Why management teams are making their employees sick

By Neil Patrick

A great deal of this blog has focussed lately on the recession and its impact on jobs. This has led me to post a lot about how mature professionals can find work in these difficult conditions.

All the while though, I have been conscious that I've written very little about the experiences and needs of those people who are in jobs.

The annual survey of Job Satisfaction was released in June by The Conference Board. A survey of  5,000 US households conducted by The Nielsen Company in the fall of 2012 indicates that 47.3 percent of currently employed Americans are satisfied with their position. This is a negligible change (less than 0.1 percentage points) from 2011 to 2012.

Critically however, the 47.3 percent of satisfied respondents this year is very low compared to the observed levels in 1987 - the first year the survey was run - when 61.1 percent of respondents indicated satisfaction with their jobs. Since that survey, overall satisfaction had steadily declined before levelling off in recent years. Specifically, since 2006, results remain consistently below the halfway mark, indicating the majority of U.S. workers are not satisfied with their jobs.

But these statistics reveal little about the real misery of millions who are suffering every day because of their experiences at work.

Ridea Richardson has a great blog entitled, Just Quiting http://www.justquitthing.com/. This year, she ran a poll which had 278 responses. One question was ‘Why do you want to quit?’ Here’s a fairly typical sample of the responses:

I don’t feel valued. I don’t trust my own team. I don’t feel like I can maximize my value to the firm. The stress is making me physically and mentally ill. I’m not doing the work I love. The company’s values are inconsistent with my own.

I have been working hard with very few breaks since I was 15. In the last several years, I have been trying to shoe-horn my life into my job rather than the other way around. All the travel and long hours are making it impossible to focus on things that are more important to me. My health is suffering. Physically, I am unable to consistently make time to work out; I eat out for almost every meal; do not get enough sleep; have an inconsistent schedule; and I haven’t been to the doctor in years. Mentally, I am affected by the sleep, schedule, and stress. I have difficulty focusing on my job and have lost most of my passion for it. I do not feel that I am learning or that I am in charge of my life inside or outside of work. I am constantly near the boiling point and get angry very easily when I feel that my company has done anything to negatively impact my life again. My work has become boring and repetitive, and it forces me to skip many activities that I enjoy, even when they are after normal business hours and all my friends can make it. The job is significantly hindering all my relationships. It is difficult to maintain existing friendships, let alone make new ones, and I am not able to spend time with family anywhere near as often as I’d like. The relationship with my girlfriend is also suffering from undue stress due to all the travel and time spent forced apart. On top of all this, I am paid less than employees at other companies with comparable skills and experience that work fewer hours with little to no travel.

In addition to providing no challenge, or fulfilment - my current job is completely unrelated to my personal interests and values. I fell into the position because it paid very well and came with a certain degree of prestige, but I’ve never truly been interested in the work, or the industry and I’ve been looking for a way out since I hit the 3 month mark (I’m currently a week shy of 2 years). I’m not able to use my natural strengths, and I am 100% confident that this job is in no way related to my true purpose. I can also no longer tolerate working with my manager or as part of a “corporate” culture.

I studied very hard thinking that I would live a good life after I graduate but I think I’m the unhappy person. I hate this place. I don’t care about my job anymore. I feel like this is punishment for something terrible that I did. I am a lot happier when I’m at home, with my family, with my friends, with my boyfriend. I’m happy even when I’m in class and doing everything else outside my job. My job is tiring and makes me feel sick and the worst thing is the night shift. I feel like crying like a baby when I have to come to work at night. I want to start a business outside my career. I want to do something that will make me feel good. I want to study further. I am not proud to tell people about my job because I feel that it is stupid. I complain to everyone and they seem to think that I don’t know what I want. I want to relax and have fun for a while, take a holiday. I’m just tired, so tired that I can’t even take care of myself anymore. I can’t dress up to look good anymore. I don’t even do my hair anymore. My body is always tired and I’m gaining weight because of the stress making me eat and sleep.

