want, with your employees’ needs in mind.

Enter pulsing surveys, which is not a new concept. Pulsing surveys are a great way to source real-time, anonymous, honest, and actionable feedback to help companies design innovative solutions to keep people engaged. This approach, when done on a weekly or biweekly basis, helps leaders develop muscle memory for continuous listening. 

Yes, let’s get to the questions. Below you’ll find five that drew my attention because of how they relate to management. These questions come courtesy of TINYpulse, which posted a longer list of “20 Essential Employee Engagement Survey Questions” in a recent blog.

1. Do you feel valued at work?

TINYpulse research found that only 21 percent of employees feel strongly valued at work. TINYpulse recommends using this question to “gauge how valued workers in your organization are feeling.”

2. Hypothetically, if you were to quit tomorrow, what would your reason be?

You may uncover several things here related to management, culture, and the work environment. Responses will clue you into any underlying issues that are driving employees to look elsewhere for work.

3. Do you feel that the management team is transparent?

TINYpulse’s research found that “transparency is the number one factor that contributes to workplace happiness.” However, in another report, the research found only 25 percent of workers believe management is “very transparent” — despite that “nearly twice as many managers consider themselves transparent.”

4. On a scale of 1 to 10, how comfortable do you feel giving upward feedback to your supervisor?

Anything less than a favorable response here implies that a workplace may be a hostile or “suppressive” environment. Insights from this question will clue in managers to whether employees feel comfortable giving feedback for improvements.

5. Do you feel that your co-workers give one another respect?

If co-workers are clashing and the workplace doesn’t feel safe, this question should provide good insights. Ultimately, a culture of respect and support (which falls on leadership) will lead to trust, which will help connect people to that sweet spot of emotional engagement. 

Originally published on Inc.

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  • Marcel Schwantes

    Business Insider

    Marcel Schwantes is a speaker, executive coach, podcaster, and syndicated columnist drawing over a million readers per month worldwide to his thought-leadership. His powerful speeches teach the conditions necessary for creating human-centered workplaces that result in high-performing cultures. He is the host of the popular Love in Action podcast. Visit or follow him on LinkedIn.