The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job – A Fable for Managers (and their employees)
by Patrick Lencioni

“People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.”
Samuel Johnson

Patrick Lencioni’s sixth book includes the quote above in the introduction. The author admits openly that this book offers deceptively obvious advice on what a miserable job is and how managers can make a job less miserable.  Lencioni also correctly observes that the reason the “obvious” advice needs to be re-taught is that so many of us forget the advice or act in defiance of it.

The very readable fable concerns a successful CEO whose company is bought out in an acquisition.  He is irked when he is told that the employee goodwill and high morale do not figure into the investment valuation of his company.  In retirement, he contemplates this and ultimately starts working at a mom-and-pop pizza parlor to test out his theories and how “teachable” they are.

His success improves the mom-and-pop restaurant and, indirectly, inspires former business contacts to hire him to improve their organizations, thereby validating research and beliefs.

As with Lencioni’s other “business fables,” the end of this book is dedicated to a brief narrative explanation of “The Model” demonstrated in the fable. 

Simply put, the three signs of a miserable job are irrelevance, anonymity, and immeasurability.  If an employee can’t identify the specific importance of their job to another human being, if they believe no one in their workplace knows them or cares about them as a person, or if they don’t know – and can’t apply themseles — the standards by which success in their job is measured, they likely have a miserable job.

Miserable jobs exist at all socioeconomic levels and in all industries; there are miserable millionaire football stars and happy, fulfilled restaurant dishwashers.

The key for managers is to show employees how their jobs are relevant, measurable, and that relationships fostered through work are a fulfilling part of their lives.

Some employees will never understand or accept this. I’m reminded of a good friend who insists that “Work is what I do in order to make the rest of my life possible.”  He’ll never be happy in his work because he doesn’t let work become part of his life.

Most employees do not feel this way, or at least are inclined to consider a more positive approach. 

Some managers won’t understand, or will actively resist, this kind of “touchy-feely” approach to employee motivation.  Smart employees will choose to work elsewhere.

The challenge for managers is to adapt and modify their management styles to accommodate the needs for relvance, measurability, and identity that employees have.  This sometimes requires managers like the fable’s restaurant owner to “write left-handed” and act a little against type in an effiort to learn a new way of dealing with the people who happen to be his employees.

Maybe Lencioni’s next fable will take up the subject of a manager seeking to improve his (or her) interpersonal communication skills as a way to improve morale and increase profits.  Hmm….