Burnt out, bad management with no hope of changing. Bad team.

I am physically sick. I have anxiety every day when I enter work. I have even gone to the bathroom because I thought I was going to puke from the amount of anxiety I have. I also got vertigo while there in April, and it hasn’t gone away completely since – it is now August. I work with manipulative people, they act like they are in high school – they expect you to know things that you were never taught, they try to keep you at the lowest possible rung with no way of getting out of it, and they dump all of their work on you and don’t help.

I dread going to work. I don’t like the direction the company is going. I feel very unfulfilled in my job and there are no opportunities for advancement in the company. My health is suffering and I believe it is the stress of the job.

Because being at a job for over 19 months that I didn’t go to school for is more than enough. I need to gain experience and have an interest in what I am doing. I don’t enjoy the majority of the people I work with. My boss is an ogre who leaves at hours at a time only to give me minimal instruction or support. I don’t have any benefits and the only thing that keeps me there is the pay which is higher than most jobs at my age.

If this was a romantic relationship, my friends and family would be begging me to run.

Repetition at work, bosses are speaking down to me yet I am one of the top 5 employees (by survey metrics / completed assignments) out of my team.

I can’t take it anymore! I’ve been working in the advertising field for 9 years, and I have been working in my current agency for almost 7 years. The idea of quitting had been haunting me for the past 3 years, but I always tried to oppress it by trying to highlight the positive side of my job which is mainly the working environment and how lucky I am to have a sweetheart boss, and how I am being appreciated at this job regardless of the stress, late nights, my boss’s swinging mood, crappy clients…and lately the feeling that I don’t fit anymore with the crowd in the agency. I hate Sunday nights, I drag myself out of bed every day to go to work, I get stomach cramps when I get a phone call from my boss on my mobile. I don’t feel motivated anymore! When a new client calls in, I wish and pray that they don’t proceed with us as I don’t want any more extra work! Nothing excites me anymore in this job. And last but not least, I don’t see myself in this career in the future. However, I feel so lost, I want to quit but I don’t know what will I do next, I don’t want to stay home doing nothing, I know I can go crazy! As well as everybody thinks I am crazy to take this step!

My current job and boss is making me feel so miserable and useless. It is a small company (3 people), and having just moved countries it’s important to have human contact and meet new people - I can literally go 8 hours having only spoken to just my boss. He puts me down, asks me inappropriate questions or makes comments which are unethical. He’s totally under paying me, does not know how to manage people or work and thinks that everyone he works with or for are useless. Most nights I come home and cry, which is obviously effecting my relationship with my partner and my unhappiness is stopping me from going out there and meeting new people and having fun.

My job is taking its toll on my physically and emotionally. Every day is like a never ending marathon of things that you never enjoyed doing.

I know you can question the validity of this sample – it’s fair to say that people who love their jobs are not likely to respond to a survey on a blog called Just Quit. But this is the qualitative side of the situation and the Conference Board data pretty much conclusively spells out the quantitative situation.

You could also argue that businesses exist primarily for the purpose of making money, not making their workers happy. But this misses the point. If we accept that happy employees do a much better job, how much money is being wasted by firms that don’t properly look after their people?

I have lost count of how many times I have heard CEOs say things like, ’Our people are our greatest asset’. Great, so if that is the case, why are so many of them so miserable in their work? And what are you doing about it?

I’d go further too. If the organisation had a non-human asset, like say a building or a capital deposit, I’d venture that most organisations would be taking better care of those assets than their human capital.

Some will point to failures in HR teams as the root of the problem. While I think many HR teams are merely administrators, when they really should be acting like asset managers, the prime responsibility isn’t theirs. They do what the Exec team tells them to do.

In my view to quote the old leadership cliché, ‘the buck stops here’ and that’s with leadership teams.

So next time you are considering joining a firm, I’d suggest that you take some time to try and check out the attitudes and beliefs of your likely line of management all the way up to the CEO. By my reckoning around half of them are going to disappoint you and quite possibly make you ill in the process.

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