3 Signs of a Miserable Job

You don’t need to be reminded if you have a miserable job. You already know if you’re reluctant to get out of bed in the morning, if you’re scouring job boards, and if you’re emotionally exhausted and defeated at the end of each workday. But it’s important to know the root cause of your job misery so you can find a way out of it.

Author Patrick Lencioni addresses the problem of job dissatisfaction in his book, The Truth About Employee Engagement, which was originally published with the title “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job.” The book is for managers improving the health of organizations but knowing Lencioni’s three signs is also helpful for employees. Being aware of these three signs, you can take better actions that bring satisfaction to your current job and, if your action is leaving your job, asking interview questions to detect another miserable job.

First, you must distinguish between a bad job and a miserable job. A bad job, as Lencioni explains, can be based on pay, prestige, process, or whatever a person values in their work. A miserable job is objective. It’s largely the same if you’re a university president, a professor, admissions counselor, maintenance worker, or anyone else on campus who dreads going to work.

Also, the manager is often a reason why employees are miserable. There’s truth to the saying that people quit bosses, not jobs. According to a 2019 survey by DDI, 57 percent of employees have left their jobs because of managers (another 32 percent considered it), while Gallup research shows that managers account for at least 70 percent of variance in employee engagement scores. No wonder Lencioni’s book is directed at managers.

Managers influence each of the three causes of job misery, but that doesn’t mean employees should be absolved from their own job satisfaction. For example, if your boss doesn’t give you feedback, don’t sulk in the misery of not having adequate feedback — ask for it! The same goes for a miserable job that you’ve attempted to remedy: eventually you need to move on and find a better job.

Now that that’s out of the way, here are Lencioni’s three signs of job misery, followed by one action and one job interview question for each:

#1 Anonymity

If nobody cares what you’re doing and you feel anonymous, you’re not going to feel satisfied with your work. Although you might profess modesty and say you don’t need praise from your boss, not being recognized for your work has both conscious and subconscious psychological effects on your wellbeing. Consider Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: once your basic human needs of food, clothing, shelter, and security are met, what’s important is a sense of belonging and love. One of the many lessons learned from the pandemic, and remote work, is that the higher education industry desperately relies on an environment with human contact, which means less anonymity and more human interest.

Action to take in your current job: Make it easier for your manager to recognize that you’re a human being and not an agent for workplace transactions. Talk to your boss about what you’re going through and what you’ve accomplished. Don’t conform to his or her lack of empathy or social skills. Act more like the manager you want. “Employees who take a greater interest in the lives of their managers are bound to infect them with the same kind of human interest they seek,” Lencioni told Fast Company.

Question to ask in a job interview: “What do employees at your institution do well and how are they recognized or rewarded for their work?” Give hiring managers a chance to talk about their employees because that’s how they’ll describe you if you’re hired.

#2 Irrelevance

Everyone needs to know that their job matters to people, not just to the manager. Employees need to see the connection between their work and the satisfaction of others, both in large and small ways. To quote the 18th-century economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith, people desire “not only to be loved, but to be lovely,” meaning that praise is not enough but also knowing that respect was earned. “There are jobs that have an obvious impact on the lives of others,” Lencioni told the Harvard Business Review in an episode of the IdeaCast. “Even a teacher needs to be reminded about what a profound impact they have on their students.”

Action to take in your current job: Have more conversations with students so you see the impact of your work through them. A 2007 study led by Wharton management professor Adam Grant showed that university call center employees, after just a five-minute conversation with a student scholarship recipient, dedicated 142 percent more time to fundraising phone calls and raised 171 percent more money.

Question to ask in a job interview: “How have students benefited from the work that your employees do that students would not otherwise experience at other institutions?” If the search committee can’t offer at least one specific example, that’s a sign they see themselves and their employees as irrelevant.

#3 Immeasurement

This is Lencioni’s term to describe the inability of employees to gauge their own progress and level of contribution. Lencioni wrote that “people cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends entirely on the opinions or whims of another person,” in most cases their manager. “Without tangible means of assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate,” Lencioni added. Basically, if you don’t know if you’re winning or losing at work, then you’re experiencing immeasurement.

Action to take in your current job: Develop your own short- and long-term metrics to track your work and tie it to the demands of your academic discipline (tenure requirements) or the strategic plan or mission of the institution (graduation or job placement rates). Obviously, there’s a delayed return on many of your efforts, so create personal productivity metrics that you can track on a daily basis: minutes of deep work, phone calls with prospective students or donors, or students’ engagement rates with online course content. Compile a report each week, month, or semester and email it to your manager, which will also address both your anonymity and irrelevance.

Question to ask in a job interview: “How do you define success for this position/department and what do you measure to know when success is achieved?” Make sure you ask about time frames, so you know if the expectations are reasonable. Playing a losing game can also be miserable.

In conclusion, there are many signs of miserable jobs but there are also many ways to escape this misery, by addressing these three causes or finding a new job. You have the ability to take action.

Source: Justin Zackal

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