3 Signs of a Miserable Job

I read a book this past weekend by Patrick Lencioni called The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. Lencioni has sold a series of New York Times Best Selling books, all 7 are written as fables. He has quickly become one of my favorite writers and I wanted to share the summary of one of his great books on our responsibilities in management. I so agree with all 3 foundational elements he talks about. So simple, yet so profound and neccessary when managing people. I eat this stuff up and am on book 5 of 7 now. I will summarize and blog on each.


3 Signs of a Miserable Job

by: Business Consultant and Best selling Author, Patrick Lencioni



The person who can have the greatest influence by taking a personal interest in anyone on the job is the manager. Yes, even more than a CEO or an executive three levels higher in the food chain, a direct supervisor needs to take a genuine personal interest in an employee in order to increase that employee’s satisfaction and fulfillment.

What exactly does it mean to take a personal interest in someone? I’ve heard management training people advise supervisors to listen to the music that their employees listen to and watch the television shows that they watch. Though I suppose that could be helpful in some situations, it doesn’t seem to be a terribly useful first step.

First, it could come across as disingenuous and silly when a fifty-year-old plant manager starts talking about listening to hip hop and watching MTV cribs. Employees can smell a fake attempt at “employee bonding” from a mile away. The other problem with cultural mirroring (if there is such a thing) is that it is general and stereotypical in nature and often reinforces to employees that they are seen as somewhat generic.

If this sounds hokey, consider whether you have appreciated when your manager took an interest, a real positive one, in you and your life. And if you are rolling your eyes at this point, wondering what any of this has to do with factory line assembly or accounting or retail, put up with me as I remind you that one doesn’t get out of bed to run a register or program software or sweep a floor. They get out of bed to live their lives, and their work tasks are only a part of their lives. People want to be managed as people, not as mere workers.

If you’re still not convinced that this makes sense or that it applies to you, this would be a good time to consider resigning your position as a manager and finding a role as an individual contributor. But if you are on board, there are two more fundamental dragons that need to be slain.


People wonder why so many athletes, rock stars, and actors live such erratic, unsatisfied lives. It’s easy to point to drugs and alcohol and materialism as the culprit, but I think those are mere symptoms of the root cause: a subtle fear of irrelevance. I mention this because it’s hard to fathom how someone who earns more money than most people can count by doing something they love, and who get constant attention and adulation from admiring fans can be unhappy.  And a nurse or church secretary can be happy and fulfilled making a fraction of what a rock store or athlete makes. I think the answer has everything to do with being needed and having an impact on the lives of others.


Human beings need to be needed and they need to be reminded of this pretty much every day. They need to know that they are helping others, not merely serving themselves. When people lose sight of their impact on others lives, or worse yet, when they come to the realization that they have no impact at all, they begin to die emotionally. The fact is, God didn’t create people the serve themselves. Everyone ultimately wants and needs to help others, and when they cannot, misery ensues.


Some will say that rock stars and athletes and actors do indeed have an impact on other people’s lives, and I would agree that they certainly can. However, they often lose sight of that impact or fail to take advantage of their opportunity to do so. They see their jobs as a series of self-involved activities with no clear connection to the daily live as others. All employees, whether they are rock stars, or teachers must answer two questions in order to establish relevance in their jobs. And it is the manager’s responsibility to help them do this.

Who? The first question people have to answer is, Who am I helping? The most obvious place to start looking is among customers. Seemingly contrary to everything we’ve learned having to do with servant leadership, sometimes managers must help their employees understand that their work has a meaningful impact on them. This is a hard concept to swallow because it conjures up images of self-serving supervisors sending their employees on personal errands keeping them at their beck and call. And so managers often downplay the very real impact that the work their employees do has on their own satisfaction and career development. And this is its own tragedy because, unless they already believe that their manager is a cretin, employees get a great deal of satisfaction and energy when their supervisor thanks them for what they’ve done and explains to them what difference they’ve made from them personally.

Think about this one again. It is our fear of coming across as self-serving that prevents us from giving our employees the satisfaction of knowing that they’ve helped us. Ironically, the result is that they feel that we are taking them from granted.

Managers would be much better off being frank with the employees. “the report you put together for my presentation to the executive team was terrific. They were all impressed, and wanted me to tell you that you did a nice job. And I want to tell you that you be made me and the entire department stand out in the eyes of the CEO. Thanks”. That’s a far crazy from “you made me look like a champ today and I won’t forget the little people like you when I become rich and famous”, and it’s certainly better than the generic, “good job” or “thanks”.

When managers pretend they don’t appreciate the impact of their people’s work on their own career and job satisfaction-even when they do it out of humility, they deprive people of the feeling that they’ve made a difference.


First, let me say that immeasurement isn’t a word you’ll find in the dictionary. I’ve used it to describe this, the third, because there was no real synonym for it. Immeasurement essentially is an employee’s lack of a clear means of assessing his or her progress or success on the job. This creates ambiguity and a feeling of dependence on a manger to subjectively judge the employee’s daily or weekly or monthly achievement.

The problem is, great employees don’t want their success to depend on the subjective views or opinions of another human being. That’s because this often forces them to engage in politics and posturing, which is the loss of control over one’s destiny. Employees who can measure their own progress or contribution are going to develop a greater sense of personal responsibility and satisfaction than those who cannot. The key to establishing effective measure for a job lies in identifying those areas that an employee can directly influence, and then ensuring that the specific measurement are connected to the person or people they are meant to serve. This point is worth repeating. Failing to link measurements are connected the person or people they are meant to serve. This point is worth repeating. Failing to link measurement to relevance is illogical and creates confusion among employees, who are left wondering why they aren’t measuring up to the most important parts of their jobs.

Too often, an executive will try to rally employees by giving them come macro objective (for example, hitting a corporate revenue number, cutting company expenses, or driving up overall sales). The problem here is that most employees have no direct impact on these things, certainly not on a daily basis. When they realize that there is no clear, observable link between their daily job responsibilities and the metric they are going to be measured against, they lose interest and feel unable to control their destiny. And while many managers will then be tempted to accuse them of being lazy or ignoring the well-being of the company, those managers are failing to understand that what their employees are looking for is a measure that is more closely tied to their actual jobs.

That’s why so many salespeople enjoy their jobs. They don’t depend on others to tell them whether they’ve succeeded or failed. At the end of the day-or better yet, the quarter-a salesperson knows the score and feels responsible for it.

Tips are a good measuring device. Customers comments are a great measuring device. Tasks being completed within a shift are a great measuring device. The manager must give credit where credit is due in these measurements.



About Sonny Hennessy

PR, Marketing, Future Church Planter Coffee....yes please! View all posts by Sonny Hennessy

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