Opinion Column

Avoiding misery at work

By Larry Schruder, The Delfi Group

Work can be tiring - and sometimes less than our favourite activity. However, it is that "thing" that most of us will do for 35 to 40 hours a week for 35 to 40 years. Or put another way - work is something that will occupy our lives for about 80,000 hours.

We all enter the workplace full of great youthful and idealistic intentions - enhancing the meaning in our lives, contributing to a better world, making a difference in the lives of others, growing and becoming a better person. But after a few years, the shine usually wears off and reality begins to set in. For many, our jobs become a source of misery, rather than meaning, fulfilment and excitement. Think about it - 80,000 hours is a long sentence - a huge amount of time to be captive in misery. Today The Delfi Group wants to explore some ideas that contribute to misery at work - and some things that both employees and leaders can do to address the main sources of this unhappiness. Once again, we are going back to the ideas generated by one of our favourite business authors - Pat Lencioni - this time from his book, "The Three Signs of a Miserable Job."

We all know what a miserable job is - it is the one that you dread going to and can't wait to leave. It is the one that sends you home at the end of a shift with even less enthusiasm and excitement than you managed to muster up when you went in earlier in the day. It's the one that drains you of energy, even when you are not at work. Miserable jobs can be anywhere - in professional offices, at the grocery store, in churches, social service organizations, movie theatres, consulting groups, hospitals. Miserable jobs exist at all levels - from the executive suite to the mail room. No one, or no profession, is immune from the challenges of a miserable job. Misery is not determined by what we do, or how much we are paid. It is more a result of the environment we work in, how others react to us in the workplace, and our mental attitudes about what we do and how we do it.

And misery at work comes with a huge cost - both in economic and human terms. Miserable people do not produce quality products or services, and hence are a drain on our economy and way of life. But there are also huge social costs as well. Misery from work manages to leak into and contaminate other parts of our lives - at the family level, on the street on the way home, with strangers on the bus, in our community activities. It can interfere with the quality of our interactions with those that we love - and with our general ability to fully appreciate blessings in our lives.

Lencioni identifies three underlying sources that will make a job miserable: Anonymity, irrelevance and 'immeasurement'.

The misery of Anonymity stems from the basic human need to be understood and appreciated for our unique qualities by someone in a position of authority at work. We need to feel that others on our team know and understand us - feelings that come from people that we work for showing some interest in our personal lives and well-being.

The misery of Irrelevance comes from our need to know that our job matters, to someone"¦anyone. Humans have a need to be needed. It is very difficult to find lasting fulfilment in our work if we cannot see a connection between what we do at work, and the satisfaction of another person or group of people. We need to know that we are helping others"¦even if it is just the boss"¦and not merely engaged in serving our own needs.

The misery of 'Immeasurement' arises from our need to be able to gauge our own progress and level of contribution in what we do, without having to rely on the opinions or whims of another person giving us feedback. We need to be able to assess our own success on the job, without waiting for the occasional subjective comment or opinion of another. Without a tangible means for personally assessing success or failure in what we do, our motivation eventually deteriorates as we see ourselves as unable to control our own fate - and our impact on others.

This all sounds simple and very obvious - and it is. But it is obviously not that simplistic to address if we agree with the opening opinion that too many people are miserable in their jobs. Next time we will take a deeper look at how leaders - and employees - can find more effective ways of addressing each of these basic needs in the workplace to enable more meaningful, and less miserable jobs.

Larry Schruder is president and co-owner of The Delfi Group, Pembroke and can be reached at larry.schruder@thedelfigroup.com.