Poorly managed jobs can lead to indifferent employees

Although job misery does not discriminate by industry, management consultant Patrick Lencioni picked a restaurant to use as an example in his latest book, “The Three Signs of a Miserable Job” (Jossey-Bass, 2007). Lencioni is president and founder of The Table Group, a management consulting firm in Walnut Creek, Calif. He wrote six books, including New York Times bestseller “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” Like his previous works, “The Three Signs” is a fable. It tells the story of a retired executive who figures out how to turn around a lackluster business by inspiring its employees. He begins with an independently owned Italian restaurant and moves on to assist a sporting-goods chain. In both cases, it’s not the job but the way people are treated that makes them indifferent about their work.

Why pick a restaurant as an example in a book about miserable jobs?

I was a busboy when I was a teenager, but really this applies to any industry. I was sitting in a fast-food restaurant in an airport. These people looked miserable and were giving miserable service. You can look at a job and think it looks like a difficult job and accept the fact that it has to be miserable. But a well-managed job, even a difficult one, can be a better job than a sexy job that is poorly managed. Many people in all professions are miserable—professional athletes, a lot of CEOs are pretty miserable.

It all seems to boil down to the managers and how they treat employees. Won’t it seem phony if they suddenly start taking an interest in employees’ lives?

If they haven’t done it in the past, it will be a little awkward at first. An employee may wonder why you’re asking me about my hobbies now. You just keep doing it, and be genuine. Humans have an innate need to know they matter and how they are doing. If you’re not interested in people, you have to ask yourself, “Why am I doing this job?”

What if you are the owner or the chief executive and there is no one to monitor your progress or make you feel like you matter?

You have to develop close relationships with employees. You have to see them at times as peers and people you look up to. You need to make yourself vulnerable to give them the ability to provide what a manager does. But it’s never the same as a manager because you’re ultimately responsible. You can’t abdicate your position or authority as a leader. There is some loneliness in being in the top job.