Anant Jain

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

Book Review

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers

Patrick Lencioni's approach to writing business books is quite refreshing. The book reads like a story while driving home a few, but important takeaways for becoming a great manager. The Three Signs of a Miserable Job is a story of a retired CEO who goes on to become the weekend manager at a local pizza joint since he cannot stand how common it is for people to be miserable at their jobs. He takes on this challenge to test out his theory of how to make sure the people you manage lead a fulfilling work life, even if they work at a pizza parlor. Here are my notes from this book.

Everyone knows what a miserable job is — It’s the one you dread going to and can’t wait to leave. It’s the one that saps your energy even when you’re not busy. It’s the one that makes you go home at the end of the day with less enthusiasm and more cynicism than you had when you left in the morning. Miserable jobs are everywhere, and they exist at all levels. Here are the three signs of a miserable job:

Sign #1: Immeasurement

A job is bound to be miserable if your job outcomes can't be measured. Whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a janitor, or a game show host, if you don’t get a daily sense of measurable accomplishment, you go home at night wondering if your day was worthwhile. Ironically, a measurable need not be tied to compensation to be effective. In fact, psychological research would indicate that connecting it to pay can sometimes actually decrease incentive.

Sign #2: Irrelevance

The second cause of misery at work is irrelevance — the feeling that what you do has no impact on the lives of others. It’s so ridiculously clear, and yet almost none of the managers out there take the time to help their people understand that their jobs matter to someone.

Sign #3: Anonymity

Managers need to take the time to learn about their employees beyond their work life. If they don’t know who their employees really are, how can they possibly understand what motivates them to create impact.


In summary, if you're a manager, ask yourself the following:

  • Anonymity: “Do I really know my people? Their interests? How they spend their spare time? Where they are in their lives?”
  • Irrelevance: “Do they know who their work impacts, and how?”
  • Immeasurement: “Do they know how to assess their own progress or success?”

This is #63 in a series of book reviews published weekly on this site.