Seeing the Signs
Great pay. Interesting work. A fancy title and an assistant. These are the elements that make for a truly great job, right? One where the person lucky enough to have it is happy, content and eager to go into work each day. Meanwhile, those people unlucky enough to be stuck in low-paying, less glamorous jobs, like waitresses, garbage men and editorial assistants, are bound to be miserable and plagued by those “Sunday Blues,” even on a Wednesday.
Not so, according to Patrick Lencioni, author of The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (and their employees). Fascinated with why people stay in demoralizing, unfulfilling positions since watching his father trudge off to his own miserable job day after day, Lencioni has paid close attention to the work world, continually refining his theories about job satisfaction.
At first, he too fell for the misconception that well-paying, interesting work is all that is necessary for job satisfaction. He even changed his own career based on this theory. But then, Lencioni says, “… I met more and more people with supposedly great jobs who, like me, dreaded going to work…. The theory crumbled completely when I came across other people with less obviously attractive jobs who seemed to find fulfillment in their work …. And so it became apparent to me that there must be more to job fulfillment than I had thought.”
In The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, Lencioni explores the overlooked, and actually simple and obvious, causes of job misery in the hope that addressing these causes will not only minimize high turnover rates affecting many businesses, but, more importantly, end the suffering that job misery causes for many.
Once Upon a Time …
The author frames his theories as a fable, telling the story of Brian Bailey, a man who “love[s] being a manager.” Bailey, a recently retired CEO, begins the tale thinking that he and his wife will be moving to Lake Tahoe to enjoy a life of leisure; but only weeks into his retirement, his managerial instincts are challenged by a less-than-stellar experience ordering takeout from a neighborhood pizzeria. Bailey wonders why the pizzeria’s employees seem so miserable, particularly in comparison to their counterparts at other area restaurants, and soon seizes the opportunity to become the pizzeria’s weekend manager in order to investigate the cause of the staff’s misery and how to alleviate it. The reader journeys with Bailey as he works to increase the staff’s job fulfillment, discovering along the way a no-nonsense method for transforming a miserable job into a great one.
Defeating Immeasurability, Anonymity and Irrelevance
Lencioni’s fable utilizes the microcosm of the pizzeria, with its small staff and stakes, to illustrate the three elements that can make any job miserable: immeasurability, anonymity and irrelevance. In order to experience true job fulfillment, employees must be able to measure their progress and level of contribution in a way that does not depend on the whims or subjective views of their managers. According to Lencioni, they must also feel “understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone in a position of authority…. People who see themselves as invisible, generic or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.”
Finally, employees must have a clear idea that their work matters, that it has relevance for others. Lencioni provides vivid, relatable examples of each of these misery-causing factors in his depiction of the pizzeria’s employees and their situation when Brian Bailey enters their lives.
The story of how Bailey then turns this miserable situation around provides a blueprint for any organization — regardless of size or industry — to increase job fulfillment for its staff. The reader watches Bailey develop his theory of job fulfillment and combat feelings of immeasurability, anonymity and irrelevance among his staff. Lencioni presents his readers with a simple, straightforward cure that depends upon effective, empathetic management, and offers hope for everyone affected by job misery. Ultimately, Lencioni’s business-fiction format keeps his work from being relegated to the dry, academic realm of the textbook, but still provides readers with valuable theories.