Telltale Signs of a Miserable Job

Dissatisfaction on the job is common and often temporary. But not many people take time to analyze what makes a job miserable, and how to fix it. Except for author Patrick Lencioni.

The huge number of books about how to better your career astounds me. I sometimes wonder if there really is anything new worth writing about.


But last year I read a book that seemed cheesy on the surface, yet the underlying principles have really stuck with me. The book is The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, by Patrick Lencioni.

Job Misery Is Universal

Lencioni illustrates his points about miserable jobs through a story about an executive who is looking for new challenges and a way to demonstrate his beliefs about management.  That is the cheesy part, but it nonetheless works in making his point. Just don’t expect literary fiction.

“A miserable job makes a person cynical and frustrated and demoralized when they go home at night,” Lencioni says. “It drains them of their energy, their enthusiasm, and self-esteem.  Miserable jobs can be found in every industry and at every level.”

Lencioni blames much of the problem on managers, who are a key factor in the job satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) of their employees.  A Yahoo! HotJobs survey pointed to a similar conclusion last year: 43% of workers said discontent with their boss was the main reason they planned to look for a new job.

The Three Signs


Lencioni identifies the three signs of job misery as anonymity, irrelevance, and “immeasurement.”

Anonymity: Employees feel anonymous when their manager has little interest in them as people with unique lives, aspirations, and interests.

Irrelevance: This condition occurs when workers cannot see how their job makes a difference. “Every employee needs to know that the work they do impacts someone’s life — a customer, a coworker, even a supervisor — in one way or another.”

Immeasurement: This term describes the inability of employees to assess for themselves their contributions or success. As a result they often rely on the opinions of others — usually the manager — to measure their success.

Three Remedies for Job Misery

For workers who may be experiencing the signs of job misery, Lencioni recommends three steps to improve the boss-employee dynamic and enhance job satisfaction.


1. Assess your manager. Is the boss interested in and capable of addressing the three factors mentioned above?  “Most managers really do want to improve, in spite of the fact that they may seem disinterested or too busy,” Lencioni says.

2. Help your manager understand what you need. This could mean reviewing with your manager what the key measurements for success are for your job. Lencioni also suggests asking your boss, “Can you help me understand why this work I’m doing makes a difference to someone?”

3. 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,” the author says. Or find ways to let your manager know how his or her performance makes a positive difference for you.

To sum up, I’ll state the obvious: I recommend the book.