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Who's the most miserable of all?

Cover of "The Three Signs of a Miserable ...Cover via Amazon

We read all the time about how miserable many Americans are at work. We hear about the "Sunday evening slump," when something clicks in the brains of millions of Americans and they recognize the weekend is history, and tomorrow it's back to the grind. Why do so many people hate their jobs?

If you're a leader, you should be especially interested in the answer to this question. Heaven forbid that your employees fall into this funk and go from being a fun and engaged parent on Saturdays to being despondent and grumpy on Sunday nights.

Patrick Lencioni has written numerous books about dysfunctional teams, deadly meetings, and other pitfalls of corporate America. In one of his latest books, he takes on this topic of misery at work. In Three Signs of a Miserable Job, he identifies the three things that make people miserable at work: irrelevancy, anonymity and immeasurement. In other words, people are miserable if they don't see how what they're doing makes a difference -- to anyone. It doesn't seem like their manager knows they exist, and they can't tell how well they're doing unless their manager decides to clue them in with some sort of subjective assessment.

So...step back.

Let's flip the characteristics that reportedly lead to dissatisfaction and look at them from a  positive angle. If I were to ask your employees the following three questions, do you know how they'd answer?

  • How does what you do on your job matter, and to whom? How do you know?
  • How well does your manager know you? How do you know?
  • Are you successful in your job? How do you know?

We talk about employee engagement. Here it is. The essence of engaging the hearts and minds and hands of the people who make leaders successful. They're pretty basic but they take attention and intention.

Through planning and processes and systems, leaders can implement ways for employees to see the connection between what they do everyday and how it matters: to the environment, the community, customers, and even to each other. Embedding metrics for measuring "How I'm doing" takes time but is totally do-able.

Of the three elements of job misery, however, I find that the feeling of being anonymous is the most disheartening. And it can't be faked. Not really. I know of work places where employees can go days without a connection with their manager, not because the manager isn't around, but because the manager is focused on the tasks at hand at the expense of any kind of relationship-building.

What's your take on this prevalent but often ignored topic in the workplace? Does anonymity make people the most miserable?

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