HR Management & Compliance

The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (And Their Employees)

HR manager Paul Knoch reviews the book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (And Their Employees) by Patrick Lencioni. Review highlights book’s examples of why some companies’ cultures are attractive to employees while other companies struggle with low morale and high turnover rates.

Maslanka book review of Three Signs of a Miserable Job

I first became interested in reading The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (And Their Employees) by Patrick Lencioni after listening to him speak at a leadership conference. Lencioni told the story of how he grew up watching his dad drag himself to a job he did not enjoy each day. Even as a young man, Lencioni began to wonder why anyone would spend eight hours a day doing something that makes them miserable.

Years later, as a highly sought out business consultant and engaging speaker, Lencioni decided to find out why some companies like Southwest airlines and Chick-fil-A have positive, attractive company cultures while their competitors struggle with low morale and high turnover rates.

In The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (And Their Employees), Lencioni identifies the factors that create misery in the workplace. These factors have nothing to do with compensation or the type of work performed. In his research, Lencioni found that highly paid professional athletes were often more miserable than the janitors who cleaned their locker rooms. By identifying these three causes, managers can seek out to address each one and help create a culture that invigorates and challenges employees to reach their fullest potential.

The book is comprised of two parts. The first part is a fictional account of a recently retired executive named Brian Bailey. Bailey was CEO of a successful sporting goods company that was bought out by a competitor. After buying a cabin in Lake Tahoe, Bailey enters retirement with the goal of skiing and enjoying time with his wife. While picking up some Italian food at a nearby restaurant, Bailey encounters a disheartened crew who appear truly miserable. It’s hard for Bailey to imagine how or why these people keep coming to work each day.

After a skiing accident, Bailey finds himself feeling restless. His thoughts go back to his success as a CEO. Was it just a fluke? Was he truly an effective manager? Could he do it again? Eventually he decides to prove to himself that his theories which were so successful at his former company could work even in an environment as negative as the Italian restaurant. He convinces the owner to let him be the weekend manager and begins the process of addressing the three signs of a miserable job.

Now you may be thinking “Why would I want to read a fictional novel about a management?” Surprisingly, Lencioni has created a story that is actually quite compelling. By utilizing short chapters and several “cliff hanger” endings, I found myself drawn into the story and eager to find out what would happen to Bailey and his motley crew of restaurant employees. Lencioni includes enough realistic scenarios and details to make his story plausible while still communicating his message.

The second part of the book is a more traditional discussion of the three signs of a miserable job. In this section, Lencioni addresses how a manager should attempt to deal with each of the causes of employee dissatisfaction in practical terms that can be applied in any industry.

So what are the three signs? Lencioni argues that the three signs of a miserable are:

  • Anonymity – the feeling that your managers and co-workers do not care about you as a person;
  • Irrelevance – the feeling that your work does not matter to anyone; and
  • Immeasurement – the inability to measure whether you are being effective or successful at work.

I believe Patrick Lencioni has created a compelling argument that miserable jobs are caused by factors that every manager can control. In a straightforward and simple manner, he has provided an intriguing and accessible handbook for any leader who wants to be better at managing their most valuable resource: their team.

Is this book for everyone? Probably not. Some readers may object to its simple message. Others may not enjoy the fictional section of the book (although I found that very effective in communicating the author’s ideas). I found the book highly readable and extremely thought provoking. If you are serious about creating a culture that maximizes the potential of your employees and infuses energy into your workplace, The The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (And Their Employees) by Patrick Lencioni is a good place to begin your journey.

I give this book four out of five stars.

Paul shares his “Insider’s Picks” of great books for HR in the right column.

Paul Knoch is the HRmanager for Cannon Beach Christian Conference Center and is a frequent poster on the Employers’ forum. Paul and his wife Carol live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with their two daughters ages 4 and 12.