Patrick Lencioni, renowned business consultant and bestselling author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, knows a thing or two about organizational health.

In his sixth fable released in 2015, The Truth About Employee Engagement, he hits it out of the park again with a topic that anyone who has ever collected a paycheck can relate to: job misery.

Through the story of a CEO turned pizzeria manager, Lencioni reveals the three elements that make work miserable, and what both managers and employees can do to make work more engaging, which I will discuss below.

In an exclusive interview on Amazon about his book, Lencioni was asked why he wrote the book. He says, "I came to the frightening realization that job misery was having a devastating impact on individuals, and on society at large. It seemed to me that understanding the cause of the problem, and finding a solution for it, was a worthy focus for my career."

When Lencioni uses "problem" and "solution" in the same sentence to address a gargantuan issue such as employee engagement in a book, he has my full attention.

In defining a "miserable job," he gives an unsettling illustration that none of us want to hear, yet so many of us have experienced:

A miserable job is one that makes a person cynical and frustrated and demoralized when they go home at night. It drains them of their energy, their enthusiasm and their self-esteem.

Cynical. Frustrated. Demoralized. Anyone need a Tylenol yet? My head hurts thinking about my own past job miseries.

And misery, in Lencioni's view, spans all income levels, ages and geography. He cites a Gallup poll that found 77 percent of workers hate their jobs, costing employers more than $350 billion dollars in lost productivity.

The Root Cause of Job Misery

So where does it all come from? Ahh, the million dollar question. The primary source of job misery and the potential cure for that misery resides in the hands of one individual--the direct manager, says Lencioni.

Both Gallup and The Blanchard Companies have done extensive studies to back up this statement. In fact, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton once said in a profound statement something that they'll probably never teach you in business school.

The single biggest decision you make in your job -- bigger than all the rest -- is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits --nothing.

And now we get to the meat and potatoes of the book. Lencioni warns readers of the three most glaring signs you should watch for in your manager, which may lead down the path to job misery: Anonymity, irrelevance, and, what he refers to as, "immeasurement."

Anonymity

It's the feeling that employees get when they realize that their manager has little interest in them as human beings--their personal lives, their aspirations and their interests. For sure, a strong indication of job misery.

Irrelevance

This takes root when employees cannot see how their job makes a difference in the lives of others. Every employee, states Lencioni, needs to know that their work matters to their customers, co-workers, and managers.

Immeasurement

The third sign is a term Lencioni came up with himself--"immeasurement." It's the inability of employees to assess for themselves their contribution or success. "Employees who have no means of measuring how well they are doing on a given day or in a given week, must rely on the subjective opinions of others, usually their managers, to gauge their progress or contribution," says Lencioni.

While anyone can piggyback on convincing research to blame managers for job misery, Lencioni calls on miserable employees to raise their own bar and do something about improving their situations.

There are three things miserable employees can do on their own:

1. Assess your managers.

Lencioni notes that most managers really do want to improve, in spite of the fact that they may seem disinterested. So employees need to take the first step to assess whether their manager is truly interested in and capable of addressing the three things that are required in relation to anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement.

2. Help your managers understand what it is you need.

If the boss-worker relationship is healthy, Lencioni suggests coming right out and stating your needs. For example: "You know, it would mean a lot to me if you knew more about who I am and what makes me tick." or, "Can you sit down and help me understand why this work I'm doing makes a difference to someone?".

3. Start doing for your managers what you want for yourselves.

Yes, turn the tables. If employees take a greater interest in the life of their managers, it is bound to infect them with the same kind of human interest, says Lencioni. This doesn't necessarily mean sucking up to your managers, but taking the time to stress to your managers the impact they have on your job satisfaction. Doing so, says Lencioni, will likely inspire them to respond in kind.

The only caveat to these three scenarios is when an employee comes to a resounding conclusion that, no matter what, his or her manager is completely disinterested in helping them find fulfillment in their work. When an employee reaches this stage, Lencioni says "it may well be time to start looking for a new job."

Published on: Apr 4, 2017
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