The three signs of a miserable job

3-signs-of-a-miserable-jobThe three signs of a miserable job is another helpful analysis by leadership and teams expert, Patrick Lencioni. A miserable job is the one that’s tough to get out of bed for. You dread going to work and you can’t wait to get home. It’s not about the actual work. Nor is it about the money. An executive on a seven-figure salary can be miserable, while a waitress finds great satisfaction in her work. It can be any type of job, any business, and any time. No one is immune.

There are huge economic and personal costs to this misery. It damages the individual’s physical and psychological health. It spreads through homes, families, marriages, friendships and society.

The three signs of a miserable job

Anonymity
People can’t be fulfilled in their work if they aren’t known. We all need to be understood and appreciated by someone in authority over us. People who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous are not going to love their jobs.

Irrelevance
Everyone needs to know that their job is important to someone else, even if it’s just the boss. Without seeing a sense of connection between the work and satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee will not find fulfilment.

Immeasurement
Workers need to be able to gauge for themselves their progress and level of contribution. They won’t be satisfied in their work if success depends on the whims or opinions of others. Without a tangible means for assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.

The benefits of managing for job fulfilment

Employees who find their jobs rewarding will work with more enthusiasm, passion, and commitment to quality than those who do not. They’ll develop a sense of ownership and pride in what they are doing.

There will be less staff turnover, with employees holding onto fulfilling jobs as long as they can. Fulfilled employees tend to attract other good employees, ultimately resulting in fewer costs to the organisation. The organisation will enjoy greater stability and cohesion. Being known as a satisfying place to work is a valuable point of difference with other organisations.

The obstacles to managing for job fulfilment

Sometimes employees fail to find fulfilment in their work because they put too much emphasis on getting the right amount of money or finding the ideal job. Yet even people who are paid well for doing something they love can be miserable if they feel anonymous, or irrelevant, or they don’t know if they are succeeding or not.

Sometimes the problem is the organisation. The business and its leaders are slow to see their employee dissatisfaction issues and, when they do, they focus on the wrong things. If they don’t notice until people are starting to resign, then it’s too late. Often people will not honestly state why they are leaving and issues of anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurability are left unaddressed.

In order to be the kind of leader who demonstrates genuine interest in employees and who can help people discover the relevance of their work, a person must have a level of personal confidence and emotional vulnerability. Without it, managers will often feel uncomfortable, even embarrassed, about having such simple, behavioural conversations with their employees. They will mistakenly feel more like kindergarten teachers or little league coaches delivering a simple pep talk, even though their employees  – at all levels – are yearning for just such a conversation.  (p228)

Addressing anonymity

If you feel that others on the team know and understand you as an individual, then you’re much less likely to want to leave the team. Leaders must take a personal interest in the members of their team. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you start watching the same TV shows they do or listening to their music. Simply get to know them. Take time to sit down with them and ask them about their lives. Keep it real. It must be a genuine interest. Not once off, but over and over again. Show interest and follow it up.

People want to be managed as people, not as mere workers.  (p231)

Addressing irrelevance

Why are so many athletes, rock stars, and actors living such messed up and unsatisfied lives? Lencioni believes the root cause is a subtle fear of irrelevance. He says this because it’s hard to understand how someone who earns truckloads of money doing something they love, and who gets constant attention from others, can be unhappy. And conversely how low-paid, ‘hiding in the background’ workers can be happy. The answer has to do with being needed and having an impact on the lives of others.

Human beings need to be needed. They need to know that they are helping others, not merely serving themselves. Leaders need to help employees (or volunteers) answer two questions in order to establish relevance in their jobs.

‘Who am I helping?’
For many workers, the answer will be the customers, but some people are in jobs where they don’t have direct contact with customers. It could be other employees, colleagues, or departments within the organisation, or even their own boss. Leaders can be reluctant to speak of how people’s work helps them, but most people get a great deal of satisfaction when their supervisor thanks them for what they’ve done or says how helpful and significant it has been.

How am I helping?
The answer to that question isn’t always obvious. When a room attendant at a hotel brings breakfast to a guest, he isn’t just delivering food. He’s helping a weary traveler feel a little better about having to be on the road, which can have a significant impact on their outlook on life that day.

