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3 Ways to Kick Job Misery

I’m on a kick to read books on employee engagement. My reading list for the New Year is full of them. As the head of our company’s human resources function, my role is help drive employee engagement. The reason is simple—when employees are engaged, everyone wins.

So how do we drive engagement?

In his book, The Truth About Employee Engagement, Patrick Lencioni shares three causes of “job misery” (what a wonderful, yet terrible term). If you’ve ever been miserable in your job, you know how that feels. It is a slowly deadening malaise that strips you of confidence, passion, and dignity.

The bad news is that, according to Lencioni:

“Scores of people suffer—really suffer—every day as they trudge off from their families and friends to jobs that only make them more cynical, unhappy, and frustrated than they were before they left.”

This is not a fun way to live. But the good news is that job misery can be helped if you’re aware of its causes. According to Lencioni, three causes of job misery are:

  • Irrelevance
  • Anonymity
  • Immeasurement

He writes, “If you can’t measure what you’re doing, if you don’t think it matters to anyone, and if you feel like no one is interested in who are you, you’re going to be miserable at work.”

Let's understand these three causes.


Job irrelevance is "missing the reason why your job matters to someone else." Job misery occurs when you can’t see the difference your work makes in the lives of people.

Meaningful purpose matters, so knowing how your work impacts others drives engagement. The more specific you can get about why your work matters to others, the better. You must be able to picture whom you’re helping, and why it’s important to them.

Let me ask you, “Do you know whom your work is impacting? Do you know how it’s impacting them?”

If you manage people, do they know whom their work is impacting? Do they know how it’s impacting them?

Cure: Knowing how your work impacts others is a cure for feeling irrelevant at work.


Job anonymity is the sense that you are not known. When employees feel anonymous, they feel invisible, uncared for, and generic.

But it is a basic human need to be known, and in the workplace being known is crucial. If not, performance will trump personhood, and when that happens, engagement will plummet.

Great workplaces value personhood over performance.

Let me ask you, “Do you feel known at work?” And not just by your peers, but by your manager? Does your manager know you?”

If you manage people, do you really know your people? Do your actions show that you value their personhood over performance?

Cure: Being known for who you are is a cure for anonymity at work.


Immeasurement is “the lack of a clear means of assessing progress or success on the job.” Without clear and objective means, employees are left to guess if they’re doing their work right. And performance feedback they receive appears to be subjective and wanton.

To drive employee engagement, decide on clear and measurable outcomes that the employee can track on his own without having to ask. That way, he can self adjust without having to be told how he's doing.

Let me ask you, “Do you have clear and objective means for measuring your performance?”

If you manage people, do they know on what they’re being measured?”

Cure: Knowing how your work is being measured is a cure for immeasurement at work.

No one wants to be miserable at work, but the good news is, no one has to be. Guard against anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement by putting the right practices into place.

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