Is Your Job Making Your Miserable: Let’s Find Out Why

In my last blog, I talked about workplace bullying which certainly is a major cause of workplace stress and misery for those who are subject to bullies and harassers. However, in a recent New York Times (6/1/14) article entitled “Why You Hate Work” written by Tony Schwartz, a chief executive of business consulting firm and Christine Porath, an Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s Business School some other causes of workplace distress are discussed.  The authors of the article mention several research studies which yielded some rather interesting findings.  

One of the more astounding research finding came from a Gallup poll survey which found that only 30% of workers of American workers feel that they are engaged in their work.

Several possible causes for work disengagement were hypothesized including increased work demands, fewer boundaries between work and home life (e.g. answering e-mails all hours of the night), and working in a downsized corporation where employees are expected to do more with less. Schwartz and Porath mention research that they conducted in which they found four core needs of employees/workers, which, when met, resulted in greater levels of job satisfaction, lower burnout rates and overall a happier and more profitable workplace.  Here are the four core needs: 

Physical: defined as having the opportunity at work to recharge and renew

Emotional: defined as one’s feeling valued and appreciated for what they contribute to the workplace

Mental: defined as having the opportunity to focus on one’s most important tasks instead of being pulled in a million different directions;

Spiritual: defined as the ability to feel connected to the higher purpose of one’s work. 

When business leaders pay attention to these four core needs of their employees, the better the outcomes. For example, with regards to engagement with one’s work as reflected in one’s passion, commitment, and enthusiasm as well as “focused effort and energy”, the statistics speak for themselves. Higher engagement translates into higher profits. Having opportunities for physical recharging or renewal was also correlated with better work productivity.  Naturally, feeling appreciated and valued by one’s supervisor or boss results in workers feeling a sense of safety and trust.  Consequently, this results in higher levels of engagement and lower turnover rates.  Not surprisingly, workers who find meaning and significance in their work and are more likely to stay with that organization thereby also reducing turnover rates.   The article goes on to site various strategies and ways in which corporations can better meet these four core needs. However, in response to this article, David Sirota, senior author of “The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want”, points out that employees do not work for psychic rewards alone (as Schwartz and Porath suggest) but that factors such as fair pay, job security are extremely important and should not be overlooked.

If you look at my blog on “How Healthy is Your Workplace” which was posted a few months ago, you’ll see some similarities to what was discussed in that posting and what Schwartz and Porath had found in their research.  Similar to the work of Buckingham and Coffman (1999) on healthy workplaces, it’s probably not coincidental that there is overlap in their conclusions. Healthy workplaces tend to look similar and they tend to treat their employees with trust, respect and create an environment in which collaboration prevails.  These are corporations or other organizational entities that pay attention to how they treat people, who place a premium on civility in the workplace and who provide recognition and/or incentives for work well done. Here the corporate culture is one in which people are treated with compassion and so these organizations pay attention to meeting those core needs posited by Schwartz and Porath. 

So why aren’t more corporations aspiring to making their workplace healthier, happier and thereby more profitable?  It’s not out of the realm of possibility but in order to do so, corporate and organizational leaders must look at what they value? Do they value control and therefore adopt a strictly autocratic leadership style or do they value collaboration and therefore support a more democratic leadership style. Do they trust their workforce and therefore allow workers time to recharge and replenish or do they distrust their employees and therefore support a “punch clock” type of mentality?  Do they support civility in the workplace and therefore invest a great deal of time promoting civility through trainings and incentives or do they hire more corporate attorneys to defend lawsuits brought by disgruntled or harassed employees.  A case in point, several months ago, the news was awash with reports of poor working conditions at a factory in China which was assembling the newest Apple product to be sold in America.  The working conditions at this factory were so horrendous and the work hours were so abusive that the employees were hurling themselves out of the windows to commit suicide. In response to these tragic deaths, the leaders of the factory took decisive action. They erected nets under the windows to catch those workers who attempted suicide, so that they could be “caught” before falling to their death and returned to their workstation. (I guess that’s one way to prevent a high turnover rate!)  After reading Schwartz and Porath’s article which makes several cogent recommendations for healthier work environments, I found myself wondering about the many corporate and organizational leaders who might come across their article. Would they take heed of these recommendations and thereby seriously examining how they treat their employees and the type of organizational culture they have created or whether they would be the types of leaders who would simply put nets under the windows of their factories????

Buckingham, M., & Coffman, C. (1999).  First break all the rules: What the world’s greatest

            managers do differently. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Dr. Cavaiola's latest book Impossible to Please. . . deals with perfectionists at work and in your personal life.


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