One of the most important things that managers must do is help employees see why their work matters to someone. Even if this sounds touchy-feely to some, it is a fundamental part of human nature.  (p235)

Addressing immeasurement

Effective job measurement lies in identifying the areas that an employee can directly influence. Leaders need to see the importance of the people on their teams having clear measurement criteria. Some measurements will be behavioural in nature and may be achieved by an informal survey of customers or a by identifying behaviours that indicates satisfaction with their work. If people can’t see any clear link between their daily responsibilities and the metric they are being measured against, they lose interest, feeling unable to control their own destiny. This is why so many salespeople enjoy their jobs. They don’t depend on others to tell them whether they’ve succeeded or failed.

Taking action

How can you go about putting all this into action, depends on who you are.

If you’re a manager…

Anonymity: Do I really know my people, their family situations, their interests, or how they spend their spare time?

Irrelevance: Do they know who their work impacts, and how?

Immeasurement: Do they know how to assess their own progress or success?

Employee assessments allow people to confirm or deny the accuracy of your answers. Finally, develop a plan to overcome any inadequacies around the three signs. This could be done one on one or in a team session. Make clear what you are trying to do, so that people don’t assume ulterior motives.

If you’re an employee or looking for a job…

You can do some things to increase the odds that your job will be fulfilling. Talk with your boss (or prospective boss) about the three signs and your desire to avoid them. A good leader will take this seriously. If you’re looking for a job, ask how they show interest in employees, how the job you’re discussing has an impact on people, and how you will be measured. If you’re hearing answers that indicate anonymity, irrelevance, or immeasurement, then it might be the job to avoid.

The ministry of management

I have come to the realisation that all managers can – and really should – view their work as a ministry. A service to others.

By helping people find fulfillment in their work, and helping them succeed in whatever they’re doing, a manager can have a profound impact on the emotional, financial, physical, and spiritual health of workers and their families.  They can also create an environment where employees do the same for their peers, giving them a sort of ministry of their own. (p253)

Some further thoughts on working with volunteers

Much of what I do as a church leader involves working with unpaid volunteers. Lencioni’s diagnosis of the signs of a miserable job is valuable for thinking about how to encourage people to serve in a range of voluntary roles. Are our volunteers feeling recognised, valued, appreciated, and purposeful? Do they understand the importance of their contribution to the ministry of the whole church or organisation? Are they able to assess whether they are doing a good job or not? Or are they left constantly wondering if anyone notices or cares?

How do we recruit volunteers to roles within our ministry? In my experience we often stress the gaps that need filling and push people to fill places on rosters. It’s far more helpful to inspire people with the opportunities for valuable ministry. Explain the essential contribution their work will have to the ministry as a whole. Offer examples, case studies, statistics or personal testimonies. Show the outcomes when this is done well. Highlight the potential for people to use their gifts and grow.

Sometimes we equip volunteers for the work we want them to do and then leave them to do it. The team leader’s job doesn’t stop with training. It flows on into encouragement, feedback, support, and celebrations. Keep reminding people of the relevance and value of their contribution. Empower them to recruit others and play a role in training and developing people in their roles. Acknowledge their contribution publicly in the organisation. Help develop clear metrics by which people can assess the success or failure of their contribution.

If we’re experiencing a high turnover or drop out rate among our volunteers, we should take the time to assess the reasons why. It’s highly likely that people are experiencing one or more of these signs of a miserable job. Leaders would do well to put their minds to helping volunteers overcome feelings of anonymity, irrelevance and immeasurability. It could help to engage volunteers so as to better understand the factors that contribute to or overcome such feelings. This could be done ad hoc or on a regular basis. It could form the basis of a regular formal review with volunteers and teams.

Managing your boss

HBR_managing_yourselfIn the early 90s a good friend put me onto an article by John Garbaro and John Kotter called Manage Your Boss. It was first published in the Harvard Business Review in 1980 and reproduced 25 years later as a classic in a compilation volume called Harvard Business Review on Managing Yourself. When I first read this article, I was both leading my own team in student ministry and reporting to a senior pastor, as his associate, in church ministry. I found it so helpful in alerting me to a number of issues that can dramatically impact working relationships. So much so, that over the next two decades I would often give this article to new staff and trainees when they joined our team. If they were going to have to work with me, then they may as well have some guidance in how to make it work for them. Now that I’m an associate pastor again, I thought I should read over the article again to brush up on my skills in relating well to my boss!

If you have a tendency to cynicism, you may be tempted to think this article will be spin for political manoeuvring or sucking up. It’s not. It’s about consciously working with your superior to obtain the best possible results for your boss, yourself and the organisation. It’s really about ensuring people and teams work well together, and accepting your role in making this happen. I’m sure this applies to any organisation, but I know that it’s critical for church leadership teams.

