Book Review: The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

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In “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job,” author Patrick Lencioni writes a fable about a retired CEO who strives to understand what causes misery at work.

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Brian Bailey, a retired CEO, experienced years of success as a leader. Once retired, he finds himself restless and dissatisfied, needing a business problem to fix. One night, Brian and his wife Leslie experience poor customer service at a local restaurant near their retirement home. As an inquisitive problem solver and lover of managing people, Brian begins a quest to determine why this small local restaurant is experiencing poor service, and more importantly, why its employees seem so miserable.

Brian asks the restaurant owner for a job as a manager of the restaurant. In the process of managing the restaurant, Brian finds three sources of misery at work brought on by managers, which are further validated in other management pursuits Brian moves onto later in the book.

  1. Anonymity. Employees cannot be fulfilled at work if they are not known by their managers. People need to belong, be understood, and feel appreciated by an authority position at work – most importantly their manager. Moreover, if employees feel invisible, anonymous, or that they don’t belong in a group, they will not be able to love their jobs regardless of what they are doing. Managers need to genuinely care about their employees, interact with them often, and take an interest in their lives.
  2. Irrelevance. Employees need to know that their job matters to someone and they need to understand the connection between the work they do and the satisfaction of another person or group of people to find fulfillment. Employees must feel needed and frequently need to be reminded that they are helping others. This is because all people want and need to help others and when they cannot, they can become miserable. Managers should help clarify who employees help and how they do so.
  3. Immeasurement. Employees need to be able to objectively measure their progress and level of contribution. They also need to feel that they can directly control the results on which they are being measured. Employees will not feel fulfilled at work if their success depends on the opinions of another person because they do not feel that they can control their fate. Managers need to work with employees to identify behavioral measures that they can control and that are directly aligned with the purpose of their role.

Brian finds that all of these are lacking at the restaurant, and when he puts practices into effect to directly improve these, he finds that employees’ productivity increases, they are happier and more engaged at work, and service improves, which results in greater financial success and customer retention. When Brian goes on to establish these practices in another organization of much larger scale, he finds that they improve that organization’s success as well, further validating his observations within other types of organizations and industries.

The book finds that regardless of the job and regardless of whether an employee loves what he or she does or not, these three attributes must exist for employees to be productive, engaged, deliver meaningful results, and feel a sense of job fulfillment. They are also imperative drivers of an organization’s financial success. Further, it concludes that the difference between a miserable or unmiserable job is not in the job itself, nor the compensation or the advancement opportunities, but rather the management.

More book information: The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

Reviewed by Katie Talarico

Katie Talarico is the Manager of Workplace Engagement Research at ERC. Katie is PHR certified and has a Masters in Organizational Development & Assessment from Regis University. She works on employee and workplace survey and assessment projects as well as custom research/HR analytics projects within ERC’s consulting and training practices. Katie also writes a variety of workplace-related content for ERC.

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