Work has always fascinated me, though I must admit, sometimes in a slightly morbid way.
I remember as a youngster being stunned and disturbed when I first learned that adults like my dad worked eight hours or more every day at their jobs. That was more time than I spent at school, and I could barely manage that!
And when I was told that many of those adults didn’t really like their jobs, I was dumbfounded, unable to comprehend why people would spend so much time away from family and friends and not be happy about what they were doing. I suppose I also feared being in the same situation myself one day.
My fascination with jobs only grew when I too joined the workforce at the age of thirteen. As a summertime bus-boy at a large restaurant, I worked with waitresses and dishwashers and cooks and bartenders, most of whom were career employees. Later, during college, I spent my summers working as a bank teller, again with full-timers. In both of these jobs, I always found myself wondering whether my coworkers enjoyed their work, and over time I came to the inescapable conclusion that many of them did not.
Which continued to bother me.
My obsession with work reached a whole new level when I graduated from college and landed my first full-time job as a management consultant. That’s when I learned about—and experienced for myself—something called the Sunday blues.
The Sunday Blues are those awful feelings of dread and depression that many people get toward the end of their weekend as they contemplate going back to work the next day. I must admit that there were times toward the beginning of my career when the Sunday Blues began to take hold of me as early as Saturday night.
What was particularly troubling for me then was not just that I dreaded going to work, but that I fell like I should have enjoyed what I was doing. After all, I had landed one of the most sought-after, highest-paying jobs of anyone in my graduating class. I certainly wasn’t in the kitchen of a restaurant shoveling other people’s food into doggy bags, or standing alone in a bank vault counting cashier’s checks. I was doing work that was interesting to me, and 1 was doing it in an upscale office with breathtaking views of the San Francisco Bay.
That’s when I decided that the Sunday Blues just didn’t make any sense. You see, until then I had maintained a theory that eliminating dissatisfaction at work was all about finding the right job. A bad job was one that involved doing menial, boring work for low wages in an unattractive environment. And so I decided that the key to fulfillment was as simple as finding interesting work that paid well and kept me indoors. But even after having satisfied all those criteria, I was still miserable, which made me wonder if maybe I didn’t really like consulting alter all.
So I changed careers. And was no happier than I had been before.
My theory about job satisfaction was eroding quickly, especially as I met more and more people with supposedly great jobs who, like me, dreaded going to work. These were engineers and executives and teachers, highly educated people who carefully chose their careers based on their true passions and interests. And yet they were undoubtedly miserable.
The theory crumbled completely when I came across other people with less obviously attractive jobs who seemed to find fulfillment in their work—gardeners and waitresses and hotel housekeepers. And so it became apparent to me that there must be more to job fulfillment than I had thought. I wanted to figure out what it was so I could help pul an end to the senseless tragedy of job misery, both for myself and for others.
And calling it a tragedy is not hyperbole.
Scores of people suffer-—really suffer—every day as they trudge off from their families and friends to jobs that only make them more cynical, unhappy, and frustrated than they were when they left. Over time, this dull pain can erode the self-confidence and passion of even the strongest people, which in turn affects their spouses and children and friends in subtle but profound ways. Of course, in some cases the impact of job misery is not subtle at all; it leads to serious depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and even violence at work and at home.
Beyond the human misery caused by this phenomenon, the impact on organizations is undeniably huge. Though it may be difficult to quantify, the dissatisfaction of employees has a direct impact on productivity, turnover, and morale, all of which eventually hit a company’s bottom line hard.
What makes all this so absurd is that there is indeed an effective remedy out there, one that is barely being used. It has no direct cost and can provide almost immediate benefits for employees, managers, and customers, thus giving companies who use it a powerful and unique competitive advantage.
But let me be very clear about something; the remedy I propose here is going to seem ridiculously simple and obvious at first glance. I am aware of that, and I must admit a little apprehensive about it. But when I consider how many managers fail to put these ideas into practice, and how many people continue to suffer through miserable jobs as a result, I come to the conclusion that perhaps simplicity and obviousness are exactly what is needed right now. In fact, I am convinced of it.
As the eighteenth-century author Samuel Johnson once wrote, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” I sincerely hope that this little book is a simple and powerful reminder, one that helps you make someone’s job—maybe your own—more fulfilling and rewarding.
Part One: The Manager
Part Two: Retirement
Part Three: The Experiment
Part Four: Going Live
The Miserable Job
The Cost of Misery
The Three Signs
The Benefits and Obstacles of Managing for Job Fulfillment
Exploring and Addressing the Causes of Job Misery
Case Studies Taking Action
The Ministry of Management
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Download The Three Signs of a Miserable Job : a Fable for Managers (and their employees) by Patrick Lencioni pdf