Book Review: The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

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Over the course of a couple of years, I’ve become a fan of author Patrick Lencioni. His books have taken a present-day theoretical look at corporate culture and presented them in an unorthodox way: by weaving the theory into a fable. Then presenting the theory after the fable is done.

It is storytelling in a way that helps the reader see some of the context within the theory itself.

Unfortunately, for Cubical Warriors, most of the previous theory is for upper management – CEO’s (who, with as much written to them, must be the dumbest people on the planet…) and senior executives reporting to the CEO.

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job – a Fable for Managers (and their employees) is a different book because the orientation is the first level manager. And employees.

While the orientation is for managers, I think the stronger lessons are for employees. Yes, here is a manager helping employees engage in their work, but it is also a book that can help employees understand if they are in a miserable job – and why.

The premise

Our hero, a former senior executive, decides to take over managing the local pizza delivery restaurant found in the town of their new home. The restaurant, of course, is in shambles for food and service. The book follows this manager’s struggle to turn the employees around to a way that supports the business. He works with three principles of a miserable job: anonymity, irrelevance, and “immeasurement” (a new word).

The principles

Anonymity is simple:

“People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known…people who see themselves as invisible, generic, or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.”

Irrelevance is not knowing how their work matters.

“Without seeing a connection between the work and the satisfaction of another person or group of people, an employee simply will not find lasting fulfillment.”

And immeasurement is not knowing how to measure progress by the employees themselves.

Employees “cannot be fulfilled in their work if their success depends on the opinions or whims of another person, no matter how benevolent that person may be. Without a tangible means for assessing success or failure, motivation eventually deteriorates as people see themselves as unable to control their own fate.”

The review

This was an important book for me on many different levels. First, the ideas here are easy to remember. Too often we overcomplicate our work or managers over complicate what is important.

Second, the theory matches business needs with personal fulfillment needs. Business meets Maslow. Too often, management theory is all about games playing and shuffling employees around on an imaginary chessboard like it means something.

The lack of employee engagement in corporations is pervasive and this theory tells us exactly why: corporate management is not connecting with personal fulfillment needs. The book provides a road map for reconnecting with personal fulfillment needs.

Third, these three principles tell the unengaged Cubicle Warrior why. Or why you suffer from “Corporate Induced Depression” – those Sunday nights of dread, the inability to focus on the work while at work and wondering why a different job isn’t thrilling.

The principles also provide a great way to discover culture in an organization by focusing on these three ideas. Whether it is interviewing for a different position, a different company, or a different profession, working with these three ideas will help you evaluate the culture you will have with something new.

The rating

Five out of five cubes. This is a must-read book for people who work in cubes. The book provides a framework to evaluate your feelings about and at work in a way that helps you move to the right work – and management – for you.

  • […] I keep coming back to Patrick Lencioni’s book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job (with the review here on the site). Partly, I come back to it because it tells us what management can do to improve […]

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Hi Karl — interestingly, “appreciation” was not one of the three, although being appreciative certainly helps. Where appreciation comes into play would be under “anonymity.” One can’t be a widget in the work flow and appreciation would certainly help there.

    Your work happiness DOES matter.

  • Sounds like a cool book. It’s surprising that managers don’t use simple tools such as showing appreciation. It helps with morale of the employees. Hopefully they start catching on and reading books like this.

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