Do you know the feeling of not being in control – when sitting, stuck in traffic or looking out the window of a train not moving?
It is annoying to the point where people commit road rage, or as in the 1993 blockbuster movie “Falling Down” Michael Douglas goes on a killing spree, primarily because he has lost control over his life.
Although movies portray it as lethal to lose control, most people just think that it is tough or unpleasant to lose control. But in an experiment done at a nursing home, the loss of control proved that people who lose control actually die from it!
The researches did two experiments. In the first one, they put a houseplant into the rooms of residents at a nursing home. Half of the residents were put in charge of taking care of the plant, the other half had no control over the plant and the nurses took care of the plant.
Six months later, 30% in the latter group had died compared to only 15% in the group that was in control of the plants’ wellbeing.
In another experiment, the researches had student volunteers come visit the elderly ,and again they were split into two groups. Half of the elderly were in control of when the students would visit. For the other half, the students dictated when they would meet.
Two months later, the group where the elderly were in charge was happier, healthier and more active than the control group where the students were in charge. But what was even more shocking was what happened after the experiment ended! Two months after the end of the experiment, the group who HAD control over when the students would visit had a fatality rate that was disproportionate larger than the group who had no control. So even though control adds to the happiness and wellbeing of a person’s life, the loss of control is a much more severe and destructive event.
This leads to two conclusions: First, it is important to give your employees control over their own lives, in the day to day operations but also in the long term goals of their development and activities. If they have a high level of control, they will be happier, healthier and more active, resulting in higher productivity, creativity and connection to the work place. Second, doing something like giving control is a doubled edge sword, because you must be careful not to give the employees control over the wrong things, because if you have to take it away from them again it will devastate their lives.