Have Your Employees Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’?

What makes an employee happy? What makes them miserable? To a great extent, the answer to both questions is their own attitude. Beyond that, it’s Management’s attitude. Patrick Lencioni, author of the New York Times best selling book “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job”, provides insight into how the attitude and actions of the management team impacts whether an employee is “feelin’ the love” and views their job as fulfilling, or as a misery that must be endured.

During a recent business trip, I noticed an airport janitor smiling and whistling as he worked to clean up a messy, muddy floor. I wondered how he could be so happy cleaning up after everyone. As he worked, several airport employees stopped to chat with him and pat him on the back; I even saw someone who appeared to be the Maintenance Manager take the time to stop by and have a quick laugh with him. I smiled to myself and realized that he was clearly happy and appreciated.

I boarded my flight and sat next to a man with a laptop and a file full of paperwork – he looked stressed and upset. I smiled at him as I sat down – he simply mumbled “hello” and went back to his laptop. Later, he explained that he was in middle management at a major software company, hated his job and was ready to quit. He said his hard work went unnoticed and unappreciated – he craved feedback, but rarely received it and the only time he ever saw his boss was at company meetings where he was simply another face in a sea of employees.

I started thinking about what it was that made the janitor so happy in his job and what was the true root of the software manager’s misery.

I found my answer in “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job”. It not only describes the causes of job misery, but the double effect it has on company revenue and employee satisfaction.

For conscientious employers, there are steps to help decrease the “misery factor” in any job and create a culture that supports job satisfaction and fulfillment no matter where employees are in the “job food chain”.

The first step is learning the three signs of job misery:

  1. ANONYMITY (Lack of Recognition) – If someone feels that they are nameless and invisible, that their manager has little interest in them as a human being and knows little about their lives, their aspirations and their interests, then they won’t love their job no matter what it is. We all have a need to be understood and appreciated for the qualities that we bring to the job, especially by those in positions of authority.
  2. IRRELEVANCE (Lack of Relevance) – Without knowing that their work is linked to the satisfaction of another person or group, an employee will not find lasting fulfillment. Even the most cynical employee needs to know that their job makes a difference and impacts someone, whether it’s a customer, a co-worker or their boss.
  3. “IMMEASUREMENT” (Lack of Rulers or ways to measure success) – If there is no solid way of measuring their own contribution or success, people will lose motivation as they see themselves unable to control their own fate. It is not possible to feel fulfilled if success is determined by the subjective opinions of another person (usually a supervisor). People need to be able to measure their progress and contribution for themselves.

The airport janitor, although doing tasks many would find demeaning, was happy because he was appreciated by his manager and co-workers. He could see how his hard work helped the reputation of his employer. The software manager never received any validation for his hard work; he felt invisible and unappreciated. So although he was making great money, he was unfulfilled and miserable. A remarkable difference in these two examples where the first two signs of a miserable job are not present with the janitor, yet clearly present with the software manager. If the software manager’s supervisor had taken more of an interest in him personally and done a better job of validating his work, he might be as happy as the janitor instead of considering quitting.

These are simple, yet powerful concepts – and best of all, not difficult to implement. By paying more attention to the signs of a miserable job, you will be able to counteract them by implementing the Recognition, Relevance and Rulers that your staff surely craves.

Take a few moments to objectively evaluate whether Recognition, Relevance and Rulers are alive and kicking in your department. Are any missing? Investing a little time to ensure they are part of your company culture can make a huge difference in the longevity and satisfaction of your employees…and when you think about it, isn’t that what we all want?