Three signs of a miserable job

Do you feel frustrated and demoralized at work? Here are three indications of a miserable job—and three remedies to improve your job satisfaction.

Three signs of a miserable job

"Awful," "dreary" and "miserable" are adjectives many people use to describe their jobs at one time or another. 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.

Fortunately Patrick Lencioni has done much of that work in his book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job.

Job misery is universal

The author notes that a "miserable" job differs from a "bad" job, as one person's dream job may not appeal to another worker. A miserable job, however, has some universal traits.

"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. 

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," Lencioni says.
  • 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 job misery, Lencioni recommends three steps to improve the boss-employee dynamic and enhance job satisfaction.

  • 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.
  • Help your manager understand what you need: This could mean reviewing with your manager your job's key measurements for success. Lencioni also suggests asking your boss, "Can you help me understand why this work I'm doing makes a difference to someone?"
  • 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," Lencioni says. Or find ways to let your manager know how his performance makes a positive difference for you.

Be realistic

Richard Phillips, founder of Career Advantage Solutions, agrees that managing up is a good way to improve job satisfaction, but he cautions employees to have realistic expectations.

"Managers are not mind readers," he says. "Take the responsibility to communicate upon yourself, and remember there has to be an ongoing dialogue, or change is unlikely to happen."