Too many breakdowns of relationship get blamed on personality conflicts. It’s an easy diagnosis that seems to absolve everybody of responsibility or blame. However, I suspect, this is often a very small part of the picture. Yes, personalities will conflict, but why haven’t they been able to work through the differences? That’s the real question.

Kotter and Garbaro helpfully describe boss-subordinate relationships as involving mutual dependence between two fallible human beings. This means that managing these relationships will require the following:

1. You have a good understanding of the other person and yourself, especially regarding strengths, weaknesses, work styles, and needs.
2. You use this information to develop and manage a healthy working relationship – one that is compatible with both people’s work styles and assets, is characterised by mutual expectations, and meets the most critical needs of the other person.  (p135)

This has many practical implications. For example, do you know your boss’s preferred method of communication? Does he or she prefer to receive written reports or have verbal discussions? Do they like to get regular updates on your work or progress, or are they happy for occasional summaries? When they delegate work to you, do you know what they mean by delegation? Is it now hands off by them, or are they expecting you to check with them before making key decisions? Do they like to communicate early on issues and bang them around out loud, or do they tend only to communicate once they have resolved the way forward? Being able to answer these and similar questions will advance your working relationships no end. It will also head off potential conflicts and breakdowns.

Developing effective working relationships also requires you to have a good understanding of your own preferences, your needs, strengths, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, communication and work styles. What can you do that will will improve your working relationship with the person you report to? This can also help you to avoid counterdependent and overdependent behaviours.

Clarity of expectations is crucial to good working relationships. Subordinates who passively assume they know their boss’s expectations are in for trouble. It’s their responsibility to find them out. Ask, clarify, explore, listen, feed back. The time given to getting on the same page with your boss will certainly be worth it.

And don’t assume your boss is disinterested or doesn’t need to know what you’re doing. What you’re doing is part of a bigger picture and your boss needs to be able to hold the various parts together. They likely need to know more about you and your work than you realise. It’s important to take the initiative to communicate what you are doing, if for know other reason than to breed trust and enable your boss to defend you to others who may not be sure. And be honest! Honesty is crucial in team work. If your boss cant believe you or trust you, then ultimately they won’t want you.

The authors offer a quick checklist for managing your boss:

Make sure you understand your boss and his or her context, including:
• Goals and objectives
• Pressures
• Strengths, weaknesses, blind spots
•
 Preferred work style

Assess yourself and your needs, including:
• Strengths and weaknesses
• Personal style
• Predisposition toward dependence on authority figures

Develop and maintain a relationship that
• Fits both your needs and styles
• Is characterized by mutual expectations
• Keeps your boss informed
• Is based on dependability and honesty
• Selectively uses your boss’s time and resources  (p143)

Managing your boss is a brief, practical and insightful article to help stimulate good team work and working relationships. I commend it to pastors, associate pastors, ministry trainees, leaders and others. It will help in your church, as well as your work place.

I’ve noticed in myself various tendencies and preferences over the years that have been useful for my associates and employees to understand. Here are a few:

  • I prefer to be over-informed than under-informed.
  • The more I understand and trust what people are doing, the more freedom I offer.
  • I find passive resistance infuriating.
  • Regular updates from my co-workers builds my trust in them.
  • Triangulating relationships in conflict increases the damage. If people take their concerns about me to others rather than me it often makes things worse.
  • I believe that people should always reply promptly to emails, even if it is only to say they have received it and will deal with it asap.
  • Being late for meetings steals time from others who need to be there. Recidivist lateness is selfish and inconsiderate.

My task now as an associate pastor is to apply things from the other direction. How can I best relate with my boss and my new peers? It’s important we build good relationships based on trust and mutual dependence. We need to be able to express conflict in healthy ways. We need to learn to hold one another accountable without appearing to be judgmental. We need to be committed to the common goals of our organisation (church) and thus measure and evaluate our results.

Many of the ideas in this article resonate with God’s word:

One who is slack in his work
is brother to one who destroys.  (Proverbs 18:9)

13 To answer before listening—
that is folly and shame.  (Proverbs 18:13)

15 The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge,
for the ears of the wise seek it out.  (Proverbs 18:15)

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  (Romans 12:17-18)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

If you report to a superior in your workplace, I recommend you read this article. If you lead others in your team, read the article and pass it around. If you lead a church or serve as member of a pastoral team, you will benefit from following much of the wisdom in this article. You can find the article in the compilation book (and it contains other useful articles) or you can purchase one or more copies of the article on the HBR website.